“Hi motherfucker, did you miss me?” Lizzo asks by way of introduction on “The Sign,” the bouncy first song on her new album Special (available today, July 15th — stream it below). Quite honestly, we did.
How has the Grammy-winning chart-topper been spending her time since we last saw her? Lizzo is happy to share: She’s been healing, making smoothies, training and twerking — plus, working hard on this record, her follow up to 2019’s Cuz I Love You. In just about everything she does, Lizzo has a magical knack for making the listener or viewer feel like her best friend, whether it’s her candid and cheeky TikTok presence, inclusive energy onstage (get tickets to her upcoming tour here), or stories told through her music.
Of the 12 tracks on the album, two were released ahead of time as singles: “About Damn Time,” inescapable in recent months thanks to TikTok, and the dance floor-ready “Grrrls,” which she quickly revamped following backlash over an ableist slur. Throughout the LP, Lizzo makes great use of throwback sounds, infusing her radio-ready sound with decade-spanning touches. The sparkle-drenched promotional images and album cover are in black and white, seeing the artist lean into vintage superstar glamor.
Special doesn’t necessarily break new ground for Lizzo or deviate too far from the pop persona presented in Cuz I Love You, but sometimes it’s ok not to mess with a great thing. Amid the undeniably catchy pop are moments of vulnerability that populated her previous efforts as well; “Naked,” as the title suggests, sees her in conversation with a lover, navigating the most intimate of moments. “When the world can’t love me to my face/ When the mirror lies and starts to break/ Hold me close, don’t let me run away,” she sings on “If You Love Me,” a more stripped-down mid-tempo offering that’s practically begging for a live performance.
Special is free of collaborations — Lizzo is known to thrive in that kind of setting, from work with Cardi B and Ariana Grande to infamous onstage outings with Harry Styles — but each track here keeps her in the spotlight. She seems to have the mindset that when she goes up, she brings everyone with her: “I love you, bitch,” she belts out with utter seriousness on the song of the same name.
On the playful, disco-toned “Everybody’s Gay,” she packs in lyrics with double meaning; “We can take our mask off” is a perfect line for a song that makes the listener want to dance among strangers in a club, especially as we are still collectively emerging from a time when that was impossible, but it also makes sense within the context of a song celebrating queer joy. “Express yourself” could be a clear reference to the Madonna classic, and the song overall embraces the modern approach to a more fluid and free approach to sexuality suggested in the title.
On one of the standout tracks “Birthday Girl,” an earworm celebrating a night out with the girlies, she returns to that idea of bringing everyone into the light right alongside her. “Started from the bottom with my hoes/ Love y’all so fuckin much,” she sings. The touches of horns and synths here and the beat on “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” bring the listener into the ’80s.
“When you’ve been through the most, you gotta do the most,” she explains on “Birthday Girl,” referring to the years she spent struggling in the industry before her breakthrough in the past five years. She sings, she raps, she’s a great dancer. She can slay on the flute, which isn’t something any other pop star is making time for these days. What’s so impressive about Lizzo and the joyful, breezy lane of pop music she’s settled into is that she carved space for herself in an industry that was not designed for her.
When the world is still not widely and enthusiastically accepting of a plus-sized Black woman onstage like Lizzo — despite the fact that she is, as she points out, doing the most — it’s wonderful to see her making the music she wants to make, the way she wants it to be made. That right there is the crux of the album: She’s a very special entertainer, and she wants to share a bit of her magic with all of us, leaving us feeling that much more special, too.
Special Album Artwork: