Olivia Rodrigo
Photo: Zamar Velez

Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Guts’ Awakens the Angsty Teenager in All of Us

Olivia Rodrigo sings of fame, pain, heartbreak, and growing up on Guts. There’s rage, yearning, and reckless behavior here that transcends generations.

Olivia Rodrigo
8 September 2023

“I know my age, and I act like it,” sings Olivia Rodrigo on the opening track to her sophomore studio album, Guts. “Got what you can’t resist.” Much of Rodrigo’s discography has centered on acting one’s age and resisting shame for the emotions that might accompany particular phases of youth. The chorus to “All-American Bitch” tries to reinforce the continuation of this theme for Rodrigo’s latest era, the highly anticipated follow-up to her debut LP Sour and its viral lead single, “Drivers License”.

But the true theme of Guts is that there is no age limit to being, for lack of a better term, in your feelings. Rodrigo sings of fame, pain, heartbreak, and growing up on her new record. Despite being seemingly marketed to a younger generation of pop listeners who might’ve come of age with the singer on the Disney series Bizaardvark or High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Olivia Rodrigo’s music resonates with a demographic older but not necessarily wiser than her own.

Indeed, over the weekend of Guts’ release, millennials wasted no time taking to social media to once again make fun of the fact that the music of a pop singer born in 2003 is providing them with a much-needed cathartic release. To quote one post: “So grateful to have Olivia Rodrigo making music to soundtrack my teenage years (I am in my mid-20s).” Much like her debut studio album, Rodrigo’s music resonates powerfully among disillusioned millennials and even older members of Gen Z who are in the re-parenting process of their 20s, where we have to heal the inner child or teenager that’s still hurting within.

For many, the production of Guts, which is heavily influenced by 2000s-era pop-punk, indie rock, and new wave, is a nostalgic trip down memory lane of their adolescence. For younger listeners, it’s genre-bending pop for a decade trying to rise above a pandemic, inflation, and a climate crisis. Whichever end of the spectrum you might land on, there’s rage, yearning, and reckless behavior here that transcends generations, which is a soaring accomplishment.

Olivia Rodrigo has stated that there was no one form of inspiration for her latest work and that she’s still learning what oversharing looks like for herself. There’s significant growth on display on Guts, from the songwriting to the layered production that vastly differs from the bedroom pop of Sour. Aside from one or two instances, her sophomore LP is more in line with the mid-aughts indie rock of the Moldy Peaches or Sky Ferreira more so than contemporaries like Gracie Abrams or Holly Humberstone.

The aforementioned “All-American Bitch” sounds like a 2023 reimagining of “Bitch” by Meredith Brooks, even if Rodrigo has already more than proven the right to female anger. She recalls a toxic relationship with what sounds like an older lover on lead single “Vampire”, whose chorus lyric “Bloodsucker, fame fucker” is one of the best hooks you’ll hear this year. Other love affairs gone wrong are explored in “Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl”, “Making the Bed”, or “The Grudge”, but it’s the album closer “Teenage Dream” that hammers home the sense of humility and agency in Rodrigo’s work that was surely not offered to singers who came of age on Disney projects even half a decade ago.

In lyrics that recall the work of Alanis Morissette, Rodrigo ponders, “When am I gonna stop being wise beyond my years and just start being wise?” For all of our modern era’s advances in advocating for the legitimacy of women’s creative work, the singer still can’t help but feel exploited. “Got your whole life ahead of you. You’re only nineteen / But I fear that they already got all the best parts of me.” She apologizes for not always being able to be our teenage dream, as if she ever was that to begin with, since it’s more the personal toll of fame that Olivia Rodrigo is grappling with here and overall on Guts. If only she knew how much her music has helped those who should be wiser than her in making peace with our fractured teenage dream.

RATING 9 / 10