Lizzo wants to be America’s hype girl—or at least that’s what she leads listeners to believe, based on a discography overflowing with references to self–love, acceptance, confidence. Just take 2016’s breakout hit “Good As Hell” as an example, with its big, brassy rhythm and reminders to take care of yourself that soundtracks commercial after commercial. Lizzo’s third album, Cuz I Love You, pushes much of the same. Clocking in at a little over a half hour, it’s a bite–sized pep–talk and already a contender for album of the year, at least according to all the publications that matter.
The album opens en–media–res, with Lizzo’s explosive vocals making a bold declaration. “I’m crying/cuz I love you,” she croons against a backdrop of big–band sounds and rock song dissonance before seamlessly transitioning into the verses with a flow smoother than velvet. Produced by the kings of Billboard–chart–pleasing pseudo–rock, The X Ambassadors, the album’s titular opening track has a heavy playfulness that foreshadows the album’s underlying message: self–love is oh–so difficult, but so damn fun.
And it is, especially on songs like “Juice” and “Like a Girl.” Both have the kind of effortless groove you can lean into, imbued with either the bass–heavy production of an early 2000s banger meant to be heard through a nightclub’s oversized speakers or the contagious Motown swag of a James Brown song. Modeled in the image of a timeless TLC or 3LW hit, “Like A Girl” is Lizzo’s mission statement, preparing the music industry for a takeover filled with braggadocious one–liners and distinctly feminine energy. Meanwhile, “Juice” sounds and feels like a big belly–laugh, expelling every ounce of pent up bullshit with lyrics meant to be screamed in the basement of a packed party. Lizzo leans into chorus with gusto, and the listener can imagine her boundless, bouncing around on stage with her signature flute.
Moreover, Lizzo proves herself to be a powerful collaborator, working with Missy Elliot and Gucci Mane on tracks that let both of them shine. “Tempo,” featuring Missy Elliott, has the intangible quality of a summer anthem, with Lizzo and Elliott mixing so seamlessly into one another you can’t tell where one flow ends and another begins. Patterned after Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass” to reinforce body–positivity, “Tempo” achieved what its 2014 counterpart couldn’t, uplifting curvier women without devaluing others.
Meanwhile, “Exactly How I Feel” has the foundations of an 80s hip hop hit, from the well–timed record scratch to the choruses of participatory “oohs" and “ahhs" interspersed between verses to wordplay that’s more narrative than superfluous. Gucci Mane’s verse is a surprising delight, with a comprehensible flow and light lyrics.
That said, Cuz I Love You does more than establish Lizzo as music’s wing–woman and cheerleader. It hints at the personal, unveiling Lizzo as something greater than pop’s most positive persona—she’s a person who, like us, falls in and out love, and gets angry and even a little passive–aggressive in the aftermath. “Jerome” is Lizzo’s "Dear John," a confrontational ballad that leaves the listener with no question about who Jerome is. He represents every ex we’ve ever settled for, who measures effort in heart–eye emojis and not real emotions. Apparently about "fuccboi love," the song feels universal yet deeply personal and proximate, both to Lizzo and the listener. Perhaps that’s the magic of Lizzo. She can turn a universal insecurity, as complex as body image issues or as simple as the fear that he won’t text you back, into an anthem that feels handcrafted and individual.
Sure, sometimes Lizzo sounds like the human equivalent of those motivation posters that high school guidance counselors hoard. Occasionally, her positivity feels artificial, so loud and vibrant it can’t be human. Most of the time, however, it hits that sweet spot, and her animated voice can turn even the worst day into a triumph. Cuz I Love You solidifies Lizzo as the future of pop, where meaningful motivation meets the fringes of the mainstream.