Two albums, both classics. Let’s celebrate a budding rock & roll legend
Ever since her January 2021 debut single, “Drivers License,” Olivia Rodrigo has been one of pop’s biggest, brightest, most fascinating, and most brilliant stars. Her brand new second album, Guts, proves what everybody already knew from her instant-classic debut Sour: She’s an artist with her own voice, one who is definitely here to stay. With her producer, co-writer, and co-conspirator Dan Nigro, she’s managed to put together a one-of-a-kind catalog already. Both of her albums sound like other artist’s greatest-hits collections.
So let’s celebrate the astounding songbook Olivia has built so far. Obviously, it doesn’t have any of her High School Musical songs — that would be another list. Remember, every fan’s list would be different — that’s the point. These are two classic albums, so the competition for the top is fierce, but this whole list is stacked with bangers from top to bottom. So raise a glass to Olivia, crank up the music, sense the undertones, and sing along loud. Hey, it really is brutal out here.
‘Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl’
A sensitive account of the social anxiety that can get left over from the isolation of her home-schooling days — not to mention a clever salute to Bob Dylan, one of her songwriting idols, who did “Ballad of a Thin Man.” The glitch is the klutzy chorus “social suicide,” which doesn’t work as a hook or a joke at all, and gets in the way of the song living up to the title’s promise. As for Olivia singing “every guy I like is gay”? Best-case scenario.
Best line: “I’m on the outside of the greatest inside joke.”
Olivia sings about the kind of compare-and-despair self-loathing that too much phone addiction brings on. She sings about it with all her typical sympathy and wit, especially when she’s scrolling through “cool vintage clothes and vacation photos.” Plus one of her first killer bridges.
Best line: “I kinda wanna throw my phone across the room/Because all I see are girls too good to be true.”
‘1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back’
Olivia interpolates the 2017 Taylor Swift classic “New Year’s Day,” from Reputation. A haunting and powerful chronicle of a bad romance. She realizes it’s time for her to step off this emotional roller coaster, while she’s got the chance. But it’s difficult, because “the roller coaster’s all I’ve ever had.” The day after she wrote this song, the dude dumped her. Good riddance.
Best line: “Like, am I pretty? Am I fun, boy? I hate that I give you power over that kinda stuff.”
‘Love Is Embarrassing’
Olivia admits to the romantic dramas she has in the privacy of her mind, where “I’m planning out my wedding with some guy I’m never marrying.” One of Dan Nigro’s impeccable Eighties New-Wave tributes, in the guitar/synth meld of the Cars or late Devo or Missing Persons, complete with a perfect Dale Bozzio hiccup in her voice.
Best line: “You found a new version of me/And I damn near started World War 3.”
One of her favorite lyrical themes: how tough it can be to stop blaming yourself for other people being mean to you.
Best line: “Doe-eyed as you buried me/One heart broken, four hands bloody.”
‘Pretty Isn’t Pretty’
A candid tale of negative body image and torturously low self-esteem.
Best line: “I bought all the clothes that they told me to buy/I chased some ideal my whole fucking life.”
“It took you two weeks to go and date her/Guess you didn’t cheat, but you’re still a traitor.” Your honor, the prosecution rests.
Best line: “Brown guilty eyes and little white lies.”
One of the most quizzical and enigmatic songs on Guts, a vulnerable tale about getting obsessed with a powerful woman, either a fantasy figure or a real-life crush. Olivia can’t get “Smart Sexy Lacy” out of her head, a “dazzling starlet/Bardot reincarnate.” (Fun fact: Brigitte Bardot is still alive. In fact, since Queen Elizabeth died, B.B. is now the oldest living person name-checked in “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Olivia’s rock uncle Billy Joel.) Yet she ends up feeling hurt and rejected, lamenting, “It’s like you’re made of angel dust.”
Best line: “I despise my rotten mind, and how much it worships you.”
‘Enough for You’
A heart-tugging tale of a young girl realizing her devotion is totally one-sided, and that her boyfriend is a drag. No matter how many times you hear “Enough for You,” her voice always touches your heart when she rages, “Stupid, emotional, obsessive little me.” Preach, Olivia: “I tried so hard to be everything you like/Just for you to say you’re not the compliment type.” That is technically the “already a middle-aged asshole for life” type.
Best line: “I knew how you took your coffee/And your favorite songs by heart/I read all of your self-help books/So you’d think that I was smart.”
‘Making the Bed’
A song about growing up, maybe even getting famous, from the POV of a hyper-responsible only child who watched too many movies and got a distorted idea of what she wanted from adulthood: “Getting drunk at a club with my fair-weather friends/Push away all the people who know me the best/But it’s me who’s been making the bed.”
Best line: “I tell someone I love them, just as a distraction/And they tell me that they love me like I’m some tourist attraction.”
‘Hope Ur Ok’
Olivia taps into the same empathetic spirit of Fiona Apple’s “Shameika” on Fetch the Bolt Cutters, or Taylor Swift’s “Seven” on Folklore — living with the complex memory of a childhood friend. She sings about queer kids getting rejected by their families, and tells them long-distance, “I hope you know how proud I am that you were created.” Believe it or not, not so long ago (like, oh, let’s say the entire freaking 20th century), hearing words like this from a teen pop star would have been totally unthinkable.
Best line: “Address the letters to the holes in my butterfly wings.”
One of the toughest, angriest, most fearsome power ballads on Guts. She talks tough to her ex, but only after he’s gone, and she’s rehearsing their old arguments in front of her bedroom mirror. 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 realizes that time is never coming.
