One of the fundamental conditions — or is it goals? — of pop stardom is hiding the work. You may see Beyoncé sweat, or note how Taylor Swift’s real-life travails inform her artistic choices,
but the music created by the most famous performers in pop rarely refers back to the costs, literal and emotional, of making it.
But what if you want to show the work? That’s the novel approach of Olivia Rodrigo, a modern and somewhat signature pop star.
At the beginning of 2021, she released “Drivers License,” her first single outside the Disney ecosystem she was creatively raised in, and experienced the kind of supernova ascent
that’s impossible to anticipate or recreate. Her jolting debut album, “Sour,” released a few months later, showed her to be a spiky, vivid writer and singer, but one who hadn’t quite seen the world.
Two years later, on her poignantly fraught, spiritually and sonically agitated follow-up album “Guts,” Rodrigo has seen too much.
“Guts” is an almost real-time reckoning with the maelstrom of new celebrity, the choices it forces upon you and the compromises you make along the way.
As on “Sour,” Rodrigo, who is 20 now, toggles between bratty rock gestures and piano-driven melancholy. But regardless of musical mode,
her emotional position is consistent throughout these dozen songs about betrayal, regret and self-flagellation.
“I used to think I was smart/But you made me look so naïve,” she howls on the lead single “Vampire” — she’s referring to a toxic ex, but she may as well be singing about the spotlight itself.
Or as she puts it on “Making the Bed,” “I got the things I wanted/It’s just not what I imagined.”
Rodrigo is a songwriter of rather astonishing purity — even in her most stylized lyrics, she never wanders far from the unformed gut-kick of a feeling. Sometimes on this album, she triples down.
“I loved you truly/Gotta laugh at the stupidity,” she chuckles on “Vampire.” “I look so stupid thinking/Two plus two equals five/and I’m the love of your life,” she croons on “Logical.”
“My God, how could I be so stupid,” she sighs on “Love Is Embarrassing.”