The singer-songwriter opens up to PEOPLE about her new album 'Guts'
When listeners tune in to Guts, Olivia Rodrigo’s new album, the first song they’ll hear is “All-American Bitch,” a searing satire of the expectations and double standards expected of women.
“I’m grateful all the time/I’m sexy and I’m kind/I’m pretty when I cry,” she sings on the track, whose title was inspired by Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion’s 1968 collection of essays.
Female emotion — and the ability for young women to not only be angry, but to express anger in a healthy way regardless of societal expectation — is a topic Rodrigo, 20, knows well. On her 2021 debut album Sour, tracks like “Brutal” and “Good 4 U” seethed with teenage angst, and plenty of Guts is equally grungy.
The idea that those feelings could be explored via song has long been one that greatly appeals to Rodrigo, she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
“I think there are so many expectations placed on women — you’re always supposed to be grateful and calm and gracious and poised,” she says. “Growing up, I really struggled with the conflict of having all these feelings that I felt like I couldn’t externalize and this expectation that I wanted to be this good girl.”
The singer-songwriter says “All-American Bitch” is “sort of about that,” and is a song she’s “very proud of.”
“[The title] comes from the essay that [Didion] wrote about hippies in San Francisco and running away from home,” she explains. “One of the runaways was talking about his mom back home and said that she was an 'all-American bitch.' I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’ It’s such a provocative set of words. I sat down the next day at the piano and wrote ‘All-American Bitch.’... You never know the trajectory a song is going to take.”
But the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series alum knew it was no use actively trying to write another hit.
“I think that I truly can’t write a song and pander. Good songs don’t come out of me writing to please other people,” she says. “All my best songs come from me just wanting to express something for myself and wanting to process a feeling just for me.”
She continues: “Putting that out is sort of a later thought, but at the inception of a song, it’s just very insular. I can’t think about the other stuff.”
As for the dissection of her often deeply personal lyrics, Rodrigo says she understands, as she’s “been curious” about other artist’s lyrics.
“It’s just an interesting part of this job that I’m still getting used to,” she says.
Rodrigo released Guts on Friday and spent the night before her album release surprising fans in New York City at the Guts Gallery pop-up experience, hosted by Spotify and American Express.
For more on Olivia Rodrigo, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
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