Succumb to the Minneapolis powerhouse’s pop dominance
Album: Cuz I Love You
Label: Nice Life/Atlantic
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
There’s a worthwhile dialogue about whether or not Lizzo’s excellent, already-underrated third album Cuz I Love You in itself is “body-positive.” As Jezebel’s Frida Garza makes clear, this has significantly less to do with the 11 songs that Lizzo doesn’t consider political than the fact virtually anything Lizzo does visibly in a public space is. Her increasingly ubiquitous existence is the political act, which makes it no less personal.
But let’s spell it out anyway: Adele didn’t pose naked on an album cover, nor did Aretha or Beth Ditto or even fearlessly lascivious bra entrepreneur Jill Scott. And even though Lizzo and her photographer opted to cover her belly (and her “juicy parts,” as she terms them), she is not hiding it. Just check last year’s one-off “Boys” video. Hugh Hefner and Playboy’s porn era might be dead, but that doesn’t make it any less significant that an insanely beautiful and talented large black woman is featured in Playboy.
The bare upper arms, thighs and side rolls she did opt to expose on her own album are still unquestionably a big deal for a lot of people whose bodies are obscure to mainstream pop audiences, except when they’re in their own mirrors. It’s a big deal. It’s even a big deal that she doesn’t make a big deal of it. Lizzo doesn’t need to be comfortable or sociologically correct all the time to be everything she claims to be — one popular review site’s sudden interest in the intersectional ramifications of her flirtation with a Weight Watchers partnership should mind its own skinny business until the parenthetical aside is reattached to a relevant graf.
So what if the most likable human in pop history has made two more gaffes than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Her I-can-do-everything breakout record belatedly fulfills broken promises of PR goodwill from Ditto to Kesha’s Rainbow to Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, all towering emblems of extreme confidence and diverse, dynamic artistic performances that just don’t have enough of the songs yet. There’s no use hanging your hat on a celebrity; they did things you couldn’t and they’ll do things you would never. That includes fucking up big time: The less we enable Azealia Banks’ extramusical pursuits the better, and Broke With Expensive Taste remains one of the great albums of the 2010s. As is Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You. The other ways Lizzo makes us feel good are just icing on the cake she’s game to shove in our face.
What her greatest work accomplishes is old-fashioned; simply executes 11 good-to-great songs in a surprising retro-arena mode that favors live instruments and old-fashioned crescendos even though she keeps up with state-of-the-art rapping and programming just as easily when the mood strikes. In fact, all of her moods strike pretty hard. Moderately rebellious Derulo/Trainor helpmeet Ricky Reed helped her to pare down strictly to direct hits, but 2016’s blandly celebratory “Good as Hell” had less in common with these sexy, comic, loud showstoppers than the concrete oeuvre of her onetime tourmates Sleater-Kinney. Not only is there Aretha and Prince (and a real live Missy Elliott) as promised, there’s Bonnie Raitt.
The astonishing “Crybaby” will fulfill the Purple dreams of any Linndrum fetishist and the closing “Lingerie” is given the light touch that the sex lives of fat women are never publicly granted, when they’re recognized at all. The jocularly dismissive “Jerome” is a good argument that Lizzo’s body matters in the context of these songs; fat women aren’t the only ones who have to deal with fuckboys but their escape from them is less guaranteed. Even if Lizzo isn’t outright dog-whistling that bloc, they’re bound to hear more in that narrative, just as DDLG types did in early Lana del Rey. And the opening “Cuz I Love You” has much to teach a Soundcloud generation that cries “overproduction” about Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. These are merely the ballads.
For the party jams we get the well-established single-of-the-year candidate “Juice,” which tweaks a Police riff into disco manna and makes comedy out of the dudes lost in her DMs, and the iconic “Tempo,” which announces “slow songs are for skinny hoes” over a brain-changing beat worthy of Missy Elliott’s oeuvre, which is why Lizzo brought her along for the ride. (Both have significant size-posi layers if you’re looking to find them: She’s a snack? Nah, “whole damn meal.”) “Like a Girl” (as in “throw it…”) and “Better in Color” (as in “love looks…”), one of the most adoring black-and-proud songs in years, are even more fun than they are destigmatizing. Lizzo already had the effortless charisma, Prince merely cosigned it.
For years Lizzo was looking like a best-of’s best friend. The star-making “Batches and Cookies,” sui generis drumline comedy “Phone,” masturbation-more-gorgeous-than-Tweet “Scuse Me,” and the sexier “SexyBack,” “Boys,” all cried out for albums that lived up to their outrageous highs. Here it be. Whichever goddess you worship, it takes Queen Bey two painstakingly rehearsed Coachella hours to accomplish what plainspoken joker Melissa Jefferson does in 36 minutes. They’re on the same wave, of course. It’s just that one could stand to refresh herself on tempo.
VIDEO: Lizzo – Cuz I Love You