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The Smoke Signal

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“Guts” by Olivia Rodrigo – Album Review

“I am as light as a feather, I’m as stiff as a board” Olivia Rodrigo coos over gentle guitar chords, in the first lines of the pop-rock opener to Rodrigo’s sophomore album Guts. Two years after her debut album, Sour, Olivia has returned to deliver her sophomore album, twelve songs that contain a mixture of angsty pop rock and emotionally charged ballads.

The first track combines whispery verses and a folk instrumental with a pop-rock chorus, the song lamenting the double standards society places on women. This is my personal favorite track, as its production perfectly fuses together Rodrigo’s more intimate offerings with her teenage-angst-driven pop-punk. The second track, as well as the second single, “Bad Idea Right?” chronicles an ill-advised encounter with an ex-boyfriend. Lyrically, Rodrigo comically showcases her self-awareness of her poor-decision making, with lyrics such as “And I’m sure I’ve seen much hotter men/ But I really can’t remember when”, a sentiment reflective of many teenagers. “Vampire”, the lead single of the album, is an emotionally charged pop-rock song about a toxic relationship where Rodrigo felt taken advantage of. Here she demonstrates a reflective maturity in her songwriting, reminiscing on how she was gaslit and pitted against his exes in the line “And every girl I ever talked to told me you were bad, bad news/ You called them crazy, God, I hate the way I called em’ crazy too”. Talking about her creative process in an interview with Dork magazine, Rodrigo said, “I was upset about a certain situation and went to the studio alone and sat down at the grand piano, and the chords and melody and lyrics just poured out of me — almost like an out-of-body experience. It’s a song about feeling confused and hurt, and at first, I thought it was meant to be a piano ballad. But when Dan [Rodrigo’s producer] and I started working on it, we juxtaposed the lyrics with these big drums and crazy tempo changes. So now it’s like a heartbreak song you can dance to.” The fourth track, “Lacy ” is a ballad sonically reminiscent of Billie Eilish’s sophomore effort Happier Than Ever. Lyrically, it delves into Rodrigo’s jealousy towards other women, similar to her feelings of disdain expressed towards them in the previous track. This song is probably one of the strongest songs on the record in terms of lyrical content, with lines like “Dazzling starlet, Bardot reincarnate/ Well, aren’t you the greatest thing to ever exist” and “Yeah, I despise my rotten mind and how much it worships you” showing how Rodrigo’s insecurities manifest in an envy that borders on the obsessive.

The album’s fifth track, “Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl” is a song about social ineptitude, inspired by Rodrigo’s experiences being homeschooled during her upbringing. The lyrics reflect the same comical self-consciousness as “Bad Idea Right?” as Rodrigo sings “  Thought your mom was your wife/ Called you the wrong name twice/ Can’t think of a third line” then proceeds to sing “la-la-la” for the remainder of the song. Track six, “Making the Bed”, is a self-deprecating ballad about Olivia’s dissatisfaction with fame and how she’s the one responsible for how her life has turned out, mirroring her acknowledgment of her shortcomings in previous songs. The next number, “Logical”, is a song about the illogical nature of love through the lens of a toxic relationship, a recurring theme from “Vampire”. “Get Him Back!” is an upbeat pop-rock track that details revenge on an ex. A lyrical highlight goes “And when I told him how he hurt me, he’d tell me I was trippin’/ But I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I could fix him”, referring to her father’s job as a therapist.

“Love is Embarrassing” chronicles the emotional toll of teenage heartbreak, referring to how Rodrigo chides herself for her devastation over a “loser who’s not worth mentioning”, a callback to the caller ID in the music video for “Bad Idea Right?” The tenth song, “The Grudge”, is a piano ballad about a breakup that has haunted Rodrigo since it occurred, as reflected in lines such as “Ooh, do you think I deserved it all?/ Ooh, your flower’s filled with vitriol/ You built me up to watch me fall/You have everything and you still want more.” Beside “Lacy”, this song stands tallest in terms of the quality of its sentiment and lyricism. “Pretty Isn’t Pretty”, the penultimate track, chastises female beauty standards, concluding that trying to achieve this impossible goal will only make the narrator’s life worse, summed up in the lines “And I bought all the clothes that they told me to buy/ I chased some dumb ideal/ And none of it matters and none of it ends”.  The final track, “Teenage Dream”, is a melancholic song about the growing pains one faces as their teenage years come to a close. Here, Rodrigo voices her anxieties about having peaked, closing out the album with the lines “They all say that it gets better/ It gets better the more you grow/ Yeah, they all say that it gets better/ It gets better, but what if I don’t?”   

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Overall, the album is a solid sophomore effort on Rodrigo’s part. It contains emotionally charged lyricism that’s young enough at heart to relate to the woes of the average teenager, yet displays enough maturity to reflect on personal shortcomings. Sonically, its blend of angsty pop rock and sentimental ballads parallel the frustrations and joys of teenage girlhood. Personally, I’d like to see her further pursue the former genre and become a spiritual successor to Avril Lavigne. In a statement on the album, Rodrigo said that the music was about “growing pains” and figuring out her identity. Now that she’s succeeded, the only question is as to what musical direction she’ll go in next.

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