Olivia Rodrigo Survives Teenhood on the Valiant 'GUTS'

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BY Megan LaPierrePublished Sep 11, 2023

The old saying goes that girls mature faster than boys. This is what we're told repeatedly, in the same breath that "he likes you" will be used to soften playground harassment into something that's supposed to be flattering. It's the same sentiment that enables men to date women much younger than them, going so far as to inform what women themselves seek out in relationships. 

The funny thing to me about the double-edged sword of age and womanhood — thrust upon us via patriarchal sexualization of young girls and expectations of old-soul maturity, meant to validate our intelligence enough for us to tolerate certain abuses — is that we age out of being that idealized sex object so fast. Or so the system seems to have been designed to designate, despite our resistance. Nowhere is this more evident than the life cycle of the pop star, where women historically have tended to have a lifespan lasting only from teenage girlhood to their early 30s, if they're lucky.

Olivia Rodrigo knows she was created in a lab; a mixture of sugar, spice and everything nice concocted by Professor Utonium over at Disney, thrusted to begin her rise on the endlessly-embarrassing-to-say-aloud High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. On GUTS, she has to leave the cocoon of experiential purity and universalism that informed the songs on her landmark debut, especially "drivers license." Instead of running from a feared lack of relatability, she brings a magnifying glass to the microscope that her fame has put her under

"When am I gonna stop being great for my age and just start being good?" she wonders on closing track "teenage dream," calling back not only to the "I know my age and I act like it" of opener "all-american bitch," but also SOUR opener, "brutal," when she likewise begged the question, "Where's my fucking teenage dream?"

As it turns out, the whole thing's a bit oversold. And fleeting! Rodrigo is a well-studied student of the machine of young pop stardom and all of the contradictions — of musicianship, of business, of age, of gender — that it forces together. Despite not explicitly being about that, she best encapsulates this tension on "get him back!," which sees Rodrigo air out well-trod competing urges for reconciliation and revenge. She raps, and it's more than passable; it's both early-aughts throwback-y and du jour, and it's irresistibly fun — especially when the wonky, backbeat-heavy singalong chorus draws out the ellipsis of "If I had to choose / I would say right now." Rodrigo is at the height of her lethal power as she sings, "I wanna kiss his face / With an uppercut," letting the venom drip into the next line, balancing the twin impulses to meet this guy's mom and tell her just how much he sucks.

With SOUR, my favourite part of loving those songs was knowing how much my younger self would have loved those songs. GUTS has my feet firmly planted in the present of ageless Joan Didion worship ("all-american bitch"), learning time after time that feeling defies reason (the "Two plus two equals five / and I'm the love of your life" girl math on "logical") and every time I go outside still being social suicide ("ballad of a homeschooled girl"). While everyone will inevitably continue to compare Rodrigo to other women (I have yet to read a review of GUTS that doesn't mention Taylor Swift), she doesn't have to be any generation's anything. Surviving being a 19-year-old girl is an accomplishment in and of itself — and she not only did that, but managed to squeeze a valiant second album out of it.


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