Olivia Rodrigo knocked it out of the park on her first try, with her instant classic of a debut, Sour. So expectations have been sky-high for her next move. But the suspense is over: her excellent new Guts is another instant classic, with her most ambitious, intimate, and messy songs yet. Olivia’s pop-punk bangers are full of killer lines (“I wanna meet your mom, just to tell her her son sucks”) but she pushes deeper in powerful ballads like “Logical.” All over Guts, she’s so witty, so pissed off, so angsty at the same time, the way only a rock star can be. And this is the album of a truly brilliant rock star.
As on Sour, O-Rod co-wrote the songs with her trusty collaborator/producer Dan Nigro. Last time she kicked off the album with the question, “I’m so sick of 17 / Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” This time, she signs off with the ballad “Teenage Dream,” lamenting, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t always be your teenage dream.” But it’s America’s sweetheart blowing up into the self-proclaimed “All-American Bitch” and getting a few things off her mind. As she declares from the start, “I’ve got the sun in my motherfucking pocket.”
Rodrigo avoids all the typical second-album pitfalls—no songs about how fame is stressful, no songs about social media. The great lead single “Vampire” turns out to be a total outlier, because it’s the only song that goes for a celebrity-life angle. Instead, she focuses on the topic she really cares about as a songwriter: the gawky, insecure, ordinary American Every-Girl we met in “Driver’s License.” All over Guts, she shows off her amazing flair for detailed story-telling, making each line feel like she’s just spilling it out, one pained confession at a time.
“All-American Bitch” kicks it off with a fantastic pop-punk angst rant, with a title from Joan Didion, picking up where “Brutal” stopped. It’s full of slumber-party energy (“I’m light as a feather, stiff as a board”) as she sings about striving to live up to a perfect ideal (“I got class and integrity, just like a goddamn Kennedy”) but trying to hide her dark side. At the end, she sneers, “I’m grateful all the time / I’m sexy and I’m kind / I’m pretty when I cry.” (That line might feel like a shout-out to her pal Lana Del Rey.)
Her love life is brutal as ever, and she knows how to savor it as a great joke. In “Love Is Embarrassing,” she fumes, “You found a new version of me / And I damn near started World War 3.” But she’s always coming back for more, though she admits, “I’m planning out my wedding with some guy I’m never marrying.” The closest thing to a happy romantic connection is the ex she jumps in “Bad Idea Right,” who at least owns a bed.
“Get Him Back!!” rips into a bad-news boyfriend, with a brain-devouring pop-punk chorus and a Joan Jett-level air-guitar hook. Olivia goes full blast with putdowns like “He had an ego and a temper and a wandering eye/He said he’s 6-foot-2 and I’m like, dude, nice try.” She can’t decide whether she wants to “get him back” as in reuniting, or as in revenge, but she craves both at the same time, so she vows, “I wanna key his car / I wanna make him lunch/I wanna break his heart then be the one to stitch him up.” There’s also an intriguing personal aside when she quips, “I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I can fix him?”
But the best moments on Guts are her emotional piano ballads like “Logical,” “The Grudge,” and “Teenage Dream.” “Logical” is the most poignant and powerful moment on the album. Like so many of these songs, it’s the story of a young woman getting manipulated and humiliated by an older man. Rodrigo’s voice chokes with rage as she sings, “Said I was too young, I was too soft/Can’t take a joke, can’t get you off.” The song builds to the point where she sings the troubling line “I know I’m half responsible” (she’s not) and ends by asking herself, “Why didn’t I stop it all?”
“The Grudge” is at the same powerful level—she torments herself over a break-up, arguing with him when she’s alone in front of her bedroom mirror. As she sings, “I’m so tough when I’m alone/And I make you feel so guilty/And I fantasize about a time when you’re a little fucking sorry.” But she wonders why she couldn’t stand up for herself, confessing, “It takes strength to forgive, but I don’t feel strong.”
“Lacy” is a mournful lament about falling under the spell of a femme fantasy ideal, who’s a “dazzling starlet/Bardot reincarnate,” but turns out to be “made of angel dust.” (“Lacy” will be widely interpreted as a comment on alleged personal dramas she may or may not be having with another pop star, and Olivia does not exactly go out of her way to minimize this impression by singing, “I try, I try, I try.”)
“Pretty Isn’t Pretty” is a devastatingly candid exorcism of negative body image (“it’s in the phone, it’s in my head, it’s in the boys I bring to bed”) and the way it does damage to every level of life. As she sings, “I bought all the clothes that they told me to buy/I chased some dumb ideal my whole fucking life.” She goes into a different type of pain in “Making the Bed,” where she’s “getting drunk at the club with my fair-weather friends.” The former Disney princess is now old enough to go party with the chic set, ordering different drinks at the same bars, “another day pretending I’m older than I am.” But she wonders why this version of adulthood is no fun. She also confesses to having nightmares where she’s driving in the city. Weirdly, it’s one of the only moments on the album where Ms. I Drive Alone Past Your Street uses her drivers’ license.
Nigro’s production has all the punch and gloss of Sour, but also the knack for tension-and-release hooks he’s shown ever since his emo band As Tall As Lions. The bops go for a 1980s synth/guitar new wave chug a la the Cars or The Go-Gos, though you can hear surprisingly detailed echoes of Missing Persons (“Love Is Embarrassing”) or The Motels (“Pretty Isn’t Pretty”).
“Teenage Dream” ends Guts with a massively powerful piano ballad. The title might be a salute to Katy Perry, but Olivia sings about a very different kind of teenage dream. She comes clean about being a troubled ingenue, heading into her twenties, but wondering why she’s still bringing all her same old doubt and confusion. As she sings, “Only 19, but I fear they already got the best parts of me.” “Teenage Dream” evokes the pensive tone of “Nothing New,” Taylor Swift’s Red vault duet with Phoebe Bridgers, with a litany of questions. Olivia asks, “When am I gonna stop being wise beyond my years, and just start being wise? When am I gonna stop being a pretty young thing to guys?”
The song never settles on an answer, but it soars into a Oasis-worthy piano-anthem crescendo. Olivia Rodrigo might not have her awkward teenage blues all figured out just yet. But all over Guts, she proves that she’s a voice that’s here to stay and a songwriter built to last.