Album Review Lizzo - Special4 Stars
Lizzo’s breakthrough came in a blast of glitter-soaked celebration, then its follow-up might be more complex but it’s almost certainly the right move for the superstar to have made.
Having been fully installed at music’s top table since the global breakthrough of 2019’s ‘Cuz I Love You’, it seems strange now to think of a time when Lizzo remained underrated. In reality, however, the pendulum swing was huge. Where 2013 debut ‘Lizzobangers’ and 2015’s ‘Big Grrl Small World’ failed to tickle the Billboard Top 200, the singer’s third peaked at Number Four; at the time of releasing that album’s lead single ‘Juice’ at the start of 2019, her Instagram following numbered 360k - it now stands at 12.8 million.
Ingrained within her stratospheric ascent alongside the record’s inarguable hits, of course, was the blossoming cult of Lizzo as a whole package: a confident, hilarious spreader of joy and the public eye’s most visible icon of the body positivity movement. And so perhaps the most impressive trait of much-anticipated follow up ‘Special’ is that, amid what must have been unimaginable pressure to live up to all of the above, where she could easily have thrown every cliche and viral-baiting slogan at the wall, Lizzo has created something often softer and more intimate than anyone might have expected.
Of course, as the disco strut of lead single ‘About Damn Time’ will attest, there are still cheeky bangers contained within. That song picks up where ‘Get Lucky’ left off, while Mark Ronson co-write ‘Break Up Twice’ samples Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ to crown an ultimatum track that feels all the more punchy for referencing musical legends past. ‘Everybody’s Gay’, meanwhile, rings proudly as an anthem to the safe space of the queer club; slathered in disco hedonism, it perhaps encapsulates the unabashed fun of Lizzo that, throwing out a nod to Donna Summer’s ‘Bad Girls’, what at first sounds like that track’s famous “beep beep” backing vocals actually turns out to be “big dick”.
But between these offerings, the singer allows herself the space to be vulnerable too. On the girls-pep-talk-in-pop form that is ‘2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)’, her internal monologue flip-flops between assertions of self-worth and self doubt (“How am I supposed to love somebody else when I don’t like myself? / Guess I better learn to like this, ooh / It might take my whole life just to do”). ‘Naked’ is a slinky, soft number that finds Lizzo talking about body image in ways that feel notably honest and devoid of cliche: “I’ve seen every part of me and, babe, I can’t erase it / If I get on top of you, you promise to embrace it?”. Then, ‘If You Love Me’ finds resolve in its chorus, moving from chronic self-questioning to the assertion that “If you love me, you love all of me, or none of me at all”.
The lingering message of ‘Special’ as a whole is a smart one: that even though she may have been held up as the poster girl for an entire movement, Lizzo isn’t some infallible emblem but a human being with complexities. That you can work to love yourself but sometimes find it a struggle too. That not everything is as social media makes it seem. If Lizzo’s breakthrough came in a blast of glitter-soaked celebration, then its follow-up might be more complex but it’s almost certainly the right move for the superstar to have made.
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