Rant and Rave: When pretty isn’t pretty, it takes ‘GUTS’ to stand out

When a teenage girl’s angst is shown in pop culture, it is often done with an air of superficiality. A young woman’s rebellion can never be too radical; her public defiance is approved by a flock of corporate executives behind the scenes, concocting a surface-level image that never goes beyond the high-pitched whine: “It’s not a phase!”

But Olivia Rodrigo is unafraid to illustrate girlhood’s wildly uncomfortable and unsettling elements. In her sophomore album GUTS, Olivia vividly paints the disillusionment that comes with being on the cusp of adolescence and adulthood. The staunch antithesis of the idyllic teenage dream, GUTS is a self-aware portrait of a teenage girl’s inferiority complex, all tucked within pulsing pop punk riffs and howling vocals.

Can’t hear my thoughts

Olivia quite literally spills her guts in her second record, revealing twelve tracks that bear undiluted, brutal honesty. Lyrically, GUTS is light years ahead of her debut album, SOUR; the new record’s emotional depth goes far beyond SOUR’s simplistic verses over a short-lived teenage romance. Yet, at the same time, GUTS feels like a natural progression from her first big break on the music scene. While SOUR offers some commentaries on societal pressure and betrayal, GUTS extends the story by delivering more haunting tracks on self-loathing, social anxiety, unforgiveness, blame, and manipulation.

Album opener all-american bitch encapsulates precisely what the album is not: a depiction of the all-perfect American girl. In a sarcastic, passive-aggressive tone, Olivia embodies herself as the polar opposite of America’s—unrealistic and unattainable—female ideal. The singer’s clever use of irony, tied with unexpected 90s-inspired grunge rock production, cements the record’s core themes. lacy later juxtaposes this by dithering between love and hate for a seemingly flawless woman. The track leaves much of itself open to listeners’ interpretations; under the backdrop of Lana del Rey-esque vocals and soft strings, lacy is simultaneously a sapphic love song and a disconcerting portrayal of envy depending on the beholder.

Olivia continues the theme of self-deprecation with ballad of a homeschooled girl, a headbanging anthem that documents several instances of the song’s subject embarrassingly missing social cues. With a title that subverts expectations of a slow serenade, the pop rock song points out Olivia’s almost pathetic bids for connection.

While the album revolves around Olivia’s inner battle, the songs also cover her deeply damaging relationships—something she later credits as a reason behind her self-destructive behaviors. vampire retrospectively describes her “six months of torture” in an abusive romance, down from its initially alluring thrill to the web of lies she falls victim to. Common to those who have experienced toxic relationships, Olivia fights off the temptation to reconnect with an ex in bad idea right?, where she sing-talks over a sharp drum beat.

The first half of the album is capped off by standout making the bed, which strips away any sense of bravado Olivia puts on in the previous tracks. Seeing herself merely as a “tourist attraction”, Olivia grieves how her sudden rise in popularity has changed her for worse. making the bed’s softer production and wispy vocals considerably contrast the more high-energy and shouty rock songs on the tracklist, allowing for more rawness and vulnerability. The song ends in a whisper epitomizing the singer’s sense of desperation and regret, as she acknowledges that her struggle has been a product of her own doing.

Beauty is not my lack

GUTS takes you through the golden years of teenagerism, best captured by the highs of habit and discovery and the haunts of heartbreak and dysmorphia. This captures Olivia’s reality as proven in logical, where a false notion of love snowballs into manipulation in the hands of a toxic partner. The piano ballad captures the woes of losing all reason when blinded by infatuation for a master puppeteer of a partner, a narrative sadly known all too well by women in the field of music.

Grief from the quintessential young heartbreak is only one of several central themes. In the playful get him back!, what transpires is the epitome of the teenage experience—wanting someone who refuses to reciprocate your energy and feelings. The challenge here is toeing the fine line between love and hate, with contradicting sentiments that tug between the gruel desire to get revenge and the begrudging yearning to get him back. 

Sonically, love is embarrassing might be the twin flame of chart-topping hit brutal from SOUR; lyrically though, it is nowhere close. This track nine title is a commentary on self-destruction and blame, spotlighting the treacherous tendency to twist the narrative of the cheating ex-lover as the victim. The glory of falling for foolery, according to Olivia herself, ties back to her outright savior complex as fed by her very own daddy issues.

The sorrows of a broken heart do not stop there, as the grudge speaks for itself. In what may be the closest we’ll get to a sister song of SOUR’s 1 step forward, 3 steps back, love proves to be a losing game. As it reaches its crescendo, the song builds up with pain for every forgiven but unforgotten mistake made. The song ends with a soft “but”, hinting at the uncertainty of what the next move should be—may it be letting go or staying put, either path would result in the reminder of a painful past.

GUTS is filled with hit after hit—we’re talking both charts and heartaches. In a society that thinks stereotypically beautiful women aren’t enough, Olivia comes forth with pretty isn’t pretty. This soft rock tune has become the talk of Twitter town, opening discourse on the innate desire to become the best version of yourself only to be beaten down by destructive stereotypes and comparisons. The album closes with teenage dream, and it’s nowhere as dreamy as the 2010 Katy Perry hit. The quiet piano throughout the song masks the fear of peaking too early in an industry that clings onto the newest thing. Later on, loud cymbals accompany what seems to be a repeat-until-true chant, an attempt to convince herself that “it gets better.” 

Deja vu

The biggest lies to ever be said are the claims of Olivia’s childish lyricism. From her esteemed performance in High School Musical: The Musical The Series to the immediate success of this 12-track release, Olivia proves she is made for the popstar pipeline. She has made this track her own by tackling the conflicts of societal structures, romantic rollercoasters, and personal perceptions with firsthand honesty that can’t be faked. She has, in a much more cohesive manner, spilled her GUTS to the world, not for anyone’s entertainment, but for her peace—which honestly, isn’t that bad of an idea at all.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

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By Summer Sanares

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By Samantha Ubiadas

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