Music

Lizzo Special Album Review

Photo: Warner Media Group

In the three years since “Truth Hurts” blew up on TikTok and “Good As Hell” crept into raunchy ensemble comedies, RuPaul’s Drag Race lip syncs, and commercials for GrubHub and Garnier, the Grammy-winning Minneapolis performer Lizzo has had a tumultuous trip within the public consciousness, garnering respect for nuclear-grade feel-good anthems like “Juice” whereas contending with people’s nebulous requirements for what she ought to sing, how she ought to dress, and even how a lot she ought to weigh. She’s additionally been accused of pandering to white audiences with motivational pop songs and criticized for revealing outfits just like the see-through dress she wore to Cardi B’s party final October or the cutout quantity she sported at a 2019 Lakers recreation. Occasionally, the backlash is hard-earned, like that point she went after critics following the discharge of her 2019 breakthrough album Cuz I Love You — a perplexing play, because the evaluations have been largely glowing — or when she publicly shamed a Postmates employee who later sued, complaining of threats acquired after the star shared her supply particular person’s title and film on Twitter.

But typically it seems like people are intentionally in search of shit to nitpick, holding Lizzo to a typical that feels unapproachable by design. The stuff about wooing white audiences is ridiculous, since Black artists have been a presence in pop so long as the excellence existed. Dionne Warwick sang Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs. Whitney Houston faced criticism from R&B followers who felt her 1985 self-titled debut was geared extra towards pop charts than soul and gospel traditions. Beyoncé danced throughout style traces on 2008’s I Am … Sasha Fierce, plucking heartstrings on the healthful “Halo” whereas melting dance flooring with the brash “Diva.” Questioning the Blackness in Lizzo’s music is a wasteful endeavor you may disabuse your self of in 5 minutes by watching the singer blow via Cuz I Love You’s title observe on the high of her 2019 NPR Tiny Desk Concert, the place the music’s gospel and blues underpinnings are laid naked in a powerhouse vocal efficiency. Yes, a music like “Juice” carries the notable whiff of a Maroon 5 chart-topper, however Cuz I Love You additionally seems like a direct descendant of the risqué stand-up of LaWanda Page and the sex-positive raps of Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliott.

Lizzo responds to her backlash with frankness and advocacy. She’s sincere about how body-shaming eats away at a lady’s vanity, and her artwork and business endeavors all revolve round counteracting this negativity. Her shapewear line Yitty covers an unlimited vary of sizes (when too many vogue manufacturers service a narrower portion of the general public). Her Emmy-nominated Amazon Video actuality collection Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls is, by turns, your textbook televised competitors for a spot in a well-known artist’s live present and a collection of painful discussions concerning the adversity the titular ladies face. Lizzo’s fourth album, Special, is an extension of her mission to make everybody really feel accepted and problem retrograde notions about the way in which a lady ought to hold herself within the public eye. It particulars the performer’s journey to feeling snug in her body as she falls for somebody new, and it loves on the listener going via the identical in a collection of bubbly pep talks like “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready),” a nervous interior dialogue about giving your hang-ups an evening off as a result of somebody cute is asking. Special can be a cautious balancing act, a second serving of the sound that powered the hits that made Lizzo a family title and a probing exploration of mainstream pop tropes which have cropped up because the final album. That means much less space for up to date R&B and rap moments like “Scuse Me” from 2016’s Coconut Oil EP or “Bus Passes and Happy Meals” off the star’s 2013 debut album Lizzobangers, and extra room for Max Martin bops and ’80s-pop simulacra. Special is enjoyable however safe, extra unified in its sound and theme than the final album but in addition devoid of any main surprises.

