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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

GUTS Surpasses the Sophomore Slump

The album cover of GUTS. Photo courtesy of Olivia Rodrigo.

No one doubted Olivia Rodrigo would be more than a one-hit wonder. Following her abrupt and comprehensive rise to fame as a result of her debut single “driver’s license,” her debut album, SOUR, cemented her as an indispensable member of the music scene. But along with immense praise for her first album comes immense pressure to live up to it. Look no further — GUTS proves she is here to stay. 

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, SOUR, Rodrigo’s second studio album, GUTS, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s 200 Albums Chart on its Sept. 8 release. While Rodrigo’s songwriting has been compared to Taylor Swift and her sound to that of Avril Lavigne, GUTS shows she is growing into herself and establishing voice as a lyricist. Rodrigo, with the help of her producer, Daniel Nigro — who also produced SOUR — maintains an emotional consistency that transcends genre in GUTS, creating a cohesive album that refuses to let songs become carbon copies of each other. 

The first single for GUTS, “vampire,” released in June, echoes the sentiments of “driver’s license”. Whether the song is describing heartbreak or wrestling with the expectations of her newfound renown is up to interpretation, but the pensive ballad lives up to the emotional intensity and honesty that songs like “traitor” and “happier” present in SOUR. Rodrigo shows she has mastered the art of balancing specificity while leaving room for interpretation. 

The album’s second single, released in August, “bad idea right?” introduces the contradiction that makes this album its own. The song is full of angst, grit and sass, utilizing half-spoken lyrics reminiscent of bands like Wet Leg and most closely resembling “brutal” from her debut. She is playful and self-aware, singing lines like “I told my friends I was asleep/But I never said where or in whose sheets”.

“I am light as a feather, I’m as stiff as a board” opens Rodrigo’s latest album in the song “all-american bitch,” setting the tone of conflicting nature that carries the album both lyrically and sonically. The album’s 12 songs, not including bonus tracks, float between punk rock and folk-esque ballads. The soft opening of “all american bitch” is flipped on its head by a pop-punk chorus wrought with angst. At the end of the first verse, Rodrigo sings “I’ve got sun in my motherfucking pocket,” calling out Natasha Bedingfield’s 2008 hit “Pocketful of Sunshine’’ and crafting the air of pop culture nostalgia that has become synonymous with Rodrigo. 

Like in “bad idea right?”, GUTS’ fifth track, “ballad of a homeschooled girl,” doesn’t take itself too seriously. With lines like, “Everythin’ I do is tragic/Every guy I like is gay,” Rodrigo isn’t afraid to call herself out. She lets herself be messy and honest, balancing acute commentary on the teenage girl experience with fun, witty banter that creates a truthful, whole understanding of what it has been like for her to navigate growing up. 

In the most folk-influenced song off the album, “lacy,” Rodrigo grapples with jealous infatuation that borders on romantic idealization, singing, “And I despise my jealous eyes and how hard they fell for you/Yeah, I despise my rotten mind and how much it worships you”. Meanwhile, “pretty isn’t pretty” wrestles with the theme of envy embedded in “lacy” and SOUR’s “jealousy, jealousy” with a increasingly jaded view: “I chased some dumb ideal my whole fucking life/And none of it matters, and none of it ends/You just feel like shit over and over again”. 

Rodrigo is vengeful in “get him back!,” but maintains the playful fun that is apparent throughout the album. She sings lines “He said he’s six-foot-two, and I’m like, ‘Dude, nice try’” and “But I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I could fix him” that are brutally honest and lighthearted, like poking fun at the fact that her real life father is a therapist. 

Rodrigo belts “I’m so sick of 17/Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” in “brutal”, the first song of SOUR, while she sings “I’m sorry that I couldn’t always be your teenage dream” in her song “teenage dream” that closes out her sophomore album. She comes full circle, sticking to her roots and calling back to yet another early 2000s pop hit, Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” but she does so with a fresh set of eyes having closed out her teenage years by the time of GUTS release. GUTS is the pissed-off, jaded older sister of SOUR, yet it still retains the emotional intimacy that makes Rodrigo’s works so appealing.

Rodrigo avoids and surpasses the sophomore slump trope with her second album. She created an album just as good, if not better, than her debut, effectively positioning herself with the likes of Lorde with her second album Melodrama, or Taylor Swift with Fearless. Now we can just hope Rodrigo’s tour ticket sales avoid the same ill-fate of Swift’s Eras Tour.

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