Lizzo Knows She Is ‘Special,’ and Insists You Are Too
Lizzo storms into her fourth album, “Special,” wearing a wide grin, greeting her audience with, “Hi motherfucker, did you miss me?” She promptly updates us, “I’ve been home since 2020 / I’ve been twerkin’ and makin’ smoothies / It’s called healing.” This is about all that’s needed to dispel any doubts — Yes, we missed you, Lizzo, for no one else can pack personality into opening lines quite like this. In a flash, Lizzo asserts her presence with the qualities that have largely defined it in her previous releases — a brazen sexuality, inextricably tied to body positivity and self-empowerment. Sealing it all together is her irresistible brand of sass and self-aware humor. The chorus of opener “The Signs” encapsulates Lizzo’s approach to subtlety — “If you’re lookin’ for the sign, bitch, I’m it.” Every track that follows abounds with such memorable one-liners. On “About Damn Time,” the observation that “I’m not the girl I was or used to be” prompts the feisty boast, “Bitch, I might be better.” On such tracks, Lizzo puts a contemporary spin to classic disco stylings. The freedom of such sounds’ dance floor abandon are a fitting match for Lizzo’s attitude. For “Special,” Lizzo tapped Swedish hitmaker Max Martin for a pop R&B sound that packs a punch, with other illustrious producers like Ricky Reed and Mark Ronson stepping in for particular tracks to create a set of songs that finds Lizzo at her most unsparing posturing yet.
“Grrrls” represents a slick turning of tables, where Lizzo samples the Beastie Boys’ “Girls,” an infamous, admitted low point for the band, at which the Beasties lost track of what was supposed to be ironic, and ended up turning out appallingly misogynistic fare. Leave it to Lizzo to rework it into a track for the ladies. The opening warns, “Hold my bag, bitch, hold my bag,” then gives way to lines about “CEOs… dancin’ like a C-E-ho” over hard-hitting trap hi-hats and handclaps. Though, Lizzo called out due to a lyric originally including the word “spazz.” She promptly rewrote the line, and addressed the matter with characteristic bluntness, tweeting, “As a fat Black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me so I overstand the power words can have.” It’s remarkable how consistent Lizzo’s response to the matter is with the album’s subject matter. In the title track, a welcome return to rapping eventually yields to an eruption into song. Lizzo sings, “I’m used to feelin’ alone… So I thought that I’d let you know,” before going on to remind her audience, “In case nobody told you today… You’re special.”
“2 Be Loved (Am I Ready),” which finds Lizzo taking an ‘80s turn, seems a bit strained and awkward compared to the rest of the offerings. Luckily, “I Love You Bitch” follows, with a more effective incorporation of that decade’s sounds. The titular declaration showcases Lizzo’s vocal chops, as she locks and loads with full diva histrionics. Whether an unabashed lesbian love song or a mere expression of female camaraderie, Lizzo’s melismatic delivery is full of convincing pasion. “Everybody’s Gay” is another number in the same vein, the celebratory abandon of its decidedly retro disco stylings contrasting with lyrics that ground it in the present moment, as we can only interpret lines like “We can take our mask off / We can all ball and parlay” with the charged connotations of the post-pandemic era.
In “Break Up Twice,” Lizzo takes inspiration from Miss Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).” She not only interpolates bits of the song, but riffs off the original so convincingly that her song’s chorus rings like that of a faithful cover, before the track charts its own course from Lizzo’s creative whims. Bits like a genuine laugh, audible after Lizzo asks, “Who gon’ put up with your Gemini shit like I do?” are invaluable, spontaneous touches that set the album apart. The ongoing theme of acceptance continues to find increasingly emphatic pronouncements, as on the sprawling “Naked,” which slows the tempo, and allows for an unprecedented depth. The funky “Birthday Girl” springs into step and picks up the pace elegantly. In a natural outgrowth of the album’s central sentiment, Lizzo declares, “Every day is a birthday.”
The levity presented throughout the album persists, but fades out gracefully on the final couple of tracks. Having bared all with “Naked,” and called for celebration with “Birthday Girl,” Lizzo proceeds with a linking gesture, singing, “If you love me, you love all of me / Or none of me at all,” on “If You Love Me.” Such a refrain, coming from Lizzo, could easily make for a bawdy romp, but it takes the form of a more somber, earnest entreaty. It should be noted that one marked difference that sets “Special” apart from previous releases is the absence of any full-fledged, sentimental balladry, with feisty festivity comprising the bulk of the running time. But Lizzo still wears her heart on her sleeve in the final few tracks. Her heartfelt admissions are as blunt as her provocations, as she recounts some of the time leading up to the album’s release, recalling, “It made me sad, I cried / Singin’ Coldplay in the night / Dancin’ to no music just feels right with you.” This accounts for the “healing” Lizzo referred to in the opening number, with the “twerkin’” and the “smoothies” soon to follow, along with, of course, the music that finally came. This time, Lizzo has assembled a tracklist with more back-to-back bangers than her previous bodies of work.
“Special” releases July 15 on Apple Music.