Olivia Rodrigo is out for revenge – or does she just want to reunite with her ex? “I wanna get him back,” she chants on ‘Get Him Back!’, simultaneously plotting his downfall and pining for him in five sing-songy words. Later, she lists out all the things she wants to do to this anonymous man. “I wanna key his car / I wanna make him lunch,” she purrs. “I wanna break his hurt / Then be the one to stitch it up.”
Being torn between two desires or two courses feels central to ‘Guts’, the follow-up to the 20-year-old’s juggernaut debut album ‘Sour’, which arrived in 2021 off the back of the record-breaking, world-conquering single ‘Drivers License’. On the one hand, Rodrigo is holding grudges about men who’ve burned her romantically, fantasising about punching them in the face, and fretting about what comes after being anointed the golden youth. On the other, she’s willingly going against her better judgement to sneak off to a former partner’s house for the night and refusing to be kept in a box as the perfect, most acceptable form of woman.
This flip-flopping contradiction feels like an integral element of young adulthood – and, let’s face it, later life too – and the now-New York-based musician does nothing but accurately, viscerally bottle that time of life on her second album. She sings of infatuation (with a “dear angel” who has “skin like puff pastry” on the delicate, whispered ‘Lacy’) and creates spiky anthems about the crippling embarrassment of just being alive.
“I make it worse each time I step outside, it’s social suicide,” she laments on ‘Ballad Of A Homeschooled Girl’. “It’s social suicide, wanna curl up and die.” That last word is emphasised and spat out like Rodrigo is surrendering her body to the grim reaper, begging them to take her now, away from this party where she’s found herself searching “how to start a conversation on a website” and to the sweet relief of oblivion.
There are grapples with body image (the slacker indie ‘Pretty Isn’t Pretty’) and admissions of being too quick to fall in love (‘Love Is Embarrassing’, which features the star sounding half-Karen O, half-‘Virginia Plain’-era Bryan Ferry as she hoots “I give up everything / I’m planning out my wedding / With some guy I’m never marrying!”). And yes, there are romances gone sour aplenty, but instead of ‘Drivers Licence’-style heartbreak, Rodrigo is excavating shitty men from her life, calling out their bad behaviour as she goes.
As she does so, there are moments of real savagery. “You said it was true love, but wouldn’t that be hard?” she questions on ‘Vampire’. “You can’t love anyone cos that would mean you had a heart.” In ‘Get Him Back!’, she mocks scornfully: “He said he’s 6ft 2” and I’m like, ‘Dude, nice try,” while, on ‘Bad Idea Right’ and in the most subtle shade of all, she knows deep down she can do better. “I know I’ve seen much hotter men but I really can’t remember when,” she ponders before continuing on her self-destructive path.
If ‘Sour’ introduced the world to a smart, savvy songwriter, then ‘Guts’ confirms that record was no fluke. This second chapter is even better and bolder, hits even harder and makes you want to feel every last drop of the blistering emotions she pours into her music even more than before. The record is littered with killer moments, like on ‘All American Bitch’, which sees Rodrigo satirically sing her way through descriptions of how women are supposed to be (“Got class and integrity / Like the goddamn Kennedys, I swear”). Towards the end, she declares: “I don’t get angry when I’m pissed / I’m the eternal optimist / I scream inside to deal with it / Like ahhhh.” The second time she repeats the last line, her delivery changes, from pretty to blood-curdling.
It’s the kind of scream you want to let out when you hear ‘Logical’, a heart-wrenching account of being played by a “master manipulator”. All of it makes you switch between sorrow and seething for this young girl, but the knockout blow comes when all but a buzzing drone and her voice cut out and she cries: “Said I was too young, I was too soft / Can’t take a joke, can’t get you off.” It’s a simple moment, but devastatingly effective.
Following up your debut album is never easy, but especially not when that first record has given you instant household name status. With ‘Guts’, though, Rodrigo has shout out the noise and continued to do what she does best – writing incredible, relatable pop songs that make the excruciating realities of life feel more bearable.
READ MORE: Welcome to Olivia Rodrigo’s chaotic twenties