Olivia Rodrigo’s sophomore album took GUTS

GUTS is a story, told in references, of girlhood and glory. Twenty year-old Olivia Rodrigo pop-punk bashed her way out of conventional wisdom that a second album equals a sophomore slump, and her Sept. 8 release sees her securing her place as a modern teen star. 

Rodrigo’s songwriting, as has been widely covered, is a rejuvenated and sparkly take on punk and grunge that makes no secret of its pop sensibilities. Her ballads weave together an album of bangers that hit like water balloons – a surprise for sure, but not enough to cause permanent damage. Each song flirts with edgy in its own way.

Rolling Stone has called the album “another instant classic” and Spin Magazine enthused over the star’s “bold step forward.” But what much of the praise has merely glanced over is the refreshing way Rodrigo’s influences have shown through. For the younger generations, Rodrigo and the musical minds she has allied herself with re-package the great alternative rock genres and the lessons they teach.

In keeping with her first effort, SOUR, Rodrigo is indebted to decades past. In production, her songs bear comparison both to New York and London of the 1980s with new wave bubblegum and 1990s Seattle with the distortion of grunge rock. Her lyrics and their femme bravado follow a proud lineage of rock-girl swagger. 

“All the time,” sings Rodrigo in album opener “all-american bitch.” “I’m grateful all the time.” 

The last few years have seen her tumble through the news cycle endlessly, and many of her lyrics call out the exhaustion of public stardom, taking strength in generations of rockers before her.

Where her pop-punk predecessors in Blink-182 and The Offspring went before her, Rodrigo demonstrates a mastery of making stupid decisions sound almost smart because they are just so fun. Alanis Morissette and Courtney Love’s ripped-stocking, smudged-eyeliner sensibilities find a modern and potentially more likable protagonist in her diatribes against ex-lovers and fake friends. No Doubt and Bikini Kill’s treatises on feminism are expanded upon in each defiant line.

Beyond her upbeat hits, Rodrigo shines in her star-making form – the piano ballad. 

“You can win the battle, but you’ll never win the war,” sings Rodrigo in “pretty isn’t pretty.” “You fix thе things you hated, and you’d still feel so insecure.”

Her ballads range from The Cure to Tori Amos, each one packaging the emotions of girlhood in an accessible way, sure to serve as a soundtrack to teenage angst for years to come. She is relatable not only to the 13 year old on the cusp of high school but the 23 and 33 year old looking back on their time. 

The last of the influences clear in Rodrigo’s work are more modern than the fare of Gen Xers – the female singer-songwriters of the 2010s (among whose number one can count FKA Twigs, Lana Del Ray and Lorde) anchor Rodrigo’s work in this century. The combination of tried and true rock lessons with familiar but not dated pop creates a beautifully charismatic sonic template. When matched with her undeniable moxie, Rodrigo is well on her way to influencing whomever will come next.

“Rodrigo, pop star and veteran performer, knows how to turn the ritual humiliations of girlhood into dazzling, over-the-top spectacles,” Pitchfork writes. “The world’s a stage, and she’s gonna put on a f*cking show.”

Rodrigo has proven with GUTS that she is not going anywhere. She has taken the lessons of the past and thrust them another step on the never-ending march into the future. As her world tour begins, one can only hope she is allowed to continue that growth that has already borne another fabulous album for us to enjoy.

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