Edit Desk: Olivia Rodrigo’s “GUTS” is everything it should be


My first exposure to Olivia Rodrigo, like most people, was in January of 2021 when she released “drivers license.” That same month, I turned 17, which in New Jersey means I was about to receive my own driver’s license. 

Olivia’s thoughtful and world-shattering single about holding onto the memories of a happier time felt all too familiar for a class of juniors that was in its first year back at school from COVID-19 shutdowns and just a few weeks removed from watching right-wing extremists storm the capital. 

For a generation of teenagers who had no choice but to grow up too fast, “drivers license” was just the right mix of heartbreak and piano to get us off pandemic-era existential dread and back onto high school heartbreak. 

Expectations were high for Rodrigo after her first hit, so four months later, when her debut album “SOUR” came out, we were all anxious to see if she was talented enough to be the pop star she was supposed to be. And I don’t need to tell you “SOUR” was a no-skip album, but I will say the three Grammys it earned left no doubt about Rodrigo’s future success.

Then, we heard nothing new from her for over two years. High school came and went, and so did my first year of college. “SOUR” offered me melodramatic high school pop, but that era was over. The album held up, but as Olivia’s audience matured, we all wanted more from her music than just surface-level love songs.

In June 2023, we got “vampire,” the only single from her second album, “GUTS.” It was a biting triumph of O-Rod’s vocal prowess and production preceding the album’s release on Sept. 8. The single has been the stand-out, most popular song on the new album, with over 200 million more Spotify streams than the second most popular song on the album, “bad idea right?,” which itself has become a popular sound on TikTok.

But I’m not here to praise the most popular or most TikTok-able songs on the album. For a lot of people, the only parts of this album they’ll hear will be 10-second clips on their For You page accompanied by some B-tier influencer with a tripod. And I can’t let that happen. 

Rodrigo’s second album is a masterclass in post-modern pop punk with brilliant production, ridiculous vocal variety and one-liners that will tear you apart. I understand it’s played out to look down on people who get all their music from TikTok, but I need you to understand that you are doing yourself a disservice by not giving this album your full attention. 

“GUTS” is strange, loud and simple — just like punk should be — but the deep cuts in this album are brooding with wit and vibrant storytelling. 

Here is my petition to you: don’t let this album become another drop in the sea of endless content. Consume it as music, and feel the self-awareness and angst of this blooming pop star. 

And if you don’t like it, that’s fine! But don’t let your interaction with the album stop at TikTok. Let yourself explore it in its entirety and see how it makes you feel. But until then, let me be your guide to “GUTS.”

I told you the deep cuts were special, but I HAVE to start with the title track “all-american bitch.” This anthem of a punk song starts with an acoustic guitar and soft wispy vocals, just to break out into an absolute rager in the first chorus. The contradictions of Olivia’s tone and her lyrics make this song the perfect example of the album’s wit and self-awareness. 

As a modern pop icon who got her start on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” Rodrigo connects her role in music to the unattainable standards that American culture forces on young girls in “all-american bitch.” You’ve definitely seen the TikToks of people using the line, “I pay attention to things that most people ignore,” in an attempt to show off some bogus trait of theirs to seem quirky. But the whole point of this line and the rest of the soft-spoken verses is to criticize how perfect and unique everyone has to appear on social media. Rodrigo’s tone bounces back and forth from a lady-like, idealistic role model to an ambitious, unagreeable punk to make “all-american bitch” the ideal opener for “GUTS”. 

The most underrated song on the album and my personal favorite is “ballad of a homeschooled girl.” We get to hear the same socially awkward, anxious girl we met in “drivers license,” but Rodrigo ditches her sad-girl tone for a whiny, head-banging track that may be the best true punk song on the album. Her extended notes during the chorus let the drum tracks and electric guitar do the talking, with lines like, “Thought your mom was your wife/Called you the wrong name twice,” to make us feel like maybe you don’t have to be homeschooled to feel Rodrigo’s anxieties.  

“logical” is a power ballad just like “vampire” and continues to draw parallels between O-Rod’s ex-boyfriend and Dracula with imagery of a castle, and her acting as the naive captive lulled into a false sense of security by the monster’s lies. 

“lacy” is a haunting tale of Rodrigo’s jealousy of another girl played to the tune of her delicate voice and contrasted with a sinister harp melody. The song started as a poem she wrote in a college poetry class and evolved into a longing and subtly romantic love song.

The album ends with “teenage dream,” a powerful reflection piece on whether or not the music industry has already gotten the best parts out of this aging pop star. Rodrigo begins to question what awaits her post-teenage years as she just turned 20 this year and will no longer fit the role of teenage heartthrob.

I am turning 20 in a few short months, and, honestly, the first time I heard the opening line of this song, “When am I gonna stop being wise beyond my years and just start being wise,” I couldn’t help but ask myself what my future beyond the teens will hold.

“teenage dream” has all the cynicism of a disillusioned pop star with all the naivety of someone just entering their 20s, and that’s super punk.

As stand-alone songs, these are all worthy of your ears. But as one cohesive work of art, “GUTS” deserves to be wrestled with, questioned, understood and hopefully enjoyed. 

Don’t let her Disney Channel past or TikTok-able choruses mislead you. Olivia Rodrigo is one of the most prolific punk artists of our generation. If you consume one album front to back this year, make it “GUTS,” and I dare you not to head-bang to the pop-punk soundtrack of your wilting teenage dream.

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1 Comment

  1. This was a captivating and thoughtful review of GUTS. The tiktok-ification of good music into 10-second sound bites is a tragedy, and I appreciate you encouraging readers to be intentional in their listening and to fully enrich themselves in this album. Olivia Rodrigo has serious talent as a writer, and despite how niche most of her content is to the experience of a young woman, I think your article proves there is something for everyone here. Even if it is just a glimpse into the life, it feels like she sheds her stardom, rejects what is expected of her and gives us what she NEEDS to create. It is certainly, as you said, super punk.

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