Cuz I Love You opens with one of the most brash and audacious vocal runs you’ll hear on any record this year. It’s a fierce statement of intent for Lizzo, confirming her newfound success in the mainstream through one hugely defiant display of talent. Though none of this should come as much of a surprise for anyone who’s been familiar with her previous work; it’s always been clear that Lizzo was destined for bigger things, but what some might not realize is that the larger than life singer hasn’t always found it so easy to express herself in such terms.
In a particularly candid interview with Great Big Story, Lizzo once revealed that she stopped talking completely for three months when she was 20 years old: “I don’t know what was wrong. It was dark.” Ten years later, the outspoken star has never been more vocal with her message of self-love and empowerment, but it took her a while to find that voice.
Lizzo’s debut, Lizzobangers, was produced by Ryan Olsen of Marijuana Deathsquads and Gayngs, whose indie leanings helped her find favor with an alternative crowd. Since then, she has experimented with bluesy soul, feisty rapping, and gutsy vocals, all while throwing in the occasional flute solo too. Thus far, it’s always been impossible to deny Lizzo’s talent, but this multi-faceted approach rarely cohered into one rewarding whole.
For the most part, Cuz I Love You finally rectifies this issue. By focusing primarily on those powerhouse vocals, Lizzo’s major label debut pulls her out from the fringes and into the spotlight she so clearly deserves. The melodramatic pauses and theatrical flourishes that give the title track such heft set the tone for everything else that’s to follow; whether she’s bringing the soul on songs like “Crybaby” and “Jerome” or dialing the funk up on “Juice” or “Exactly How I Feel,” Lizzo has never sounded more comfortable in her own skin.
Plenty of pop stars would struggle to shine through such grandiosity without coming across as arrogant or too earnest, but you really do believe Lizzo when she proudly declares in “Soulmate” that she’s the only person she ever needs. On album highlight “Like a Girl,” she goes one step further and tells us she “just might run for president.” Instead of questioning Lizzo’s credentials, we’re already getting some voting placards ready, and to be honest, it seems like the world would be far better off with her in charge.
Compared to the so-called ‘wokeness’ of shiny pop stars like Katy Perry, Lizzo’s message of self-empowerment never comes across as gimmicky. In fact, long time fans will know that her songs have always been concerned with body positivity and self care. It’s just taken a few years for the rest of the world to catch up. Along with artists like Janelle Monáe, Lizzo is deeply authentic in her approach to music, refusing to hold back or tone things down for her detractors – and just like the Dirty Computer star, she’s also learned to transform potential weaknesses into strength.
In a world where the “skinny hoes” still reign supreme, it’s incredibly freeing to hear a big girl like Lizzo proudly declare she’s “a thick bitch,” and even more so when this message is delivered alongside Missy Elliott. It’s only fitting that the legendary rapper makes an appearance given that her influence can be felt throughout the entire album – not since Missy last got her freak on have we heard a female hip-hop star flaunt their sexuality with such joy.
Aside from “Tempo,” Lizzo raps less than usual on Cuz I Love You, but smart wordplay still defines her brand, even if long time fans might be left wanting for a couple of extra verses. Still, with playful charm and a vocal range that towers above most of her peers, Lizzo’s vibrant take on body politics and self-love is needed now more than ever. Although she recently insisted to The Guardian that she isn’t overtly ‘political’, the very existence of a large black woman singing on the charts is unavoidably political by nature.
Although she already found her voice a few years back, it’s never sounded better than it does here, and even more importantly than that, it’s thrilling to see that the world is finally ready to hear it. On “Juice,” Lizzo brags that she’s “like chardonnay, get better over time,” and if Cuz I Love You is anything to go by, then her next album could be even better still.