Exposing our “GUTS”
On Sept. 8, 2023, gen z musician Olivia Rodrigo’s second album GUTS was released around the globe to widespread praise. Labeled formally as a pop album, GUTS transcends the genre by incorporating pop rock and alternative touches throughout its runtime.
Rodrigo has “certainly found a way to be present in the mainstream in a way that’s a little bit difficult now,” said Brain Fauteux, associate professor in popular music and media studies at the University of Alberta.
“We often listen individually, and I think that cuts across generations and demographics and even countries,” he said when asked about the resonance GUTS has had with young adults.
Many have already grown up with Rodrigo’s music as they reach their early twenties at the same time she does:
“A lot of people who would be undergraduate or typical undergraduate age now have grown up with the last three or four years of her music and hit singles going from high school to university.”
Rodrigo’s ability to highlight experiences young adults face is also noted by Abhiraj Lamba, current student at the University of Waterloo when discussing his favourite track from the album “teenage dream”:
“It’s really rooted and well written. And it’s just really authentic – I think that’s what I love about it.”
This authenticity is reflected in the introspective themes of Rodrigo’s writing, as highlighted by Fauteux:
“It’s very introspective still. And it’s not about, you know, perfection or being a perfect popstar. There are those kinds of elements that come through in the lyrics, but there’s a lot of really anthemic songs and a lot of energy, whether it’s some of the faster ones or even some of the ones that sound a little bit more like a ballad. They still come together in ways that sound a little bit more collective in the overall sound.”
This introspective side of Rodrigo’s writing shines brightest in the album’s slower moments, tracks like “lacy” detailing acute obsession with someone you perceive as perfect in every way:
“I despise my jealous eyes and how hard they fell for you/ Yeah, I despise my rotten mind and how much it worships you.”
The same sentiments of feeling lost and left out is also present on the “boppier” tracks of the album, “ballad of a homeschooled girl” further accentuating these themes with dark humour:
“Each time I step outside, it’s social suicide/ It’s social suicide, wanna curl up and die.”
“There’s a range of emotion present on the album sonically – kind of moving from those different tempos and influences, the sounds of electronic music and punk and pop, said Fauteux.
“There’s a lot sonically taking place. It’s not fairly uniform across. So, I think that’s also a compelling part of this album and its wider reception too.”
Nowhere is this range more present than the shift from track number 7, “logical”, to track number 8 “get him back!”
“logical” serves a clear piece of advice to listeners in the chorus:
“Cause if rain don’t pour and sun don’t shine/ Then changing you is possible/No, love is never logical.”
This sentiment is then played with again in “get him back!” as Rodrigo sings
“I wanna key his car/ I wanna make him lunch/I wanna break his heart, stitch it right back up/ I wanna kiss his face with an uppercut/ I wanna meet his mom, and tell her her son sucks.”
The illogical nature of love is one that hits particularly hard for those in their teens and early twenties listening to the album. With the release of GUTS came the TikTok phenomenon of the “twenty-year-old teenage girl.”
When asked what he thought of this concept, Lamba, the University of Waterloo student, said he could relate to it,
“Because a lot of what I like is just stuff which, I guess – the perception is that it is for teenagers.”
The popularity of the phenomenon has the added result of bringing the emotions of those in their teens and early twenties into the spotlight – accentuating them in a way that legitimizes them when they have often been critiqued in the past.
This is something done by Taylor Swift in the past as she chose to expand her lyricism with Folklore and Evermore.
odrigo has only contributed to the album movement that is centered on lyricism.
While the aesthetic of GUTS has been criticized for being similar to Rodrigo’s first album SOUR, it will be interesting to watch where the gen-z star goes with her next album as she continues to age, and her writing matures.
The widespread popularity of GUTS and SOUR despite their similar aesthetics proves that with good music, aesthetics should be of secondary concern.
“I think it’s maybe a good sign that you can have two successful albums out in a row that don’t need to change aesthetically dramatically in order to grasp people’s attention,” said Fauteux.
“I think that another big reason why Olivia’s music resonates is because there is one consistent force across the mainstream of pop music over the last little while – Taylor Swift,” said Fauteux.
“I think there are some differences, but also similarities in terms of their careers, their music, that space they occupy in broader culture,” he said.
“It’s an interesting comparison – it’s hard to hard to predict where she’ll go after this.”
As Rodrigo’s GUTS world tour begins on Feb. 23, 2024 with 77 shows, it seems clear that Rodrigo will only continue to dominate popular culture with her hit pop/punk tracks.