Arts·Group Chat

Olivia Rodrigo leans into rock — and humour — with her new album Guts

For this week's wrap panel, culture critics Niko Stratis and Falen Johnson share their reactions to Olivia Rodrigo’s new album, Guts.

Niko Stratis and Falen Johnson discuss the young pop singer’s highly-anticipated sophomore album

Promo art for Olivia Rodrigo's album Guts.
Promo art for Olivia Rodrigo's album Guts. (Larissa Hofmann)

Guts, the follow-up record to Olivia Rodrigo's Grammy-winning debut album, Sour, is finally here.

The 20-year-old musician is known to some as a former actor on the Disney channel, to others as the artist behind 2021's inescapable hit Drivers License — and now, she may just be known as the pop-rock voice of a generation.

Culture critics Niko Stratis and Falen Johnson join host Elamin Abdelmahmoud to share their reactions to the new album, what influences they hear in her evolving sound, and why her music about the pains of being young has such staying power with people of all ages.

We've included some highlights below, edited for length and clarity. For the full discussion, where the panel discusses Rolling Stone Magazine's investigation into Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show and the Deer Lady episode of Reservation Dogs, listen and follow the Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud podcast, on your favourite podcast player.

Elamin: OK. We have a new album. It dropped last night. You and Falen have both given it a listen. Did you like it?

Niko: I love it. I think she's a really fascinating example of a new era of pop star wherein she is very much a product of her origins…. I was reading reviews and profiles of her, and she talks about the music that she grew up on. When she was touring Sour, she was playing Seether by Veruca Salt, and everybody was like, "Why are you playing a Veruca Salt song?" And she was like, "Well, this is the music my parents listen to." And you can feel that, right? When Vampire dropped everybody was like, "Oh, so you listen to Radiohead? Cool."

WATCH | Official music video for Vampire:

She has all these influences, but she's not afraid to show them — and in fact winks and nods at them. This thing that I'm finding myself increasingly annoyed about with women in pop music is they're always measured against Taylor Swift, saying, "Well, how are you going to be this famous?" You know what I mean? She is sort of being measured against Taylor Swift, and I don't think she is Taylor Swift-adjacent. I think she's part of a new kind of thing…. First of all, she's 20 years old and she's making really smart, clever, funny — she's really funny.

Elamin: She's really funny, yeah.

Niko: This is the thing that people don't talk about enough with her: how funny she is, and how self-aware she can be while also being self-aware of being young — which is a really hard thing to pull off, being like, "I'm 20 years old, I don't know who I'm going to be tomorrow."

WATCH | Official music video for bad idea, right?:

Elamin: There's a really remarkable thing, Falen, that she sort of developed as a style, which is this almost-speaking. It's like all the thoughts seem like they're just coming off the top of her head as she's singing the song, you know? I really react to that, personally. What did you think of the album?

Falen: I liked it more than I thought I would. There were some songs that I think will definitely find their way into my Spotify algorithm. I've heard Vampire a few times now, and I quite like that. Making the bed was one that I quite liked. I definitely hear that influence of her parents' music, which I quite love. I know the plagiarism conversation around her work is one that has been happening, where a number of artists have come forward saying, "This is just what music is...." But, you know, Courtney Love was annoyed in 2021 because Olivia Rodrigo had done a photoshoot where the image looked very much like the album cover for Hole's first album Live Through This; but for me, as a person of that lived through this era, I quite like it and it makes me like Olivia Rodrigo a little bit more because I can find an "in" there, which I think is really interesting.

WATCH | Official lyrics video for Making the bed:

Elamin: You hit it, because it's not a pastiche. I think we've been through enough pastiche of '90s and early 2000s music; there's been a bunch of bands that feel like they're sort of making fun of that era. With Olivia, there's something sincere about the way that she's reacting to that kind of music. There's an honesty to how she's borrowing it and also advancing it, in a way.

Niko: Yeah, like it's part of her, right? This is part of her musical upbringing. This is part of her origin. It is that entry point for people of my age demographic. I'm assuming she has younger parents like me, in their 40s maybe, and it is an "in" for us as well. It is pop music that bridges a lot of divides in really fun and interesting ways. She is taking a lot of styles that were obviously written into her DNA when she was a younger person listening to music … and she is doing this thing where, like you said, it's not pastiche; she's not making fun of anything. She's earnestly coming from songwriting by growing up listening to music, which is how a lot of musicians do this. She's not trying to make a Taylor Swift pop record. She's not trying to make a Selena Gomez pop record. She's trying to make music that feels like a natural extension of who she is. I think that naturally bridges a lot of divides for people; it's a multi-generational sort of entry point.

You can find a more straight-ahead pop song. You can find something that has a punk-rock element. Not to quote my own Twitter, but I did make a joke where I say if they remade Josie and the Pussycats tomorrow with Olivia Rodrigo as the star, it would make $1,000,000 by noon — and it's true.… You could turn this into the soundtrack and it would break the world overnight.

You can listen to the full discussion, where the panel discusses Rolling Stone Magazine's investigation into Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show and the Deer Lady episode of Reservation Dogs, on CBC Listen or on our podcast, Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Panel produced by Ty Callender.


Amelia Eqbal is a digital associate producer, writer and photographer for Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud and Q with Tom Power. Passionate about theatre, desserts, and all things pop culture, she can be found on Twitter @ameliaeqbal.