The cover art for GUTS, released Sept. 8, depicts Olivia Rodrigo both sultrily and solemnly strewn against a backdrop of dark purple. This color choice can be construed as an ode to Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR, iconic for its much lighter shade of purple. Rodrigo’s decision to retain the same color yet darken the hue gestures to listeners that GUTS can be understood as a continuation of SOUR — only much more mature and bold in its willingness to traverse raunchy themes.
Rodrigo’s highly anticipated sophomore record sheds light on her own self-destructive tendencies and intimate experiences, revealing her “guts” — a captivating, visceral whirlwind of emotions. Leaning into the early 2000s, grunge-pop sound, the twenty-year-old artist explores the woes and excitement of coming into adulthood over the course of 12 vulnerably crafted songs.
The album’s most interesting tracks exhibit a playful mentality towards heartbreak. In “Get Him Back!” Rodrigo’s speak-singing simulates a stream of gossip that she would tell a friend. It is the quintessential love-hate anthem, as Rodrigo toys with the polysemic phrase “get him back” — simultaneously indicating desires for both revenge and reconciliation. She gushes, “I wanna break his heart/ Then be the one to stitch it up.” Lyrically clever and sonically fun, the track is one of the many highlights on GUTS.
“Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl” marks another moment on the record where Rodrigo candidly yet cheekily reflects on her own mortification and inability to properly interpret social cues. She laments, “Talked to this hot guy, swore I was his type/ Guess that he was making out with boys like the whole night.” While Rodrigo successfully conveys the extent of her distress, belting that she wants to “curl up and die,” she also demonstrates that she doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Musically, GUTS is also imbued with a nostalgic quality. Both “Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl” and “Get Him Back!” could easily be imagined on the soundtrack of an early 2000s rom-com. Opener “All-American Bitch” fits nicely into the riot grrrl movement of the ’90s; while Rodrigo feigns passivity on the track, listeners are made aware of the satirical nature of the song through its lyrical juxtaposition against the harsh musical composition and cathartic yelling. Bringing back this sound translates as a refreshing and experimental move for Rodrigo.
While it is fun to see Rodrigo deviate from a more current, mainstream sound, it was ultimately a ballad — 2021’s “Driver’s License” — that bolstered Rodrigo to stardom. Thus, it’s unsurprising that GUTS also has its fair share of poignant tracks. In “Lacy,” the musician ruminates on her debilitating admiration for another girl, teetering between hatred and homoerotic attraction. The song’s wordplay showcases a profound growth in Rodrigo’s lyricism — she confesses, “Like ribbons in your hair/ my stomach’s all in knots.”
This homoerotic ambiguity can also be detected in one of the deluxe songs “Obsessed,” where Rodrigo delves into her all-consuming fascination with her partner’s ex. In her previous project SOUR, she elaborated upon her envy and insecurity regarding other women in several tracks, such as “Driver’s License,” “Enough for You” and “Happier.” As GUTS bears a resemblance to SOUR, it makes sense that the two albums share similar themes. However, it is exciting to see Rodrigo navigate this motif with even more nuance.
Aside from the notable thematic and lyrical growth that GUTS adds to Rodrigo’s discography, it also provides an immensely enjoyable experience for listeners. The album is saturated with songs that get stuck in your head immediately. Rodrigo unabashedly expresses her angst and rage in a way that often feels facetious, clever and unexpected.
In closer “Teenage Dream,” Rodrigo discloses her anxiety that she has already peaked in life. While she did set the bar incredibly high with SOUR, GUTS proves that she is far from a musical plateau. Rodrigo has succeeded at creating a complex, nostalgic yet invigorating body of work, spilling her guts in every song. Knowing that Rodrigo struggles with apprehension regarding her ability to continuously exceed expectations, it is refreshing to see her merely adjust her hue of purple rather than explore completely new expressive shades. There is something reclamatory about her decision to go at her own pace in her artistry.