Blizzo: the two biggest albums of the summer, reviewed
Two really important things happened while we were all taking a little break from school this summer: Lizzo dropped an album and Beyoncé dropped an album within weeks of each other. I know you’re all very eager to hear what I have to say about this historical moment, so please don’t let this mediocre introductory paragraph stand in your way any longer. I present:
Special, Lizzo 2022
Guys, I’m not going to lie to you. I think this album is weird. Apparently every album review I wrote last year was overwhelmingly positive, so I guess this one is going to balance all of those out.
“Special”–pop icon Lizzo’s newest album release from this past summer–is simply not special. It’s clunky and it’s basic and honestly, it’s just not Lizzo. Or it is, but there’s something just a little off about it. Embedded inside of it, though, seems to be a sort of explanation for it.
Lizzo’s been through some sh*t in the past year or two, as she announces on “The Sign” the first track of her newest album “Special,” quote: “Dealin' with him put me through some sh*t.” She never elaborates further than that, but many of the tracks, especially “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” reference how the time in Lizzo’s life directly preceding the writing of “Special” involved a lot of hard lessons. I like the content of some of the album that seems to spawn from that, but a listener can certainly feel the grittiness of that process, and it’s not always easy. Which, I guess, is the point.
To me though, it just seems like almost every song on the album was meant to be a hit single. Some achieve this by targeting Lizzo’s new popular persona, which has been developing since the release of her last album “Cuz I Love You.” “Special” and “I Love You Bitch” and “Naked” are so aggressively thick with parts of Lizzo that social media has been highlighting in recent years that they feel inauthentic. Songs like “Grrls” sound like Lizzo dug into her voice memos from when she was 12. I know her and her team can write better than “Grrls.” That’s all I have to say about that one.
On a writing note, I’d really like to know more about “Everybody’s Gay,” particularly because it sounds eerily similar to Micheal Jackson’s “Thriller.” Like, very similar. All of the instrumentals are directly derivative from it, no question. Some of the melodies and lyrics — compare the choruses and instrumental breaks — are so closely reminiscent that I went to look for Jackson in the credits. I did not find him. I absolutely love the creative intention, but the fact that nobody’s talking about the similarities between the songs gives me a bad feeling about the whole thing. Lizzo knows too much about music to have done this by accident, and I think a little hat tip to “Thriller” might smooth it out as an endeavor.
One reason I know this is because of “Break Up Twice,” which obviously uses melody and lyric from Ms. Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing),” does credit the original artist, as does “Coldplay,” which does the same thing with their “Yellow.” I’m unsure as to why Lizzo chose to include so much borrowed content in this album, when she has so clearly demonstrated that she can write her own “Yellow”s.
Though the references to masks and costumes in “Everybody’s Gay” were clearly not intended to be a Halloween reference, the song’s kinship with “Thriller” makes me feel like Lizzo knew it would be playing alongside “Monster Mash” come October, the same way “Birthday Girl” will become the best song ever on many Gen Z girls’ 21st birthdays. “Birthday Girl” feels like a project Lizzo used to cross “write birthday song that won’t stop playing for the next 78 years” off of her to-do list. Also, she uses the word “emosh” (pronounced as the first two and a half syllables of “emotional”), which is interesting.
Others awkwardly reference popular culture, as seen in “Coldplay” or “The Sign,” which pulls from the popular Tik Tok trend that goes something like “if you see this, this is your sign to _______.” It’s uplifting, yes, but a little too kitschy if you ask me. “If You Love Me” randomly pulls from The Lion King. Couldn’t explain that one.
The pop culture references are well and creatively intentioned, but the combined disjunction and un-subtlety of them makes them awkward — and very unexpected from Lizzo.
The problem, mostly, is that the album is not what I expected. Her teaser single, “About Damn Time” was simply so good in comparison to the rest of the album. It feels genuinely Lizzo — the way she uses the word “Balenci-ussy” rings so much right-er than “emosh.” It’s fun and cool and the only song that even came close to matching it was “To Be Loved (I Am Ready),” a euphoric little piece about healing that comes through much better than “The Sign” ever could.
I wish I could say more good things about this album. The truth is it grooves quite a bit. I just couldn't get behind the writing, and much of that is most likely not Lizzo’s fault. I guess I’ll just have to wait for her next drop.
RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé 2022
In contrast to “Special,” the teaser for “RENAISSANCE,” “BREAK MY SOUL” was absolutely horrible. I don’t think I could get through even half of it. It set my expectations for the album extremely low, where, strangely, they were exceeded.
I would say that I felt like a lot of the album was similarly uncharacteristic for Beyoncé, but I think she gets a little bit of an out since a lot of the style I’m comparing to is from almost 20 years ago now. Beyoncé has been evolving since “Lemonade,” and I think I can accept that some of the newer sounding things on “RENAISSANCE” are a result of that. Even the all-caps format.
I’m going to keep this review relatively short, both because I exhausted myself talking negatively about Lizzo, and also because a decent amount of the tracks on this album are too similar or unremarkable to talk about. Much of it is what I would call “vogue music” as in “music that is good for voguing,” especially “PURE/HONEY,” “MOVE,” and “SUMMER RENAISSANCE.” The lyricism throughout is consistently hip-hop confidence-boosting: “only the radio can play me” from “HEATED” or all of “COZY.” Again, I want to say that Beyoncé can do better than this. It’s fun but not super interesting, especially when it’s repeated in every song on the album. Even “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM” just talks about how sexy Beyoncé is, which apparently was meant to be a metaphoric attempt at addressing the drug problem in the U.S. Not sure about that one.
Pieces like “HEATED,” “ALIEN SUPERSTAR,” and “VIRGO’S GROOVE” stuck out to me as being particularly good and groovy. In general, the album was sufficient to be a success for Beyonce, though, again, I wish I had more good things to say about it.