Lizzo Is 'Special,' Though the Music Isn't Always

BY Angela MorrisonPublished Jul 18, 2022

The music video for "About Damn Time," the infectious and glimmering lead single from Lizzo's fourth studio album, Special, opens on a group therapy session entitled "Stressed and Sexy Support Group." In her over-the-top way, the overarching theme of the song (and video) provides the ethos of the 12 songs that make up the album: yes, there are a lot of things to be stressed about, but you should never lose sight of your own power and sexiness.

Throughout Special, Lizzo revisits and expands upon what have become her signature lyrical themes of self-love and care, intimacy, and friendship, themes she has explored across her previous studio albums, culminating in 2019's acclaimed, star-making major-label debut, Cuz I Love You.

One of Lizzo's greatest strengths as an artist is her ability to balance a consistent and straightforward point of view with musical variation in terms of style, tone and instrumentation. Special blends together Top 40 pop with neo-soul, funk, jazz and disco, and the result is an amalgamation of some of pop radio's most endearing qualities. Lizzo is at her best when passionately declaring how much she loves herself, her body and her girlfriends over funky, upbeat and energetic music. She delivers her lyrics with the ease and intimacy one would have with a friend or lover, yet the conversational tone is never at the expense of emotional expressivity. In "I Love You Bitch," she repeats the title phrase so many times it begins to sound like the most romantic sentiment in the world.

The album's title (and title track) also evoke the song of the same name from Janet Jackson's 1997 The Velvet Rope, in which Janet proclaims, "Everybody needs to feel real special." Indeed, the two projects are aligned, as each documents a period of significant growth, change and healing for the two artists. Whereas The Velvet Rope takes a more broodingly sensual and aesthetically experimental approach to its emotionally heavy material, Lizzo remains lighthearted and celebratory throughout — on album opener "The Sign," she proclaims, "I've been home since 2020 / I've been twerkin' and makin' smoothies / It's called healing." In "About Damn Time," she inquires, "It's been a minute, tell me how you're healin'," once again emphasizing the importance of personal growth and the power of mutually supportive friendships.

These overarching messages are well-received, and it cannot be overstated how significant it is that Lizzo's artistic persona is largely built around pushing back against social and cultural forces of racism, misogyny and fatphobia. Yet at times, the music itself verges on generic, particularly songs such as "Grrrls," which feels somewhat rushed and nondescript (the song's original lyrics were also criticized for the usage of an ableist slur; they have since been altered). Lizzo's boundary-pushing lyrical themes are frequently dampened by the conventionality of the music.

Overall, the album is a sparkling manifestation of musical joy and positivity, displaying Lizzo's unique ability to make emotional and spiritual growth and healing sound fun. On album highlight "Everybody's Gay," a disco ode to all things debaucherous and queer, she demands: "Bitch, say less, express yourself / Bitch, get dressed, un-stress yourself," making space for everyone to let go and give in to a pervasive longing for pleasure and communion. Although inconsistent at times, Special contains enough effusive catchiness and unapologetic positivity to make it an enjoyable summer listen.
(Nice Life / Atlantic)

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