Lizzo review, Special: Singer’s new exuberant pop record is good as hell

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‘Special’ is the fourth studio album from pop sensation Lizzo (Atlantic)
‘Special’ is the fourth studio album from pop sensation Lizzo (Atlantic)

“It’s bad b**** o’clock!” declares Lizzo, on her irresistible fourth album, Special. Universally adored as a “beacon of body positivity”, the 34-year-old singer makes such a direct, warm, motivational connection with listeners that you’re left feeling like she’s poured you a drink you could chink against your speakers as they fill with exuberant pop that winks to the vintage party staples of Seventies and Eighties disco. She channels every wedding DJ’s crate of all-inclusive feelgood anthems: The Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself”, Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling”, Lionel Ritchie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling”, Gloria Estefan’s “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” and Chic’s “Good Times”.

It’s been three years since she released her mainstream breakthrough album, Cuz I Love You (featuring singles “Juice” and “Tempo”). Against the rattling pace of new song “The Sign”, she tells us she’s ”been home since 2020… twerking and making smoothies/ It’s called healing/ And I feel better since you’ve seen me last/ I’ve been training, I can flex that ass/ So when I shake it, I can shake it fast/ Make that camera flash!”

If you’ve seen the fabulous video for the flute-funked single “About Damn Time” (in which she attends a community college support group in grey sweats and ends up lighting up the corridors in a sequinned catsuit), you’ll already have the empowerment vibe down: “I’m way too fine to be this stressed!”

Having found her self-worth, she’s now on a mission to lift those around her, too. So Special is overflowing with love and gratitude to friends, family, lovers and fans. She shouts out to her ladies on the terrific “Grrrls”. Over deep, wobbling bass she offers a realistic celebration of friendship, conceding of her bestie: “Yes we tussle, mind your business… This the type of fight I’m lookin’ for.” Lizzo was called out by the disabled community for using the word “s***” in an earlier version of this song. But she listened to complaints, apologised and re-recorded it. No fuss.

Bouncing off the funky bass and carnival brass of “Everybody’s Gay” (which references Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in both melody and lyric references to freaks and monsters), she assures those who share her anxiety: “It’s a happy place in here, baby, you’re safe/ We can take our mask off/ We can all ball and parlay.” And within seconds she’s yanking you up onto a dance floor: “Get dressed, unstress yourself!” Coaxing, goofing, cussing and bossing: “Hold my bag, b****!” Loading relatable, witty narratives onto ebullient (at times unabashedly cheesy) hooks, she operates exactly like that friend (we all have one) who always yanks you out of your chair at the end of the night – by playing silly and sexy by turns until you loosen into the groove.

Coldplay’s “Yellow” (which she described as a “baby-making song” in an interview with Zane Lowe) is quoted on the smooshy love song “Coldplay”. She samples Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” on the soulful “Break Up Twice”, a trickle 1950s guitar bleeding into a sock-hop slow dance of a beat, as she tells the story of a guy she’s willing to give another try.

With so much attention constantly placed on her attitude and appearance, I don’t think Lizzo gets enough credit for her vocal range. Her rap flow has a terrific tensile strength. When singing, she delivers as both a belter and a breathy balladeer. On the empowered slow jam “Naked”, she throws her whole heart into the intimate curves of each line of melody, voice caressing each note the way she’s asking her lover to cherish her body: “Let down my guard/ Undo my robe… I’m a big girl don’t you waste it.”

Special ends with a spoken message from the singer, encouraging fans to respect themselves and others. She says she hopes it has made fans “cry, laugh, dance, twerk, do the splits, do whatever you wanna do…” Kinda corny, but also undeniably lovely. Special is good as hell.

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