Lizzo 2022
Photo: Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Lizzo Emanates Confidence and Charisma on ‘Special’

Lizzo’s Special is as much a celebration of the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook cosmos as it is an in-person, post-Covid bacchanal.

Nice Life / Atlantic
15 July 2022

If Lizzo‘s third album, 2019’s Cuz I Love You, was a slightly tense commercial calling card, Lizzo crashing the popular gates, her latest release, Special, spotlights the singer, songwriter, and producer as she exhales and basks in her success, all the while encouraging her listeners to pursue their own dreams and aspirations.

With “The Sign”, she revisits her signature tongue-in-cheek tone (“Hi motherfucker did you miss me? / I’ve been home since 2020 / I’ve been twerkin’ and makin’ smoothies”). Despite the relatively casual arrangements and production, the track feels as if it’s bursting as if the technology can barely contain Lizzo’s infectious presence, her voice brimming with street-savvy optimism.

“About Damn Time”, on the other hand, is the album’s highpoint in terms of precise production and hit-craft, standing as one of the more compelling songs in Lizzo’s oeuvre. Recalling bass-heavy funk and pop-informed R&B a la Chaka Khan and the Pointer Sisters, as well as mid-career Missy Elliott, the song revels in PC inclusivism, closing with the double entendre, “I’m coming out tonight.”

“Grrrls” addresses the importance of sisterhood, Lizzo singing to a mix of splashy synths and percussive crescendos. While “I Love You Bitch” sports a catchy melody, the repetition of the title line – as if to drum into our heads that an erstwhile aspersion has been consummately recast as a term of endearment – grows gimmicky.

The title tune launches with cinematic synths and a mix of vocals that occur as a succinct tribute to early Motown. Lizzo asserts her specialness, insisting that we’re all special too. “Could you imagine a world where everybody’s the same / And you could cancel a girl ’cause she just wanted to change? / How could you throw fuckin’ stones if you ain’t been through her pain?,” she sings, her voice strained yet crystalline, club-ready yet gospel-inflected, recalling a hip-hop-informed Aretha Franklin, one of Lizzo’s pantheonic heroes.

Special’s second half loses traction in terms of hooks, though Lizzo’s charisma remains undeniable. “Break Up Twice” riffs on the “we’re split but can’t stay split” theme. “Who gonna put up with your Gemini shit like I do?” she asks, chuckling at her question. The opening of “Everybody’s Gay” weds ringing guitar chords courtesy of 1980s new wave and neo-disco electro beats circa early Daft Punk. Rather than serving as a predictable pro-diversity manifesto, as the title suggests, the song unfurls as a carnivalesque portrait of the American dance scene, the kind of montage one might encounter in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack or pre-Thriller Michael Jackson.

“Naked” aspires to be “the vulnerable moment” in an otherwise persona-driven sequence. Achieving its goal lyrically, the piece bogs down melodically. “Birthday Girl” captures a “girls night out” vibe, Lizzo trying her best not to get “emosh”, though, alas, she does. “If You Love Me” extends empathy to those who might be suffering with negative body images. Closer “Coldplay” offers a tip of the hat to the British band’s “Yellow” before Lizzo leaps into one of her more acrobatic vocal performances. The song catalogs various romantic and relational milestones, including “holding hands”, “dancing to no music”, and navigating “defense mechanisms”.

While Special includes its BigPop moments, the set is primarily bolstered by Lizzo’s indomitable energy and diaristic swagger. Melodically and sonically, the project is grounded in canonized templates. Then again, at least lyrically and in terms of posture, Lizzo is hyper-au courant, voicing themes, portraying situations, and personalizing jargon particular to the current zeitgeist. Special is as much a celebration of the Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook cosmos as it is an in-person, post-Covid bacchanal. Everyone is invited.

RATING 7 / 10