Maybe we should leave Olivia alone
To start off, I'm a very big fan of "SOUR." It makes me wish I had some high school ex who wronged me in a way that led to an era of personal growth in a romantic, coming-of-age kind of way. It's amazing and will be remembered by our generation for decades. "GUTS" is alright, but given the context of it I don't think it was ever going to be more than "alright."
At first glance, the album is very good. Sonically a little all over the place, but no more than "SOUR." You've got your acoustic guitar and piano ballads like "logical" and "lacy," plus plenty of rage-filled rock songs like "ballad of a homeschool girl." Let’s be real, they probably have the most expensive and qualified music producers in the entire world on this album. There’s no way it was gonna be bad.
But with one exception, most songs hit about as hard as my least favorite songs on "SOUR" (with regards to lyrics/content). For sure I'm not the intended audience here so that's not a fair bar, but "SOUR" worked despite it being equally not for me.
Her debut album created a cultural moment because of its singular focus, her previous fame as a Disney actress, and the supposed connection between the on-screen and off-screen relationship between her and Joshua Bassett. And for people my age, her personal growth in the public eye mirrors all of our own late high school coming of age moments (she's literally two weeks older than me).
"SOUR" was just an insane combination of factors that made her immediately so extremely famous in a way that doesn’t happen very often. So now she’s stuck between trying to build off that persona/energy she created in "SOUR" (which is pretty one-note and will get boring if she keeps doing it), and trying to grow as a person/artist (which is risky and I’m sure the many people with vested interest in her music/personality don’t want to see that risk). So it’s a very safe album and thematically a little wacky because of these competing interests.
That one exception I mentioned earlier is "teenage dream," which is basically about the pressure of being so famous at such a young age. How on earth do you follow up on the most successful debut pop album made by anyone ever?