Best line: “We both drew blood, but man, those cuts were never equal.”
The most underrated highlight on Sour, a fantastic Fifties-syle doo-wop weeper with a mean streak. Olivia shows off her uniquely masterful flair for lines that come out of nowhere to deliver a sucker punch. No matter how many times you hear this song, there’s never any way to be prepared for the moment when she casually sneers, “Think of me fondly when your hands are on her.”
Best line: “Do you tell her she’s the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen?/And eternal love bullshit you know you’ll never mean?”
The massive finale of Guts, a piano confession building up to climactic lighters-up choruses that lift off into grand Oasis-level rockingness. Olivia blows out the candles as she turns 20, singing, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t always be your teenage dream.” The title might be a shout-out to Katy Perry, one of her pop mentors, and another artist who followed-up her breakthrough hit album, One of the Boys, with a massive encore, Teenage Dream. (Katy sang “No regrets, just love,” but in Olivia’s post-teen nightmare, it’s more like no love, just regrets.) She’s got tough questions for the future, asking, “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?”
Best line: “When does wide-eyed affection and all good intentions start to not be enough?”
“Look at you, cool guy” is one of the best taunts in any post-breakup song, ever. Carly Simon surely wishes she thought of that line for “You’re So Vain.” A great goth-inspired piano rant against a fame monster who tries out his vampiric tricks on the most vulnerable girls, “because girls your age know better.”
Best line: “You sank your teeth into me/Blood sucker, fame fucker/Bleeding me dry like a goddamn vampire.”
‘Good 4 U’
“Good 4 U” was her third hit, after the huge surprise impact of “Drivers License” and “Deja Vu.” So people tried to prepare themselves for this. But “Good 4 U” was the one that really established Olivia as the all-purpose pop star of her moment, updating classic grunge feminist pop-punk for a whole new era. She goes for Nineties Alanis/Courtney/Veruca Salt realness, savaging a “damn sociopath” for the fatal mistake of pissing her off. After “Good 4 U,” nobody would ever underestimate her again.
Best line: “It’s like we never even happened?/Baby, what the fuck is up with that?”
‘Bad Idea Right?’
“I’m sensing some undertones” — now there’s a brilliant way to kick off a love story. Olivia gets her teenage kicks in a devilishly catchy Eighties synth-pop bop about romantic obsession, the kind that you try to talk yourself out of in vain.
Best line: “I’m sure I’ve seen much hotter men/But I really can’t remember when.”
“Logical” is the most powerful ballad on Guts. Like so many of these songs, it’s a story about a young woman getting twisted, molded, and humiliated by a “master manipulator” of an older man. Rodrigo’s voice shakes when she sings, “Said I was too young, I was too soft/Can’t take a joke, can’t get you off.”
Best line: “Loving you is loving every argument you held over my head/You brought up the girls you could have instead.”
What an unrelentlessly hardcore rock & roll anthem. Olivia jumps out of the speakers, demanding some answers: “I’m so sick of 17/Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” She stands in the punk-rock tradition of Poly Styrene, who would have loved this song. You go right on refusing to enjoy your youth, Olivia. Parallel parking is overrated.
Best line: “Ego crush is so severe/God, it’s brutal out here!”
A perfect theme song for the Guts era, with the righteous bravado of her riot-grrrl rock heroes in Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. This pop-punk rager begins the album the same way “Brutal” begins Sour, except Liv’s a little bit older and a lot more brutal. She isn’t trying to keep a lid on her attitude here, or her mouth — she doesn’t even get 30 seconds into the album before she’s boasting, “I’ve got the sun in my motherfucking pocket.” Rebel grrrl, you are the queen of my world.
Best line: “I know my age and I act like it/I got what you can’t resist/I’m a perfect all-American bitch.”
‘Get Him Back!’
A Joan Jett-worthy guitar tantrum, with some of Olivia’s shadiest shade: “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.” When she sings, “I wanna meet his mom, just to tell her her son sucks,” that is some zoomer-Joni level shit. (On Blue, Joni Mitchell has an extremely similar conversation with Leonard Cohen’s mom, but not in those words.) Famous last words alert: “I am my father’s daughter, so maybe I can fix him?”
Best line: “I wanna key his car, I wanna make him lunch.”
Olivia seemingly blew in out of nowhere — well, out of High School Musical — to hit Number One with her instant-classic debut single, “Drivers License.” It is one of those rare songs that you hear the first time and within a minute, you know this is a full-on classic you’ll keep singing forever. Olivia sings about driving past her ex’s house like nobody else in history has ever done this before — and when she’s singing about it, she’s right. An absolute classic, now and forever.
Best line: “Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me/Because you said ‘forever,’ now I drive alone past your street.”
What an impossible battle for Number One: “Drivers License” or “Deja Vu”? Two of this century’s biggest, best-loved, and just plain weirdest pop classics? But “Deja Vu” is the one, confirming Olivia as not just a bright young songwriter, but a whole new pop-queen paradigm. She and Dan Nigro plot every genius second of this down to the last micro-detail. Those Clash guitars. Those U2 drums. So many scream-out-loud punch lines. And the utterly insane way it’s about Olivia and her ex fighting over which one was into Billy Joel first. What a thrill to be in the crowd the night Billy and Olivia finally sang this together. And “Uptown Girl,” of course.
Best line: “Play your piano, but she doesn’t know/I was the one who taught YOU Billy Joel!/A different girl now, but there’s nothing new/I know you get deja vu.”