It’s probably safe to say that the NPR Tiny Desk series hasn’t seen this much pop joy and pain mixed with so many four-letter words before. Olivia Rodrigo stopped by public radio’s most famous cubicle recently and after ripping through “Love is Embarrassing” from the her sophomore album, GUTS, Rodrigo recalled that her first visit to Tiny Desk came in the midst of the pandemic, forcing her to perform at a emptied-out DMV.
“It’s much cooler to be here,” she said of the famed overstuffed NPR performance space. “I’ve never been star-struck by a room before, so this is a huge honor.” Rodrigo also provided some context for “Embarrassing,” describing a night spent lying in bed “playing back every embarrassing thing you’ve ever done and cringing at yourself.”
She then switched to the album’s lacerating first single, “Vampire,” which she said she wrote in 20-30 minutes, but then spent a month polishing with producer Dan Nigro into a high sheen. Sitting at the piano, Rodrigo was joined by a three person choir, who gave the kiss-off to an energy-sucking ex an eerie finality as they crooned “how do you lie, how do you lie?” over the song’s revamped, looser arrangement.
Rodrigo explained that “Lacy” came to her after writing it up as an assignment in a poetry class at USC last year, marking the first time she’d ever written a song by taking a fully formed lyric and then putting a melody to it, rather than working on both at the same time as is her usual method. “It was a fun experiment for me as a songwriter and it turned out to be one of my favorite songs on the record,” she said before playing the moving ballad on a lavender acoustic guitar, backed only by the choir.
The four-song set ended with Rodrigo alone at the piano “Making the Bed,” a track she wrote in New York that fits one of the album’s themes of taking responsibility for your actions. “Want it, so I got it, so it’s done/ Another thing I ruined I used to do for fun/ Another piece of plastic, I could just throw away/ Another conversation with nothing good to say,” she sang in a hushed tone.
Watch Rodrigo’s Tiny Desk show below.