Just two days before Lizzo charmed Coachella’s audience with an impromptu flute performance, she released her major label debut, “Cuz I Love You.” Missing from Lizzo’s latest is the playful, iconic persona she showcased at Coachella, the same one she carefully crafted on earlier works. On “Cuz I Love You,” Lizzo trades in her once-distinctive voice for predictable lyrics and beats engineered by big producers. The album may be currently top of the iTunes chart, but this commercial success has nothing to do with Lizzo’s artistry and everything to do with industry peddling.
Lizzo released her debut album “Lizzobangers” in 2013. Three years later, shortly after signing with Atlantic Records, she released her first major label EP “Coconut Oil.” “Good As Hell,” one of six songs on the EP, is Lizzo at her best: simple and snappy percussion, a consoling piano riff, and a coquettish call and response with herself during the song’s chorus. “Baby, how you feelin’?” she sings, and then belts back “Feeling good as hell!” Lizzo raps and it sounds like she’s talking to a best friend. “I got a bottle of tequila I’ve been saving for you,” she says, delivering the lyric with such conviction that you can taste the bitter, smooth combination of alcohol and agave. On her 2017 single, “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo stands up an ex-boyfriend. The lyrics are as scathing as they are witty: “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch.” On “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo condescends, pleads, taunts, boasts, and feels herself while still revealing some insecurity, all while sounding like she’s having a ton of fun.
“Cuz I Love You” squeezes out Lizzo’s fun-loving energy completely. The album isn’t just major label in fact, it’s major label in sound. It’s a headache of electronic percussion, inexplicable auto-tuning of Lizzo’s powerhouse voice, and a flat message about “hashtag self-love,” not actual self-love. Lizzo’s album is a capital-P Pop production, emulating the tired spectacle of a Katy Perry song. Lizzo’s levity, keen ability to cut with a single lyric, cheerful positivity, and the way she uses her vocal prowess to claim space not just for herself but for all of her girlfriends is tragically lost on “Cuz I Love You.”
Maybe this because of the album’s reliance on stock lyrics. Lizzo always sang about female empowerment, but she used to do so with shrewd particularity. Her latest lyrics, however, are about buying her “whip” by herself, how she looks in the mirror and realizes she’s her own soulmate, and that she is, indeed, a woman who masturbates. This nod to female masturbation seems to be requisite nowadays and not only conflates womanhood with certain genitalia, but also confuses making love to yourself with actually loving yourself.
Or maybe the album falls flat because Lizzo sounds, for a lack of a better word, bored. On “Like A Girl,” the album’s second song, Lizzo delivers even the cleverest lyrics (“Only ex I care about are in my fucking chromosomes”) with lackluster. There is no wit in her voice, just posturing. What made Lizzo’s rap so great in past works wasn’t her technique, but her lack of technique. She had authenticity — a Minneapolis charm. Lizzo didn’t try to amuse us, she amused herself. She tried one new thing after another. “Like A Girl” isn’t about taking risks; it’s about synthesized vocals drowned out by lots of bass. The song is like a confetti popper: underwhelming and messy.
Similarly bland and disjointed are the album’s two collabs. On “Exactly How I Feel,” Gucci Mane delivers the lyrics “I don’t get mad, I get millions” and “Fire chains on like brrr” with tepidness, like he was dragged into the studio rather than invited. He knows the lyrics are bad, and he knows you will know too. “Tempo,” with Missy Elliott, sounds like Nicki Minaj’s “Only” took a trip inside an Easy-Bake Oven and was finished off with frosting that tastes like plastic. “Kitty cat, kitty cat, prr” and “Get your own bread, own dough” are just two of the genius lyrics Atlantic Records churned out.
“Cuz I Love You”’s only redeeming song is “Jerome,” the one moment when listeners get a break from the ear-splitting pep of the rest of the album. Lizzo provokes and pleads with Jerome. The song is both an attack against and an elegy for a guy she had high hopes for, but who ended up being a major disappointment. It’s both sad and funny. “Can’t let a pretty face distract me from business / And God as my witness, your ugly ass won’t either,” Lizzo sings with calculation. The lyrics are mean in all the right ways and Lizzo’s tone is sarcastically apologetic.
“Cuz I Love You” works best when it sticks to what is tried and true for Lizzo. On “Jerome,” she plays around again. The beat is simple — it does no more than the work required of it. And this simplicity pays off. Lizzo’s vocals and lyrics take center-stage, as they should. Hopefully, on Lizzo’s next album, they won’t be upstaged again.
— Staff Writer Paul G. Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.