Lizzo’s ‘Special’ delivers uplift, wit and hits

Lizzo’s pop star was only partially based on pop hits.

Sure, it was an old-fashioned Top 40 radio smash — “Truth Hurts,” which originally came out in 2017 before making its way to TikTok and a Netflix rom-com — that introduced the exuberant singer-rapper (and flute player). a mass audience three years ago.

Since then, however, Lizzo’s continued success has had less to do with big singles and more to do with the fun, feel-good, empowering vibes she exudes on social media and on her Prime Video reality series, Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, which earned a six Emmy -Nominations for the three Grammys she won in 2020.

Like Cardi B, who she teamed up with last year for the delightful if oddly underperforming Rumors, Lizzo, 34, is an excellent Hang more than anything: just the kind of oversized personality you’ve got on Saturday Night Live” want to encounter. or “The Breakfast Club” or a TikTok about the stunning new vegan spot she just discovered.

Hits, of course, help extend her reach, but they don’t feel like the real engine of her career. The actual driver is Lizzo herself.

So it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that for “Special,” the long-awaited follow-up to her 2019 major-label debut “Cuz I Love You,” Lizzo slammed down and made a bunch of hard-hitting pop bangers — and did, without it to sand down the edges of her funky, free-roaming charisma.

With a dozen tracks in just over 35 minutes, “Special” moves fast, with a kind of heat-seeking propulsion you didn’t get from the much looser “Cuz I Love You,” where the hooks and grooves could meander even then Lizzo knew where she wanted to go. (Her studio staff this time includes Ricky Reed, with whom she has worked for years, as well as newly hired heavyweights like Max Martin, Benny Blanco, Mark Ronson and Ian Kirkpatrick.)

Emotionally, Lizzo remains a powerful source of uplifting: she reminds herself that she deserves tenderness and devotion on “If You Love Me” and “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)”, while “Birthday Girl” and the title track offer reassurance for anyone crushed by the pandemic, a callous partner, or a crappy job.

“I’ve been so down and under pressure / I’m way too fine to be this stressed,” she sings on the ultra-chic “About Damn Time,” which has been bouncing in the upper echelons of the Billboard Hot 100 for weeks. Along with Beyoncé’s tireless “Break My Soul,” the disco-funk jam is a sign that pop music is shaking off the gloom of the COVID-19 era, damn it, stubborn sub-variants; Indeed, Lizzo often makes fleeting references to going through a brutal hard time, though she’s more focused on her healing than the trauma itself.

Of course, Lizzo’s optimism has been giving her music the narrative boost since she was slaving away in the Minneapolis indie hip-hop scene long before “Truth Hurts” was popular. What’s different about “Special” is how sharp the arrangements are, be it the glittering, perfected Pointer Sisters homage of “2 Be Loved”; “Everybody’s Gay,” a throbbing club track echoing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”; or the swanky soul-rock of “Break Up Twice,” which prominently interpolates Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing).”

The album’s closing track, “Coldplay,” samples a sped-up snippet of that band’s “Yellow,” which sounds like a ghastly idea — only Lizzo somehow manages to weave her vocals around Chris Martin’s, in a way that feels sweet feels sincere.

Her vocals and rapping effortlessly stand up to the varied and lively production here, in part because she’s as flexible as her accomplices: gleefully boastful on ‘The Sign’ – which kicks off the album with ‘Hi, motherf— / Did you miss me? ” – serious and heartfelt in “Special”, sensual yet vulnerable in “Naked” where an encounter with a lover makes her reflect on how physical perfection is defined.

Appropriately, this slow R&B jam is probably Lizzo’s finest vocal performance on “Special,” with just enough bite in the verses to usher in the diva moments in the chorus. But Lizzo’s special sauce as a singer is the conversational quality she brings to a song like “I Love You B—” where she lays out a partner’s many winning attributes, including their willingness to “hand me your hoodie when I’m cold.” is .”

“Bless you, it’s too small,” she adds with impeccable comic timing — perhaps a throwaway line for a less-lovable pop star, but a typically brilliant piece of self-portraiture for Lizzo. Lizzo’s ‘Special’ delivers uplift, wit and hits

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