"Guts" captures the dichotomy of a teenage girl

Diving into Olivia Rodrigo’s newest album

By Scout Woronko

Photo by Domenick FiniSeptember 18 2023

Just over two years ago, Olivia Rodrigo captivated a new generation of listeners with her debut album “Sour.” Known for her role on Disney Channel’s “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” Rodrigo emerged as a pop-punk singer-songwriter in her real and raw tracks surrounded in y2k nostalgia. Fans around the world resonated with her angsty love life and the insecure experiences expressed in her lyrics. 


Rodrigo just released her much anticipated sequel album “Guts” in early September. The New York Times describes this album as “spiritually and sonically agitated.” Deftly transitioning from her freshman era, the sophomore record is filled with more rock and even more emotional variety. One thing remains true for both albums, however — Rodrigo is skilled at taking on the often turbulent emotions of a teenage girl. She illustrates this point of view through continuous shifts in tone and attitude, effortlessly transitioning from solemn ballads to headbanging pop-rock hits.


In anticipation of the second album, Rodrigo dropped two singles in June and August — “Vampire” and “Bad Idea Right?.” Traveling from the depths of heartbreak to cheeky confidence, the contrasting tone of these two songs perfectly encapsulates the new album as a whole. Throughout “Guts,” Rodrigo offers a window into the teenage experience, full of questionable decisions and misleading lovers.


The first single released, “Vampire,” is a four minute wrath-ballad recounting her past lover’s exploitation. The single was accompanied by a music video that portrayed the singer on a mystical music video stage where everything around her goes wrong, symbolizing the reality of her misguided relationship. 


About a month later, Rodrigo followed with “Bad Idea Right?.” In her familiar perky punk mess, the next single details the justification around going back to someone who is just no good. The record has everything one would expect from one of her singles — repeated questions of self doubt mixed with a chorus of la-la-las.  


These two singles aptly set the stage for the emotional ups and downs explored in the full album’s release. “Guts” explodes with the opening track “All-American Bitch,” taking the listener back and forth through a melodic strum then a clash of drums and electric guitar. While Rodrigo sings, or screams, about fitting into the feminine model, she captures the inner monologue that plagues so many women and girls. She recognizes the societal pressure for women to always be two things at once — “built like a mother and a total machine” — which is never possible. As her frustration grows from verse to chorus, dramatic shifts in instruments and tone elicit nothing other than an adolescent mood swing. 


Multiple other songs on the album follow this formula to express a universal feminine struggle in the guise of 2000s garage-pop dancing hits. Not only does this technique make the songs more appealing to radio stations and casual listeners, but it mirrors the expectations placed upon young girls that permeates “All-American Bitch.” No matter what heavy emotions a teenage girl is feeling, she must mask them by being happy and upbeat.

 

In “Ballad of A Homeschooled Girl,” Rodrigo disguises her social anxiety through the above technique. The chorus repeatedly claims “each time I step outside / its social suicide,” covering her fears with an easily memorable, and catchy, chorus. The other upbeat songs featured, “Get Him Back!” and “Love is Embarrassing,” continue to fit this mold. “Get Him Back!” hides lyrics like “I wanna get him back / ‘cause then again I miss him, and it makes me real sad” behind cascading drums. Rodrigo does openly express her crushing feelings, but sometimes she chooses to disguise them to make her complex thoughts easier to face and swallow. 


A contrasting trend seen in both the “Guts” tracks and the larger female teenage experience is one of raw, unapologetic emotion. There is a stark difference among the poppy songs and other more melancholy tracks on the album, such as “Lacy” and “Making the Bed.” These songs follow slower, gloomy rhythms and feature Rodrigo recounting something that was or could have been. “Lacy” tells the story of an ideal person, who Olivia describes as “smart, sexy” and “made of angel dust.” Rather than trying to hide her insecurities, she embraces them and forces the listener to contend with them too.


Such moments of unavoidable sorrow allow Rodrigo to expose true heartbreak and loss. While the above songs are still natural sing-alongs, the tones of mourning she evokes make her pain undeniable and, on some level, relatable. 


Although Olivia Rodrigo’s musical style and aesthetic is relatively consistent, it is interesting to note the polarity of her products. A song off of “Guts” can be sorted into one of two boxes — a vocally stunning requiem or an angry anthem to jump around to. This duality parallels the life of a teenage girl. There is no in between when it comes to post-puberty feelings in a girl's body. Emotions are either hidden behind sarcasm and a smile, or let out in wails under a floral duvet. Olivia Rodrigo knows this, experiences this and, effectively, spills her guts.