The sophomore slump — the fear that your second album will not live up to the hype or be as successful as your first — is always a concern within the music industry. But with Olivia Rodrigo’s new album “GUTS” (2023), which was released on Sept. 8, she can take a breath as the album is just as good, if not better, than “Sour” (2021). Prior to the full album’s release, Rodrigo was already breaking records, becoming the youngest artist to have three No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the only artist in the chart’s history to have the lead singles from her first and second album debut at No. 1. After listening to the full album, it is clear that Rodrigo’s musical growth is something to be admired and the record-breaking and praise is well deserved.
What makes “GUTS” stand out is the ease at which Rodrigo switches between tones while still making the album feel cohesive. The album combines emotional, gut-wrenching (pardon the pun) ballads with edgy, rocker hits to capture the emotions of a young adult navigating a world of heartbreak, criticism and growing up. The emotions are universal and relatable, but the album definitely feels directed to Gen Z listeners.
Lyrically and sonically, the album showcases a tougher, more mature version of Rodrigo that was not present in “Sour.” “Sour” was fun, but “GUTS” is epic. Right off the bat in “all-american bitch,” Rodrigo sings, “I know my age/ and I act like it,” an idea that is central to the album. She may be growing up, but she is still young and making mistakes, which is what much of the album is about — the struggles of growing up. The album then moves into its first two singles, “bad idea right?” and “vampire,” which were the perfect choices to tease the vibe of the album, highlighting both her powerful ballads and pop-punk songs.
The pop-punk side of Rodrigo is much stronger in “GUTS” than it was in “Sour.” “ballad of a homeschooled girl” is the best example of this, with a gripping drum beat and almost humorous lyrics like, “Talked to this hot guy, swore I was his type/ Guess that he was making out with boys like the whole night.” The comical charm of Rodrigo’s pop-punk songs continues in “get him back!” with the lyrics, “He said he’s six-foot-two, and I’m like, ‘Dude, nice try’” and “I wanna meet his mom/ Just to tell her her son sucks.”
The more rock-esque side to Rodrigo is entertaining, but the ballads provide something more emotional in allowing her poetic lyricism to shine. Some may argue that the ballads feel too “old Olivia,” as many are reminiscent of songs like “drivers license.” Nevertheless, ballads have always worked for Rodrigo, and the ones on “GUTS” are no different. The chorus of “logical” says, “And now you got me thinking/ Two plus two equals five/ And I’m the love of your life,” and while the math reference may be a tad cheesy, the song feels genuine, like talking to your best friend after a breakup. “making the bed” establishes this theme of self-realization with Rodrigo singing, “And I’m playing the victim so well in my head/ But it’s me who’s been making the bed” — an almost painful realization of needing to accept responsibility for your actions rather than the easier choice of shifting the blame onto others.
There truly is no bad song on this album. “lacy” feels graceful and sensitive while “pretty isn’t pretty” is bouncy and lively. “love is embarrassing” is candid and relatable to probably anyone who has ever been in love with someone they likely should not have been in love with while “the grudge” is not the petty song you may think it would be from the title — it is actually quite heartbreaking. It is hard to pick what could be considered the best track on this album, simply because the album is so diverse in both sound and lyrics. With “GUTS,” it is more important to consider and admire how the songs complement one another and aid in telling the story of the intricacies of growing up and being in love (and also being broken up with) rather than arguing about which song may be the best.
The almost 2 ½ years between “Sour” and “GUTS” was well worth the wait. It seems that in that time Rodrigo has blossomed as both an artist and a person and created an album that could rival the success of her previous one. Sure, “Sour” was a cultural moment with a major sense of virality that assisted in its success, but “GUTS” is exactly what the title suggests — gutsy and powerful in all the best ways.