After weeks of buzz on Instagram, I finally decided to listen to Olivia Rodrigo’s latest album, GUTS. Admittedly, I am not a devout fan of the pop star, although, like others, I couldn’t help but find her hits like “drivers license” catchy and enjoyable when they were trending all over TikTok.
In all honesty, I was expecting another entertaining but somewhat generic pop album, but instead, I was intrigued by the social commentary found in the album. I feel pop music has been hitting a low in creativity and originality recently, and Rodrigo’s album is a refreshing departure from this tendency. GUTS stands out for a number of reasons, as it manages to encapsulate Rodrigo’s authentic sound and creatively highlights important messages for the artist’s many young listeners, a feature that makes Rodrigo unique in her mainstream popstar niche.
GUTS makes witty film references and social commentary
Despite “vampire” twice-ranking number one on Billboard’s Hot 100, I find that “all-american bitch” stands out from the rest of the songs in the album because of its wit and originality. The song seems to reference a popular film trope — the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) — through a satirical lens with Rodrigo’s classic pop-punk sound. The singer depicts herself as this “perfect,” perpetually positive, slightly offbeat character who seems to lack personal desires and goals, built only to care for and support her partner. Some notable lyrics that characterize this include: “I’m alright with the movies that make jokes about senseless cruelty, that’s for sure” and “I don’t get angry when I’m pissed.”
The angsty and almost sardonic undertone mixed with her yearning to actually be the “perfect” girl effectively illuminates the futility of trying to be “perfect” in the eyes of the male gaze, ultimately criticizing the plausibility of being a real-life MPDG. Rodrigo contrasts soft, gentle verses and an angry pop-punk chorus to demonstrate the tension and frustration of fitting inside this box of perfection when, realistically, we are all flawed and should not have this expectation of perfection. The criticism of impossible girlfriend standards perpetuated by movies — conventionally attractive, always optimistic, ever-caring, never angry, ‘different’ from other women, self-sacrificial — is often missing in pop music, especially within established celebrities of this genre.
Olivia Rodrigo highlights unrealistic beauty standards in a meaningful way
While GUTS is a mix of heartbreak, ‘girl power,’ fun, and upbeat teenage rage that has long defined the genre of mainstream female pop artists, this album proves to be so much more than this somewhat ‘superficial’ stereotype often attributed to women pop artists in music. Rodrigo’s songs “lacy” and “pretty isn’t pretty” in particular refocus attention on the systems and culture that create insecurities in women and girls, rather than just lamenting the insecurities and blaming them for negative emotions.
Although the artist stated in an interview with The Guardian that she never wants to “pigeonhole” her songs to one meaning, Rodrigo’s “lacy” could be interpreted to emphasize the effect of Eurocentric beauty standards on young women. Rodrigo sardonically sings about a “Dazzling starlet, Bardot reincarnate,” “skin like puff-pastry,” and “eyes white as daisies” — a deity of sorts, a figure, or a divine being that Rodrigo is obsessed with. The young singer doesn’t seem to be worshipping a real individual, but a representation of the American beauty standard that her loathing and insecurity arise from.
Lines like, “Yeah, I despise my rotten mind and how much it worships you” demonstrate how the beauty standard looms over most women: a never-ending obsession to fit the beauty standard, all while having contempt for its existence to begin with. Rodrigo’s song “pretty isn’t pretty” furthers this point with “It’s on the poster on the wall, it’s in the shitty magazines / It’s in my phone, it’s in my head” as she refers to the beauty standard’s prevalence once again.
While emulating the jealousy and admiration of songs like “Jolene” by Dolly Parton or “Heather” by Conan Gray, “lacy” is still unique for its social critique of the ideal woman, rather than channelling that obsession and jealousy towards an actual person. Rodrigo takes away the competition aspect of jealousy and rather laments and acknowledges that her painful obsession is a product of having the beauty standard constantly pushed on her.
Overall, GUTS is not only enjoyable for its catchy melodies but also the important messages that Olivia Rodrigo uses her vast platform to share. GUTS is truly witty and inspiring, and I hope to see more music like this from other large artists in the future. As Rodrigo said in an interview with The Guardian, “[That’s what music’s for:] expressing your rage and dissatisfaction.”