Lizzo Is Still The Pep Talk Queen

Lizzo Is Still The Pep Talk Queen

In the years since Lizzo released her major-label debut album, Cuz I Love You, she has achieved a level of household-name status most artists can only dream about. Singles like “Truth Hurts” and “Juice” exploded on every listening platform and soundtracked movies and commercials. Lizzo herself hit the big screen, appearing in Hustlers alongside Cardi B and JLo. She’s won Grammys, hosted a reality show (Amazon Prime Video’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls), launched a size-inclusive shapewear line (Yitty), and been hailed as a symbol for body positivity. Though she’s been hustling in the music biz for at least a decade, Lizzo’s ubiquity is relatively new, and now she’s making the most of it. These days music feels secondary to her empire, like Rihanna with Fenty.

How Lizzo got here shows remarkable perseverance in an unforgiving world where no matter how much wealth and status you accrue, people will always find a way to shame you for not adhering to a set standard. Lizzo’s shield against naysayers who criticize her body and attitude has been unwavering positivity, funk and disco-inspired pop melodies, and hashtaggable turns of phrase. They have been the hallmark of Lizzo’s early work and appear again on Special, the recently released follow-up to 2019’s Cuz I Love You. The LP is filled with head-bopping melodies and Lizzo-isms, and finds its author processing immense fame – and criticism – with her trademark confidence.

Differentiating Cuz I Love You from Special, Lizzo told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe how she felt “love is the heart of this album.” Love for herself, more specifically. “I think everything I’ve been doing prior to Special was in pursuit of love,” she said. “And it was like, Cuz I Love You was an almost autobiographical album about who I want to be. When I wrote ‘Soulmate,’ I was crying in the studio, and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m writing a song about the person I want to be, I aspire to be.’ ‘Truth Hurts,’ I was crying in the studio, writing songs about who I want to be. And now, Special is almost a celebration of who I am right now.”

As Lizzo arrived, she had to fortify her defenses against backlash that not only comes with being a full-figured Black woman in the entertainment industry, but being an ultra-famous one. (The higher you climb, the more people want to tear you back down, etc.) She’s also faced pressure to repeat and build upon her success. In a vacuum, Lizzo shouldn’t have a problem beating her own metrics, because, frankly, there is no one like Lizzo. She is a singular entity, unique yet accessible, a leader that is open to absorbing fan feedback (note how she changed the words to “Grrrls” after backlash), a born hitmaker who takes risks while appealing to the masses.

At its best, Special lives up to its name with dance floor-ready disco rhythms, warmly delivered vocals, and an avalanche of Lizzo-isms. “Hi, motherfucker, did you miss me?” Lizzo greets us on “The Sign” before alluding to the last couple of pandemic years: “I’ve been home since 2020/ I’ve been twerking and making smoothies/ It’s called healing.” The TikTok juggernaut “About Damn Time” and “Grrrls” level up the attitude: “It’s bad bitch o’clock, yeah, it’s thick-thirty/ I’ve been through a lot, but I’m still flirty” and “That’s my girl, we CEOs and dancing like a C-E-Hoe.” You get the idea. Lizzo loves herself some wordplay. These lines really want to be part of Lizzo’s finely tuned brand of Whitman self-celebration – e.g., “I do my hair toss, check the mirror/ Baby, how you feelin’?” and “I just took a DNA test/ Turns out I’m 100% that bitch.”

But I wonder if Lizzo hides a little too much behind the self-empowerment verbiage. Across Special, her words come across like taglines and hashtags, ready and willing to go viral with the masses instead of communicating one-on-one. Perhaps she’s feeling the pressure today’s pop stars have described when they’re told to create a viral moment, quick! But make it seem organic! Obviously Lizzo is a TikTok natural, no one needs to push her to make short-form videos. But the industry’s underlying need to always have more – views, streams, followers — may have obscured Lizzo’s original mission.

Which might explain the choice to interpolate so many mainstream hits on Special. You already know how “Grrrls” flips Beastie Boys’ “Girls.” There are also obvious samples of Lauryn Hill (on the Mark Ronson collab “Break Up Twice”), Kool & The Gang (“Naked”), and Coldplay (“Coldplay”) among others. Lizzo loves paying tribute to her influences (particularly Prince, Missy Elliott, and Beyoncé) but relying this hard on interpolation feels too safe. Even ‘80s pop jam “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” sounds birthed from Michael Sembello’s “Maniac.” Lizzo has shown that she’s an original — why lean so hard into what came before?

Special frequently slaps and it’s got supportive messages packed into all 12 songs, which were helped along by studio titans like Benny Blanco, Max Martin, “Truth Hurts” collaborator Ricky Reed, and the aforementioned Ronson. But given Lizzo’s history of sharp-tongued, left-field lyrics — particularly on 2013’s indie-rap Lizzobangers and 2015’s more melodic Big Grrrl Small World (the latter of which has been scrubbed from streaming service) — Special goes down like a Hallmark card, in the literal sense on “Birthday Girl,” which goes, “Is it your birthday, girl? Cuz you lookin’ like a present.”

Although fierce, friendly, and plenty confident from start to finish, Special as a whole doesn’t really take any new chances, which can be frustrating, because we know so well how capable Lizzo is at shattering expectations. Not that any of this will stop the album and its singer from taking off even higher, reaching new stratospheres of mainstream visibility and TikTok virality. This high-gloss Lizzo might have the edge taken off, but there’s still no party on the block quite like hers.

