Elizabeth Brady ’25 is a public policy major and an English minor, and she is a member of Alpha Chi Omega. She loves art, music and movies. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by Olivia Rodrigo.
Olivia Rodrigo’s new album “GUTS”, released on Sept. 8, had some crazy-big shoes to fill. Her debut album “SOUR” was an insane success, with four songs off the album at over a billion streams each.
SOUR was very much an album of its time. It came out towards the middle to end of the COVID-19 pandemic and spoke to the frenzied anxiety and intense loneliness that almost every girl was coping with, trapped in the walls of their childhood bedrooms. “drivers license” infected every vein of culture, from TikTok to SNL.
One of the main reasons for the album’s success is that it feels intensely personal. Like Patsy Cline in the 60s, The Cranberries in the 90s and Florence and the Machine in the 2000s, Rodrigo feels like she’s in the room with you. Her ability to capture the soft, impossibly invisible ache of girlhood carried her to success.
It is impossible to talk about her new album without talking about her old one, and impossible to talk about her old one without talking about the love triangle that inspired it. Rodrigo and her “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” co-star Joshua Bassett dated and subsequently broke up mostly out of the public eye. Regardless, Bassett’s soon-following relationship to singer and fellow child star Sabrina Carpenter is thought to be the subject of every song on the album (“you’re probably with that blonde girl” is not a very veiled reference). The perfect story to go with the perfect album: Rodrigo, the jilted lover; Bassett, the abusive semi-cheater; and Carpenter, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed nemesis.
The internet loved it and subjected its players to a wide variety of criticism and speculation, pulling the story apart and generally concluding that Rodrigo, with her successful album and publicly won vengeance, the victor. Whether this narrative has stood the test of time is a matter of opinion. Carpenter’s song “because i liked a boy” as well as Bassett’s revelation of being a survivor of abuse and the content of his subsequent music all put the situation into much-needed perspective.
But back to “GUTS.”
The album still has the same quippy, ranty, scarily personal touch of “SOUR” and some uncontested bangers. Single “bad idea right?” is no doubt one of the strongest songs on the album and feels fresh and cheeky without being tiresome. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the only songs on the album that takes any big musical risks. We get a little bit more of a rock sound out of her on a couple tracks, but that’s pretty much it.
Looking at it from a purely objective perspective, GUTS is very similar to SOUR; the vocals, rhyme schemes, themes and subject matter are all things we’ve heard hashed out by Rodrigo before. “logical” is “favorite crime,” and “get him back” is “good for you.” For her sophomore album, I would have loved to see a little bit more growth. From an objective perspective, the album is good, but it’s very similar to her other work.
Objectively speaking, the album is okay, but since when have we lived objective lives? From a review perspective, the album is decent, but I didn’t first listen to it as a reviewer. I listened to it as a person who’s had her fair share of breakups, who sometimes feels so painfully awkward that leaving the house does feel like social suicide and who has finally realized that love is sometimes impossibly and stupidly embarrassing. On my first listen I wasn’t thinking about her projected versus actual artistic growth, I was thinking, “Wow, this painful experience is also a shared experience.” The same feeling from her first album persists and appears even to have been honed slightly. Even if she may be losing momentum, she’s surely not losing her relatability.
The unfortunate fact about being human is that as we move through life, collecting beautiful and painful experiences in equal measure, the art and media that best convey these experiences is not always a Pitchfork 10/10. Maybe “GUTS” is not a critical darling, but its ability to speak to so many people’s experiences should not be discounted. The idea that art which appeals to the masses should be perceived as less valuable is the most basic and least interesting form of snobbery. And the notion that art that appeals to girls should be treated as less than is nothing more than misogyny.
Is “GUTS” a groundbreaking piece of media? Is it a boundary-pushing exploration of musicality and girlhood? Is it adventurous or new? No. But it doesn’t really need to be in order to serve a purpose. Girls are relating to it, and they are singing along. I can’t in good faith discount something that has brought girls and women comfort, so I won’t. I’ll say that while “GUTS” isn’t incredible, it’s still good enough.