When Lizzo dropped “Rumors” last year, it was widely assumed it would end up on her next album. The standalone single recorded with Cardi B was undeniably a hit, but just a couple tracks into Special (★★★★☆), it’s easy to see why a song that reveled in drama and clapped back against haters and internet mobs didn’t make the cut.
Her fourth album and second major studio release is a far cry from the nonchalance and bristliness of “Rumors,” and is stronger for it.
Special is a lovefest from beginning to end. Living in Lizzo’s world means never having to argue for your worth or desirability. Lizzo knows she’s beautiful and preternaturally likable, and it’s hard not to agree with her when she sings that she’s got that, “Oh, hell no, you can’t get this at the store.”
She is completely (and refreshingly) uninterested in putting on any kind of affected coolness, and that sincerity is on full display in “I Love You Bitch,” when she gets gooey about the little things that strike you about someone you’ve just fallen in love with.
All that natural charisma certainly doesn’t hurt, but she’s also eager to share the love and boost your confidence any chance she gets, as she does in the lovefest “Birthday Girl.”
For the most part, Lizzo remains squarely in her thematic comfort zone with buoyant, feel-good anthems to self-love, body positivity, and sisterhood. The impressive feat she pulls on Special is keeping each track sounding fresh and different while staying so squarely in that comfort zone.
It helps that she knows exactly where her strengths lie, and one of the big ones is her intuitive understanding that much of her appeal lies in her honest, unabashed confidence and swagger.
There’s something to be said for knowing her audience, too, having dropped her cheeky, lighthearted queer anthem “Everybody’s Gay” during a “Night of a 1,000 Lizzos” event.
Lizzo is almost impossibly charismatic, and she knows it. With her wit and sheer force of personality so often taking the spotlight, it might be easy to miss that this is her tightest, most expertly crafted album yet.
On “Grrrls,” a definite highlight of the album, the artist’s decision to feature a sample from the Beastie Boys’ “Girls” is a particularly bold and clever move, given that her purpose in “Grrrls” is to turn the casual misogyny of its namesake song on its head.
Lizzo has made no secret of her love of disco, and even in a pop landscape currently saturated with interpretations, nods, and revivals, songs like her runaway hit single “About Damn Time” stand out. Those disco elements combine with funky guitars, bombastic horns, and some ’80s synthpop shimmer to create a sound that is appropriately fun and energetic.
Between the empowerment anthems, Lizzo does open up a bit. When she nods at tough times, they function almost like a prologue to the better times that follow them. As she puts it on the album opener, “The Sign,” “It’s called healing, bitch.”
She gets a little more up-front and vulnerable on the title track, singing about loneliness and the perils of being in the public eye. A couple of tracks later she gets unexpectedly raw on the funk-laden, anti-breakup ballad “Break Up Twice,” describing a relationship with some clear problems that is nevertheless worth working to save — although she pointedly offers a reminder in the chorus that once she’s gone, she’s gone.
When Lizzo sings on the title track that “Fame is pretty new,” it’s easy to raise an eyebrow, but that casual, undimmed enthusiasm is the key to understanding her appeal.
Even though she’s long since gone from indie darling to a household name, in a way this is all still new to her. She knows in her heart she deserves it, and most refreshingly, acts like it without a hint of false modesty or affected coolness. Lizzo knows she’s special, and she wants you to know you are, too.
Special is available to stream and purchase. Visit www.lizzomusic.com. Follow Lizzo on Twitter @lizzo.
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