CHARTWATCH

Hey there — James Rettig here filling in for Chris while he’s on vacation. Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti spends a sixth nonconsecutive week on top of the Billboard 200 this week, earning 103,000 equivalent album units, down only 2% from last week — almost all of those units comes from streaming. The aforementioned Special debuted at #2, which makes it Lizzo’s highest-charting album. Special earned 69,000 units, with 39,000 of those being album sales. Coming up after that is Harry Styles’ Harry’s House at #3, Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous at #4, Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind at #5, and Future’s I Never Liked You at #6.

Steve Lacy made his top 10 debut with Gemini Rights, which is #7 with 34,000 equivalent album units. South Korean group ITZY’s Checkmate arrived on the charts at #8, and that’s followed by Brent Faiyaz’s Wasteland, which dropped from its #2 debut last week to #9 this week, and the top 10 is rounded out by Lil Durk’s 7220.

Over on the Hot 100, Lizzo lands her second #1 hit with “About Damn Time,” which rose from its #2 perch. Her previous #1 was “Truth Hurts” in 2019. Harry Styles’ “As It Was,” the previous chart-topper, drops to #2 after 10 weeks in the top spot. Up after that is Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” which hits a new high of #3, up one spot from last week. That’s followed by Jack Harlow’s “First Class” at #4, Future’s “Wait For U” at #5, and Bad Bunny and Chencho Corleone’s “Me Porto Bonito” at #6. Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” moves up to #7, ahead of Renaissance‘s release later this week, and the top 10 is rounded out by Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves,” Styles’ “Late Night Talking,” and Drake’s “Jimmy Cooks.”

POP FIVE

Em Beihold – “Egg In The Backseat”
TikTok darling Em Beihold once again invokes piano-pop maestros Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple, and Sara Bareilles with a chaotic, theatrical track that doomscrolls down the ivories before ending with attitude (“I know you’re a bad idea”) and a shrug (“But what the hell?”).

FLETCHER – “Becky’s So Hot”
The Olivia Rodrigo breakup ballad algorithm is alive and well on FLETCHER’s guitar-driven single, which has taken over TikTok and is rapidly climbing the charts. Unlike, say, Leah Kate, who the Gen Zs have already called out for seeming too formulaic, FLETCHER’s strain genuinely brings something new to the equation with a dramatic real-life story (insert eyes emoji) and a cry-along chorus reminiscent of Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.”

Billie Eilish – “TV” & “The 30th”
Technically these are two separate songs, but they probably deserve to be discussed as a unit, given how they came out together. Last week, Billie circled back with “TV” and “The 30th”; the former is a gorgeous, middle-of-the-night track about disassociating to screens (my favorite pastime), and the latter is an equally lovely albeit solemn story about the aftermath of a car accident. Both are worth your time.

Megan Thee Stallion – “Pressurelicious” (Feat. Future)
Megan Thee Stallion and Future make a tight, tough-talking team as Megan adds a new phrase to her Hot Girl Summer lexicon.

Macklemore – “Chant” (Feat. Tones And I)
Macklemore is in full pushback mode on this piano-led “fuck the haters” ballad. All I can say is, I dunno that the phrase “rise up” deserves to be on a song where a white rapper — who won the Grammy over Kendrick Lamar, if you recall — is feeling butthurt about irrelevance.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Cardi B will head to court to face a lawsuit from a guy who claims his likeness is portrayed in a sexual context on her 2016 mixtape cover. [Rolling Stone]
  • A man died after falling off an escalator rail at the Weeknd tour opener in Philadelphia. [CBS]
  • Justin Bieber is “doing great” recovering from Ramsay Hunt syndrome, according to Usher. [People]
  • Texas State University’s Honors College will offer a course on Harry Styles. [Twitter]
  • BTS will be ambassadors for the World Expo 2030 in Busan, Korea. [Hypebeast]
  • BTS’ Jin, Jimin, V and Jung Kook will appear with Snoop Dogg on Benny Blanco’s new single “Bad Decisions,” out 8/5. [Twitter]
  • The Kid LAROI and MONSTA X will headline Nickelodeon’s NickFest Music Festival, “the messiest music festival ever.” [NickFest]
  • Here’s the trailer for the new Shania Twain doc Not Just A Girl, coming to Netflix tomorrow. [YouTube]
  • Hailee Steinfeld announced a new single, “The Coast,” out Friday. [Twitter]
  • Lizzo surprised some fans in a Kimmel segment. [YouTube]
  • Here’s the latest trailer for Don’t Worry Darling starring Harry Styles and Florence Pugh. [YouTube]
  • Doja Cat released a “Kiss Me More” remix with Japanese comedian Naomi Watanabe. [YouTube]
  • The Weeknd’s “How Do I Make You Love Me?” got an animated video. [YouTube]
  • Swedish House Mafia canceled eight shows, with more likely to be announced, due to “anemic sales.” [Billboard]
  • Nicki Minaj announced a new single, “Freaky Girl,” out 8/12. [Twitter]
  • Russ and Ed Sheeran teamed up on a new song this week, “Are You Entertained.” [YouTube]
  • Future brought out Travis Scott at Rolling Loud Miami. [Twitter]
  • Some kid grabbed Machine Gun Kelly’s crotch when the rapper/rocker went into the crowd at his Portland show. [TMZ]

CLOSING TIME

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