She loses her composure for a moment. And that doesn’t happen very often with Lizzo. But when TV host James Corden drives through Los Angeles with the singer in one of his “Carpool Karaoke” episodes and asks her if he should just call Beyoncé, panic flickers through Lizzo’s eyes.
“Don’t scare me,” she says. Cordon pulls out his phone and asks again if he should call the megastar. Lizzo manages a shy “Yes,” then Cordon breaks the tension: “I’m kidding, I don’t even have her number.” Such a shock! It helps to crank up “Crazy In Love” and sing along loudly – definitely a “Carpool Karaoke” highlight.
Beyoncé is Lizzo’s idol. With her music she got through bad crises, because of her she wanted to be a singer. Speaking to Corden, she says, “I want to make people feel as strongly as they do.” The musician, whose real name is Melissa Jefferson, who was born in Detroit in 1988 and grew up in Houston, achieved this goal with her album “Cuz I Love You”, which was released three years ago. Hits like “Juice” or the older “Good As Hell” catapulted them into the A-League of the US pop business.
She’s won three Grammys, has been on the cover of Time and Vogue, and has her own talent show. Beyoncé might not have been able to catch up with her – she’s in her own class anyway – but Lizzo represents a similar level of female empowerment.
Powerful proof of that is her just-released fourth album, Special (Warner), which picks up exactly where she left off on Cuz I Love You. The big themes are again self-love, the celebration of women, friendship and body positivity.
A “big black girl,” as she describes herself, Lizzo has experienced much rejection and loneliness, which she sings about with her loving lyrics. The title track of the album is exemplary, the chorus of which says: “In case nobody told you today/ You’re special / In case nobody made you believe/ You’re special/ Well, I will always love you the same”. It’s an instant catchy tune, great pop, heavily sung.
The same goes for the single “About Damn Time”, which follows “Juice” with its funky disco vibe and has already been clicked 58 million times on YouTube. The track sounds like a homage to Chic, especially as Lizzo repeats the line “I’m coming out tonight” several times towards the end, linking it to the Diana Ross hit produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards.
The fact that Lizzo places herself in this great line of tradition may seem cheeky, but the song carries it. He’s definitely a summer hit contender, which Lizzo’s flute accents also contribute to. One would have liked to have heard more of that on the crisp, compact 35-minute record. However, Lizzo otherwise concentrates on singing, and she almost completely dispenses with rap parts, thus moving further away from her beginnings.
But Lizzo will not be unfaithful to herself, on the contrary, she sounds as if she is completely with herself now. And it’s fun to listen to her doing it. Already in the opening song “The Sign” she spreads such a good mood with uh-uh shouts and a humorous text about her own greatness that you want to hear the piece again.
The same effect has the dance-pop track “2 Be Loved (I’m Ready)”, which references the eighties with its fat bass and cool synths – similar to what Dua Lipa did on their great last album. The eighties shine through again and again on “Special”, which is characterized by uptempo numbers in the first half.
In the quieter second part, Lizzo shows that she still masters the ballad subject, in which she picks up on the hit howler “Cuz I Love You” with “Naked”. Strings, choirs and the passionately performed lines “Love how you look at me naked/ Come make this body feel sacred/ I’m a big girl, can you take it” make the drama perfect. The song could maybe be in James Corden’s car a few years from now when he’s driving a star around – and suggesting they call Lizzo.