“Special” by Lizzo is a messy disco-pop confidence booster

Aug. 5, 2022, 6:50 p.m.

After a three-year hiatus, it was “about damn time” for Grammy-winning artist Lizzo to drop her highly anticipated album “Special” on July 15. The album demonstrates Lizzo’s confidence and bravery through her vulnerability; however, her main theme of encouraging confidence and self-love gets muddled under some of her lyricism.

Lizzo became one of the most influential artists in the music industry through her empowering, body-positive hits. Her song “Truth Hurts” won her the title of the longest-running solo female rapper to top the Billboard Hot 100. “Special” also comes at a booming time in Lizzo’s career — just a few days before releasing the album, Lizzo earned six Emmy nominations for the first season of her reality competition series, “Watch Out For The Big Grrrls.” 

“Special” follows Lizzo over the past few years of her life and details her experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, her struggles in her love life and her advocacy for mental and physical health.

“I felt a lot of pressure to follow up ‘Cuz I Love You’ with more bangers,” Lizzo told Apple Music. “Or to capture this post-‘Truth Hurts’-single-girl-era Lizzo. But concepts have never really been my bag. It feels like I’m lying. Instead, I just wrote honestly about where I’ve been for the last few years and who I’ve become.”

Lizzo opens her album with two perfect tone-setters: “The Sign” and “About Damn Time.” The songs are comeback kick-offs, starting with a cheeky greeting and launching into a discussion about the importance of healing and moving on. They foreshadow the quicker pace of the rest of the album with infectiously energetic and heart-pumping vocals and funky disco-pop melodies, featured in “Everybody’s Gay” and “Birthday Girl.”

“Grrrls” received initial backlash when it was first released for the inclusion of an ableist slur, to which Lizzo responded on her Twitter account and changed the lyrics. While the aim behind the song is to celebrate women sticking together and being independent, it samples the sexist Beastie Boys’ 1987 track “Girl.” Furthermore, its lyricism falls short of this message. The line, “I’ma go Lorena Bobbitt on him so he never fuck again” makes a quick “girls-just-wanna-have-fun” punchline out of a harrowing case of violence and abuse. This makes it hard to put “Grrrls” on the list of women empowerment songs, as the piece could have applied a more critical and probing lens to the impact of the patriarchy on women and sisterhood. 

“I Love You Bitch” also lacks in lyrical quality — it does not capture the deep meaning love songs normally make you understand and feel. Lyrics such as, “I said, gimme your heart, no repo / Figured me out, no cheat code / Gimme your hoodie when I’m cold” show the song’s shallowness.

However, there are some songs on the album that are both lyrically beautiful and convey the theme of the album clearly. The namesake of the album, “Special,” dives into an important problem of our century, cancel culture and online bullying. Throughout her career, Lizzo has received many hurtful comments about her body, race and music. In an interview with Good Morning America, she said that though she doesn’t mind the critiques about her music or her body, she thinks these treatments should not be allowed to fly. As an artist, she also feels like it’s her job to reflect it. In “Special,” Lizzo reminds people that everyone needs space to be themselves, show their specialness and grow. 

This message is echoed in two other songs: “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready),” which also features Max Martin, and “Naked.” The funky “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” contains the most powerful lyricism from Lizzo on the album, with lines like, “How am I supposed to lovе somebody else / Whеn I don’t like myself?” In “Naked,” we see the more vulnerable side of Lizzo as she shares her thoughts on self-love and the body, crooning, “I wish we could live without the body expectations,” and asking, “If I get on top of you, you promise to embrace it?” Her crescendoing vocals are laid over a dramatic light acoustic arrangement that nods toward a bedroom soundtrack of late 1970s Philly soul.

As for the last songs of the album, they are weaker than the rest. “Birthday Girl” is certainly not the album’s best song — it’s just there to boost your confidence with festive instrumental content. The romantic closing track of the album, “Coldplay,” does not quite feel like a goodbye, but its vulnerable and personal nature still makes it a viable candidate to conclude the album.

Lizzo offers a “special” performance to boost her and your confidence in this album, but at times it felt messy, oscillating between disco dance songs and deeply emotional melodies with lyrics that lacked nuance. However, her purpose behind the album, encouraging people to appreciate their true selves while having the time of their lives, does come through. Some of the songs lacking in their lyrical potential were made up for with Lizzo’s upbeat vocals.  

While she doesn’t necessarily break new ground from the pop persona she presented in “Cuz I Love You,” Lizzo experiments with 1980s and disco tunes in addition to her usual hip-hop style. She is not afraid to be honest when it comes to her feelings, and this album showed her true self to herself, her loved ones and the world.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Aslıhan Alp is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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