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Special dims Lizzo's shine

"Special"

Release date: 15 July 2022
6/10
Lizzo special art
15 July 2022, 21:02 Written by Sam Franzini
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After Lizzo released her third studio album, Cuz I Love You, in early 2019, a miracle happened.

“Truth Hurts”, a Twitter-joke-packed standalone single released in 2017, leaped onto the Billboard Hot 100 after being featured in the Netflix rom-com Someone Great. It continued its domination all the way up to the chart’s peak, positioning itself there for seven weeks, even stringing along the 2016 song “Good As Hell” – similarly goofy – up to No. 3. A brand was formed.

Almost everything Lizzo has put out since her No. 1 hit sidestepped the nuanced, well-written and playful songs she had been known for (“Juice”, “Tempo”, “Water Me”, “Heaven Help Me”), or the effortless and talented rap ability she possessed (“Ain’t I”, “B.G.S.W.”). Her first two albums, Lizzobangers and Big GRRRL Small World were even deleted from streaming services, forcing public attention towards her revamped persona. Instead, continuing the themes from her sleeper hit, she’s been opting for silly catchphrases that end up in Instagram captions or the (admittedly catchy) viral sounds manipulated to fit TikTok dances. Gone are the creative and boundary-pushing lyrics such as “I swear there should be support groups for men without Lizzo / Meet once a week and deal with y'all issues / Google me and jack off in a tissue” from “Ride”, instead, we have “Balenci-ussies”, “bad bitch o’clock”, and “C-E-hoes.”

The biggest criticism lofted against Lizzo recently is her writing, the banality of it on full display with her new album, Special. “Don’t need that energy, bitch, I’m a Tesla,” she sings on “The Sign”, on which she pulls from the “this is your sign to [do what I’m currently doing]” TikTok trend. “If you’re lookin’ for the sign, bitch, I’m it,” but the sign to do what is unclear. She falls in love with someone on “I Love You Bitch” because they water their plants and eat vegetables. “I’m obsessed with it,” she says.

“Naked” starts as a slinky R&B jam, but its sex appeal washes away with its on-the-nose writing (“Welcome to my body, I know it’s nice to meet it”). At least it ends powerfully, showcasing her vocal ability, similar to the Jessie Ware-inspired “Everybody’s Gay”. The fun-filled outro, however, isn’t enough to save the subversion of ‘gay’ to mean ‘happy’, a joke middle schoolers have been using for years. At least the album’s title track gets real, talking about the bizarre and unnecessary hate she’s gotten simply for existing. “If it wasn't me, then would you even get offended or / Is it just because I'm Black and heavy?”

It’s hard to criticize someone so clearly well-intentioned on her message at the end of the tracklist, she reiterates the central theme of the album: “I want you to know you’re special and I’m so glad you’re still with us.” But Lizzo has sang about self-love and positivity elsewhere with a better pen — “Juice”, “Lingerie”, and even “Good As Hell”, to some extent.

For most songs on Special, there is a rawer, more real iteration somewhere else in Lizzo’s catalog. These are songs with the glossiest pop sheen steamrolled over them, erasing any wrinkles or mishaps – the exact thing that made her so endearing to begin with. There are catchy tunes in here, ones that will inevitably get stuck in your head or be posted to a Millennial’s Instagram story with the caption “#MOOD” – “The Sign” or “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)”, most likely – but in crafting family-friendly radio pop, Lizzo’s own shine dims.

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