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A Deep Dive Into Olivia Rodrigo’s Triumphant ‘Guts’

Something particular I appreciate about Rodrigo’s music is the way it pulls from a lot of genres that have historically been male-dominated — pop-punk, emo, angsty alt-rock — and enlivens them with the vivid perspective of an idiosyncratic young woman. I cannot overstate how much I needed a voice like hers when I was a teenager, listening to rock music that blamed The Girl for everything, and that sometimes even indulged in violent revenge fantasies about her, always figuring her as the object and never the subject. I felt like I was supposed to be a specific sort of girl, the kind Rodrigo sketches and then obliterates on the opening track of “Guts,” when she sings in an exaggerated lilt, “I’m all right with the movies that make jokes ’bout senseless cruelty, that’s for sure.” Then she kicks the distortion pedal and says, so cathartically, the hell with that. She’s going to be herself — witty, a little awkward, convincingly weird — and write herself into the story.

On both of her albums, Rodrigo mashes up genres and influences in a way that feels genuinely fresh. Which is why it was so disappointing when two of her stated idols, Taylor Swift and Paramore, suddenly received writing credits on two of the biggest hits from “Sour” after they were released. I prefer to think of it the way Elvis Costello did, when he responded to a tweet suggesting that the chord progression of Rodrigo’s song “Brutal” sounds similar to Costello’s 1978 hit with the Attractions, “Pump It Up.” “This is fine by me,” Costello wrote. “It’s how rock and roll works. You take the broken pieces of another thrill and make it a brand new toy. That’s what I did.” (He hashtagged the post with the titles of the Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry songs that had, in turn, inspired “Pump It Up.”)

In that spirit, today’s playlist is a celebration of the many musical influences I hear on “Guts,” putting them in conversation with some of the album’s tracks to create new connections and pathways of inspiration. I limited myself to including only songs released before Rodrigo was alive, which was not difficult, as she was born in [deep sigh] 2003. Good 4 her.

This is the rare playlist that features both Billy Joel and Bikini Kill; a track from Carole King’s 1971 album “Tapestry” and one off Saves the Day’s 2001 album “Stay What You Are.” Like the best of us, Olivia Rodrigo contains multitudes. And, of course, guts.

Listen along on Spotify as you read.

In the tradition of “Brutal,” which kicked off Rodrigo’s “Sour,” the propulsive “Guts” opener plays around with dynamics and stylistic contrasts to convey the impossible tension of being a young American girl. (She stumbled across the title phrase while reading Joan Didion’s essay collection “The White Album” — a young American girl rite of passage.) As the song progresses, it becomes clear that the eponymous perfect specimen of femininity is actually stifling fiction: “I don’t get angry when I’m pissed, I’m the eternal optimist,” an angsty Rodrigo shouts atop boisterously crunchy guitars, suggesting otherwise. (Listen on YouTube)

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