“Hi, motherf—er, did you miss me?”
Lizzo’s Special opens with an unabashed inquiry, establishing an outpour of unfiltered honesty that recurs throughout her latest album. Three years have elapsed since the release of her iconic album Cuz I Love You, a wildly successful collection of sunny, upbeat tunes that snagged Grammy Awards and thrust the artist into stardom. While Lizzo has taken her sweet time with her fourth studio album, her return is nonetheless glorious.
Special retains the goldenness, frankness and piquancy of Cuz I Love You, yet it also showcases a newfound vulnerability. In her previous works, Lizzo presents her confidence as an eternal, unwavering force. Special, however, exposes the cracks within Lizzo’s glamour — while the musician continues to produce catchy, feel-good anthems, they are now accompanied with softer songs shaped by the sting of discrimination.
Lizzo’s “Naked” pertains to her struggle of navigating sexual intimacy while battling body insecurities. The ballad stands out in Special as especially earnest and melodic. While the song primarily revolves around Lizzo’s relationship with her lover, social commentary saturates the track: The artist insightfully remarks, “I’ve seen every part of me/ And babe, I can’t erase it/ If I get on top of you/ You promise to embrace it,” and confessions such as these are scattered throughout Special. Lizzo continues to excel at creating snappy, inspiring music, but Special highlights her internal grappling with a world that continuously attempts to shrink her.
Pieced together with hypnotic elements of disco and new wave, Special celebrates Blackness and aims to uplift identities affected by marginalization. In “Everybody’s Gay,” Lizzo’s smooth voice soars amid groovy instrumentals. Here, “gay” functions as a polysemic term, referring to both queerness and giddiness. The song serves as a testament to freedom, in regard to both sexual expression and release from anxiety. Transitioning from a deep and rich timbre to a flirty falsetto, Lizzo purposefully shifts the tones of her voice to reflect the diversity of individuals. Lizzo’s carefree invitation to “dance the night away” encourages not only acceptance, but also suggests a deep appreciation for the vast array of colors, shapes and interests that people possess.
Above all, the musician exhibits a deep commitment to her female friends and close relationships. When considering reconciling with an ex or evaluating her own readiness for love, Lizzo sincerely values the opinions of the women in her life. They act as recurring characters throughout the album. Not only does Lizzo devote several songs to her “Grrrls,” their perspectives are directly represented in the background vocals in the theatrical “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready).” While a few moments on Special may feel a tad cheesy, the heartwarming reverence Lizzo displays for female solidarity exceeds any gaudiness.
In Special, Lizzo also emphasizes her evolution by alluding to her previous songs. In 2019’s “Juice,” she spiritedly sings, “Mirror, mirror on the wall/ Don’t say it ‘cause I know I’m cute.” Three years later in “If You Love Me,” she begs to be comforted and grounded “when the mirror lies and starts to break.” Lizzo’s parallels to her earlier music suggest that she now dares to expose all facets of her experience, even the agonizing ones.
The album contains numerous lighthearted witticisms and playful vocalizations without dimming its depth. When Lizzo raps, the escalation of her flow conveys conviction; when she belts, the rasp of her voice reveals angst and betrayal. Special manages to exist as a simultaneously silly, crushing, cute and authentic contribution to the world.
Special triumphs as a defiant refusal to minimize oneself. Lizzo demonstrates resilience, whether that be through rekindling a romantic relationship in “Break Up Twice” or withstanding harsh, unwarranted judgment in “Special.” Not only does Lizzo reckon with the prejudice she has personally experienced, but she assures listeners that in spite of others’ judgment, they always remain worthy of love.