The Olivia Rodrigo, who just spilled her most embarrassing, jealous, and regretfully heartbreaking secrets in the NPR Tiny Desk office, feels lightyears away from the version of herself who stripped down songs from Sour at the DMV in 2021. The singer and songwriter‘s appearance marks her first proper performance on the concert series without any pandemic restrictions. Rodrigo selected four songs from her recently released sophomore studio album Guts, admitting: “It’s much cooler to be here. I was saying earlier, I’ve never been starstruck by a room before.”
The 20-year-old opened her set with “Love Is Embarrassing,” the last song she created for the album. “You know when you’re lying in bed, and you’re just like playing back every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done and just cringing at yourself?” Rodrigo asked the room. “I had one of those nights, and I woke up the next morning, and I sat in my living room and wrote this song.”
The writing process for the next record on the setlist, “Vampire,” was more meticulous. “I wrote the initial idea in like 20 or 30 minutes,” she explained. “But my producer and I kind of spent maybe a month or two months just polishing and fine-tuning nitpicking over crazy things like BPM, and you know chord voicings, and making sure each lyric was was perfect for what we wanted to achieve. I’m really proud of the way it turned out.”
A fair portion of Guts was born from these more challenging musical approaches. The third song she performed, “Lacy,” was the result of a poetry writing exercise she picked up while taking classes at the University of Southern California. “When I write songs, most of the time, I write lyrics with a melody. I write them simultaneously. But for this song in particular, it actually started out as a poem,” she explained. “This poem was one of my homework assignments that I really loved. And it was the first time I’d ever written a song by taking a full sheet of lyrics and then putting melody to it. It was a fun experiment for me as a songwriter, and that turned out to be one of my favorite songs on the record.”
The similarly introspective, though less envious, record “Making the Bed” closed out Rodrigo’s set. She wrote the song while in New York, she explained, highlighting the narrative thread throughout Guts that dissects personal accountability and interpersonal challenges. “I wrote this song sort of feeling like I was putting myself in positions or with people that weren’t bringing me ultimate happiness and peace,” she said. “This song is just sort of my grappling with that.”
Rodrigo was joined on NPR Tiny Desk by drummer Hayley Brownell, bassist Moa Munoz, guitarist Daisy Spencer, and backing vocalists Ashley Morgan, Elizabeth Gaba, and Julia Gartha.