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Special – Lizzo

It’s ‘About Damn Time’ for some more Lizzo music!

It’s been three years since her last album drop and Lizzo’s career has continued to skyrocket. Now, her fourth album Special is here, following up on the huge success of the single ‘About Damn Time’ in April of this year that spawned a Tiktok dance trend (that still appears in my head rent-free every once in a while).

It’s safe to say there was hype for this one. But does it live up to expectations? Let’s see what our writers have to say about it…

Lizzo's album cover, set into a dotted background in the rrramble colours. The image is in black and white and she is wearing a beaded headdress.

Kit

If you were alive in June 2022, you would’ve heard the lead single ‘About Damn Time’ from Lizzo’s new album Special, a Tiktok viral hit. But I don’t think there’s anything that symbolises 2022 culture as much as the fact that I hadn’t heard the track all the way through until yesterday, when I sat down with Special and let the 1980s-soul-meets-2022-pop-girl energy overcome me. Through this, however, I realised that almost every second of ‘About Damn Time’ has been TikTok-ified, granting the song certified earworm status. The single also does the work in teasing some of Special’s most sparkling moments, with its 80s soul funk bassline sitting alongside Lizzo’s signature lyrics of self-confidence.

After an eight-year long career, it feels as though Lizzo’s brand of self-empowerment should’ve grown tired and overdone, but in a society that so seldom celebrates big black women and their bodies, Lizzo operates in a vacuum of mainstream pop that refuses to conform to body shaming, misogynoir and the decentring of black women’s experiences. On Special, she acknowledges this in her most stripped back track ‘If You Love Me’ which feels reminiscent of 2000s acoustic pop, crooning “how can you say I’m beautiful/when the world can’t love me to my face?”. This lyric encapsulates another theme on the album, one that has been present in Lizzo’s previous work but feels far more sincere on Special in the face of her confirmed romance with comedian and 5-year-long friend Myke Wright: that of opening yourself up to love. 

This theme is obvious on the tracks ‘2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)’ and ‘I Love You Bitch’ which find their footing sonically in their buzzy 80s-synth-pop-meets-electro-soul choruses. This marriage of earnest professions of love with upbeat retro soul sounds feels distinctly Lizzo, as she finds the fun in even the most emotional moments. Despite her repeated assurances on ‘2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)’ that she “don’t need a man” there’s a powerful vulnerability in the following track ‘I Love You Bitch” and in seeing such a self-assured pop figure give way to devotion. This vulnerability is further backed in the track ‘Naked’ which balances her signature middle-finger-to-haters-and-body-shamers attitude with her new radical embrace of the affectionate. 

The track list is rounded out by the anthemic ‘Break Up Twice’ which recalls the belting intimacy of early John Legend and the classically Lizzo tracks ‘The Sign’ and ‘Special’ which feel like natural lyrical progressions from Cus I Love You’s ‘Good as Hell’. The standout track for me, however, is the distinctly disco ‘Everybody’s Gay’: is it a coming out song? A tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of her status as queer icon? Who cares when it slaps this hard! Lizzo somehow managed to construct a track list of songs that feel just as at home on intimate evenings-in as they do on the dancefloor, all while muscling in empowering lyrics and sonic nods to her R&B, soul and funk predecessors.

This being my third album review for rrramble brought something home for me about the current state of the music industry, which became clear through my 60-year-old former soul boy father’s enjoyment of the same album who’s lead single went viral on TikTok: Genre is dead, and Lizzo wants us to disco dance and sob along to her tracks on its grave.

Lizzo sits on a pale blue background in huge heeled boots, a black leotard and big afro hair. The album title 'Special' is at the bottom of the image.
Obsessed with the alternate album cover tbh…

Elena

After her rise to stardom with her previous record Cuz I Love You in 2019, Lizzo took a three-year break. Despite some questioning her taking time to release her next project, Lizzo has proved that she does not need the momentum to prove her undeniable popstar talent. On July 15th, she released her fourth studio album, Special.

Special runs for 35 minutes, and we see Lizzo doing what she does best: singing feel-good, uplifting songs that can make just about anyone feel like they can take on the world. In ‘The Sign’, Lizzo returns with her signature songwriting that feels very in touch with today’s pop and Internet culture, singing to the bros, bitches and gays throughout the record. ‘About Damn Time’ comes through with funky guitars and a slap bass right out of the 80s. Not only did the song go viral on TikTok, but it also has all the ingredients to become the song of the summer.

In ‘Grrrls’, Lizzo returns to her previous record’s song ‘Truth Hurts’ sound, with a strong 808 and minimalistic pop production that lets Lizzo’s melody carry the song. The best part of this record is the sincere joy and empowerment it radiates, accomplished by the catchiness of songs like ‘2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)’, ‘Special’ and ‘Everybody’s Gay’, which fully embrace Lizzo’s R&B, Pop and Disco feel.

