As Olivia Rodrigo set out to write her second album, she froze. “I couldn't sit at the piano without thinking about what other people were going to think about what I was playing,” she tells Apple Music. “I would sing anything and I'd just be like, ‘Oh, but will people say this and that, will people speculate about whatever?’” Given the outsized reception to 2021’s SOUR—which rightly earned her three Grammys and three Apple Music Awards that year, including Top Album and Breakthrough Artist—and the chatter that followed its devastating, extremely viral first single, “drivers license,” you can understand her anxiety. She’d written much of that record in her bedroom, free of expectation, having never played a show. The week before it was finally released, the then-18-year-old singer-songwriter would get to perform for the first time, only to televised audiences in the millions, at the BRIT Awards in London and on SNL in New York. Some artists debut—Rodrigo arrived. But looking past the hype and the hoo-ha and the pressures of a famously sold-out first tour (during a pandemic, no less), trying to write as anticipated a follow-up album as there’s been in a very long time, she had a realization: “All I have to do is make music that I would like to hear on the radio, that I would add to my playlist,” she says. “That's my sole job as an artist making music; everything else is out of my control. Once I started really believing that, things became a lot easier.” Written alongside trusted producer Dan Nigro, GUTS is both natural progression and highly confident next step. Boasting bigger and sleeker arrangements, the high-stakes piano ballads here feel high-stakes-ier (“vampire”), and the pop-punk even punkier (“all-american bitch,” which somehow splits the difference between Hole and Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby”). If SOUR was, in part, the sound of Rodrigo picking up the pieces post-heartbreak, GUTS finds her fully healed and wholly liberated—laughing at herself (“love is embarrassing”), playing chicken with disaster (the Go-Go’s-y “bad idea right?”), not so much seeking vengeance as delighting in it (“get him back!”). This is Anthem Country, joyride music, a set of smart and immediately satisfying pop songs informed by time spent onstage, figuring out what translates when you’re face-to-face with a crowd. “Something that can resonate on a recording maybe doesn't always resonate in a room full of people,” she says. “I think I wrote this album with the tour in mind.” And yet there are still moments of real vulnerability, the sort of intimate and sharply rendered emotional terrain that made Rodrigo so relatable from the start. She’s straining to keep it together on “making the bed,” bereft of good answers on “logical,” in search of hope and herself on gargantuan closer “teenage dream.” Alone at a piano again, she tries to make sense of a betrayal on “the grudge,” gathering speed and altitude as she goes, each note heavier than the last, “drivers license”-style. But then she offers an admission that doesn’t come easy if you’re sweating a reaction: “It takes strength to forgive, but I don’t feel strong.” In hindsight, she says, this album is “about the confusion that comes with becoming a young adult and figuring out your place in this world and figuring out who you want to be. I think that that's probably an experience that everyone has had in their life before, just rising from that disillusionment.” Read on as Rodrigo takes us inside a few songs from GUTS. “all-american bitch” “It's one of my favorite songs I've ever written. I really love the lyrics of it and I think it expresses something that I've been trying to express since I was 15 years old—this repressed anger and feeling of confusion, or trying to be put into a box as a girl.” “vampire” “I wrote the song on the piano, super chill, in December of [2022]. And Dan and I finished writing it in January. I've just always been really obsessed with songs that are very dynamic. My favorite songs are high and low, and reel you in and spit you back out. And so we wanted to do a song where it just crescendoed the entire time and it reflects the pent-up anger that you have for a situation.” “get him back!” “Dan and I were at Electric Lady Studios in New York and we were writing all day. We wrote a song that I didn't like and I had a total breakdown. I was like, ‘God, I can't write songs. I'm so bad at this. I don't want to.’ Being really negative. Then we took a break and we came back and we wrote ‘get him back!’ Just goes to show you: Never give up.” “teenage dream” “Ironically, that's actually the first song we wrote for the record. The last line is a line that I really love and it ends the album on a question mark: ‘They all say that it gets better/It gets better the more you grow/They all say that it gets better/What if I don't?’ I like that it’s like an ending, but it's also a question mark and it's leaving it up in the air what this next chapter is going to be. It's still confused, but it feels like a final note to that confusion, a final question.”

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