The title observe is the best rendering of the brand new album’s aesthetic pursuits and core message. Lizzo cuts to the short over a shower of beautiful strings and horns and the sort of beat that usually blesses a reflective Chance the Rapper single or a Drake rap exercise: “How could you throw fuckin’ stones if you ain’t been through her pain? / That’s why we feel so alone, that’s why we feel so much shame.” (Performing this one on Saturday Night Live in May, Lizzo delivered the traces like a shout that escaped from the depths of her being.) The refrain — “In case nobody told you today / You’re special” — understands what people need in a Lizzo file: emboldening phrases, affirmations that really feel lived-in, and soulful sonics that really feel right in a bar or a grocery store or a Netflix romance or a daytime-TV spot for heart medicine. We do typically want somebody in our ears reminding us that regardless of how unhealthy we might really feel, it’s good we’re alive. Special feels fine-tuned for this utility. Each music is a line drive towards mass enchantment. Lyrics may be nearly simplistically direct, the higher to promote the sensation clearer. This makes “Special” ache, however others get hamstrung by traces that don’t land, just like the one in “Grrrls” that netted complaints of ableism or the one which rhymes “CEO” with “C-E-Hoe” or the key-fob bars in “The Sign” (“Don’t need that energy, bitch, I’m a Tesla / Hey, hey, F-O-B on the dresser”). Sacrificing a little bit of complexity for conversational relatability permits for the smoldering rage within the “do right” anthem “Break Up Twice” — “It would be a shame not to see this through / Who gon’ put up with your Gemini shit like I do?” — but in addition terrycloth-soft adult-contemporary moments like “I Love You Bitch,” a flip of a Z-Ro classic that bears a better resemblance to U2, and “If You Love Me,” a phrase about unconditional acceptance that additionally seems like a tough promote for an additional Garnier tv spot. Special appears invested in uplifting everybody in earshot but in addition anxious to safe its slice of the pop-radio market share.

These songs lean into the identical sort of musical slipperiness as the newest from Adele, Harry Styles, Lorde, and the Weeknd. They’re massaging nostalgic sounds into up to date pop songs, curating noteworthy style via juxtaposition. Lizzo can hold on the ’80s revival party as a result of her chops are large. The chipper “Everybody’s Gay” expertly mimics the brassy funk of Rick James’s Street Songs whereas the singer tap-dances across the horror theme of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” “Grrrls” flips the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” on its head, popping out with a bubbly empowerment anthem. The items of older hits that stick out in these productions sound luxurious, however additionally they really feel slightly apparent. A sliver of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in “Break Up Twice” brings a fairly melody to a predictable payoff, and “Coldplay” cleverly sprinkles Chris Martin’s “Yellow” right into a soul music. Like her television appearances, the place Lizzo’s wanting to hip you to her many interdisciplinary items as she raps and sings and twerks and performs the flute, Special is spotlighting her versatility (and that of maestros like Martin, Ricky Reed, Pop Wansel, and Ian Kirkpatrick) because it cycles via the Dungeon Family funk-pop of “The Sign,” the modern disco of “About Damn Time,” the old-school rap tribute in “Grrrls,” the robust Prince energy round “2 B Loved (Am I Ready),” and the maudlin New Wave of “I Love You Bitch.” But the back half, the place the album settles into a gradual groove and fires one funk-soul bomb after one other, is smoother. “Naked” hits the identical highs as “Cuz I Love You,” spicing up an impassioned vocal efficiency with loud blasts of horns, and “Everybody’s Gay” crushes partly because of a scene-stealing efficiency by guitarist Nate Mercereau, who additionally shredded on the Cuz I Love You spotlight “Crybaby.”

Special is a blast however by no means as fearless as “Crybaby” or “Better in Color” or “Heaven Help Me,” songs the place Lizzo steamrolled intricate, anachronistic productions, juggling rap and cabaret vocals or rapping over gospel choirs and alt-dance sonics. She’s hedging her bets, firming things down. It seems like Special has a watch on the long-term stability of the artist and the nurturing of a fandom, and that’s good business after a hard-won career breakthrough and a wave of backlash. Special hits its marks as Lizzo’s expertise overpowers a peppering of moments of cringe. But it might’ve taken wilder swings.

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