‘Break Up Twice’ contains multiple guitar riffs reminiscent of the 70s, imitating Hendrix’s bluesy style of playing chords. The chorus is an interpolation of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop’, making a modern version of the 90s R&B classic. ‘Naked’ is a standout in the record, a slow R&B jam with a hell lot of replay factor. There’s just something so sticky about it. From the perfect arrangement that slowly leads the listener into the high of the song, from drowned out guitars, bass and drums in the beginning to horns and harmonies, and a guitar solo at the end.

In ‘If You Love Me’, Lizzo takes a surprising pop-rock turn, sounding like a teen film credits song. In ‘Coldplay’, the album ends with a pitched-up sample of Coldplay’s (duh) ‘Yellow’. Lizzo expresses a love so deep she’s willing to leave everything behind.

In the 12 tracks of the album, only half are 3 minutes or longer. This increasing trend of short-length songs that caters to the short attention span of TikTok virality worries me: it’s damaging the delivery of fully-worked songs. For example, ‘I Love You Bitch’ lacks a bridge, and ends after the second chorus. This doesn’t feel like song structure experimentation – it feels like lazy songwriting.

Lizzo’s songwriting themes stick to self-love, body confidence, female empowerment, and love. At times it is challenging to see the musical growth from her previous records;  in a way that seems like she has found a formula that works for her. We know she’s confident in herself (‘Welcome to my body, I know it’s nice to meet it’, she sings), but it would be refreshing to see this comfort in herself as an artist pushing the boundaries of her music into newer places, as the trend-following and easy listening tracks risk sounding generic and repetitive.

Lizzo makes it clear that she knows she is different, and in this way, her confidence and happiness become subversive. The power in her vocals make the gimmicks feel necessary for those that don’t feel fit for the world’s standards. In the end, we know what we’re getting with her songs, and that might be just the point – beautiful music that will make us feel better about ourselves.

A photo of Lizzo, a black woman with long black acrylic nails. She is smiling with her nails over her face, and afro hair making up most of the image.

Jayne

If I like a song, I’ll listen to it – that’s how my music taste can be summarised. I’ve never really been the type to follow any particular artists or albums with special interest, which is why I enjoy the chance to do reviews like these. It’s always an excellent way to discover some new songs for my ever-growing playlists on Spotify. 

That being said, Lizzo is an artist I’m very aware of. If only because TikTok seems to snatch every other creation from her and turn it into a viral trend. The entire album ‘Cuz I Love You’ is possibly what shifted her whole career and, if I may say so, it was a well-deserved shift. Pretty much every track is a banger. 

So to follow it up, Lizzo must have felt the pressure just a little. I know I have been eagerly anticipating the chance to compare them. I’ve definitely been hoping I can say that this one is continuing the upward trend Lizzo appears to be on. 

From the get go, there are clear themes present in Special that add a layer of meaning to each song. Healing, heartbreak, and resilience speak through. From tracks like “About Damn Time” with it’s disco/nightlife feel and uplifting lyrics like “Oh, I’m not the girl I was or used to be / Uh, bitch, I might be better,” through to ‘Naked’ which perfectly encapsulates the vulnerability of truly opening up oneself to a partner. 

For me Special is a tapestry of love, and it’s evident that a lot of hard work went into its creation. The album’s closer, ‘Coldplay’, stood a risk of being lazy in my opinion. It seems to be the going thing to reuse samples of tracks that Millennials hold particular nostalgia for and bank on that to boost interaction. However, the way Lizzo uses snatches of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ is somewhat refreshing. The piano chords undercutting Chris Martin’s voice provide a much darker tone. It feels rich and meaningful the way only a change in key can. 

Lizzo doesn’t stop her sampling there of course; in ‘Grrrls’ she uses samples from the Beastie Boys 1987 track ‘Girls’. Lizzo redefines the meaning from the originally quite misogynistic tune, in a move that I may consider to be one of the ultimate power-plays yet. Lizzo herself spoke to the fact that getting sample clearance from the Beastie Boys is notoriously difficult. 

I salute Lizzo for turning this particular track into the female anthem that most of us will be singing all summer. 

There’s so much to say about Special, and it’s an album that I will likely be playing on repeat for a good few weeks because of the way it makes me feel. There is a track for every mood, but all of them will share the same end result of making you feel like the strongest individual to ever walk the earth. Lizzo’s songs make you want to weaponise your own empowerment, and it’s truly a beautiful thing. 

Lizzo’s ‘Special’ is available to stream wherever you get your music.

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