When Lizzo began performing her groovy anthem “Juice” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! she was sitting in a chair getting her hair cornrowed. Her hair stylist finished the look by attaching a ponytail to the top of the rapper’s head. Lizzo and her backup dancers rocked name-plate door-knocker earrings, black jerseys reading “Crenshaw”—an homage to late rapper Nipsey Hussle’s Marathon clothing line—and pranced around, holding red cups as if they were at a house party. The scene proudly echoed a typical Black girls’ night out, from the beautification process to the actual turnup. More deeply, the imagery celebrated Lizzo’s hair, skin, body, and culture—all representative of the self-love that runs through her new album Cuz I Love You, released April 19.
On the 11-track record, Lizzo leaves no part of herself behind. The multifaceted artist bares it all—just as she does on her album cover—exploring a kaleidoscope of sounds, including pop, rock, hip hop, and R&B. “My sister was into indie like Björk or Radiohead,” she told The Guardian in October 2018. “Dad liked classic rock: Elton John or Queen. We also listened to a lot of gospel.” “Cuz I Love You” also relies on her myriad talents, including belting emotional melodies, rapping clever bars, and playing her Sasha Flute.
Lizzo’s voice is powerful and colorful; her captivating aura can rock out stadium stages while also delivering lyrics that are personal enough for intimate venues. By affirming herself over and over throughout this album, she gives listeners permission to realign with their own beauty. “I want people to feel that closeness, because if you can love me as much as you do without knowing me, and without me being like this archetype of modern beauty in media, then you can love yourself,” she told Allure in March.
Cuz I Love You’s self-love anthems aren’t cheesy, forced, or performative, thanks to Lizzo’s evolution as an artist. Her 2013 debut, the rap-focused Lizzobangers, is filled with not-so-punchy braggadocious lyrics about dreaming of brighter success and seeking outside validation to arrive there. (“Can my record get a few major spins? I’m saying/ I don’t wanna think about tomorrow because I’m still hustling,” she raps on “Be Still.”) When she returned for her 2015 album, Big GRRRL Small World, Lizzo’s messaging revolved around believing in herself. On “En Love,” she calls for fellow big, beautiful Black girls to do the same. “All these years been searching for something that would complete me/ Who knew that it would be me,” she raps.
By 2016’s Coconut Oil, she was revealing more of her singing voice, melodies, and funk. And she not only sees her greatness but demands others praise her greatness too. (“Worship me/ On your knees/ Patiently, quietly, faithfully, worship me,” she quips on “Worship.”) On Cuz I Love You, Lizzo takes this approach to the next level with a collection of hit-worthy tracks filled with quotable proclamations about self-love and upliftment. Lizzo’s delivered a soundtrack for our summertime glow-ups.
The jovial bop “Like A Girl” takes down the limiting stereotype that women and girls have inherently less value, and therefore, their accomplishments aren’t worthy of being praised. Lizzo shouts out a few inspiring Black women icons as proof that divine feminity is all around us. “Chaka Khan/ Through the Fire/ Light the kerosene (We can do it)/ Lauryn Hill told me everything is everything (We can do it)/ Serena Willy showed me I can win the Wimbledon (We can do it),” Lizzo chants. The jittery banger “Soulmate” encourages women to look at themselves in the mirror and proclaim that they are enough, especially when their inner voices are tearing them down. On the track, she runs down why she is first and foremost her best lover. (“And she never tell me to exercise/ We always get extra fries/ And you know the sex is fire/ And I gotta testify/ I get flowers every Sunday/ I’ma marry me one day.”)
And sometimes, loving yourself means leaving behind partners who don’t measure up. On the doo-wop inspired “Jerome” she uses raspy vocals to dismiss a man who isn’t on her level of gloriousness. He’s fine so she rethinks keeping him around, but really she’s over the relationship. “Your style and that beard, ooh, don’t get me distracted/ I’m tryna be patient, and patience takes practice/ The fact is I’m leaving, so just let me have this.” Lizzo’s heartbroken again on the soulful rock ballad “CryBaby,” but this time she shows a little more vulnerability. “You got me feelin’ this much/ I clear my schedule for you/ Let my guard down for you/ And you gon’ make me put it back up.”
Lizzo mostly mans this ship alone, but her features bring other colorful rappers along for the ride. The twerk-worthy club banger “Tempo” centers the thick girls and features the legendary Missy Elliott, one of Lizzo’s influences, who drops her classic body-positive bars. On the Prince-inspired funk, “That’s Exactly How I Feel,” Lizzo isn’t apologizing for having a bitchy attitude, something women don’t always get to express as freely as men do. Gucci Mane, on the other hand, isn’t letting anyone affect his mood because he’s too busy counting his money up. (“I feel like hurtin’ they feelings (Yeah)/ I don’t get mad, I get millions (Yeah).”) Lizzo rounds out the album with the bluesy “Lingerie,” a sensual and smooth guitar-led number about beckoning a deserving lover. “So I lounge around in my lingerie/ I wanna be prepared for you just in case.” It’s clear Lizzo wants us to feel free enough to explore a range of emotions through a plethora of sounds.
Lizzo’s emergence fits into many current conversations in music and culture, from Black artists being allowed to bend genres as freely as white artists to re-embracing women in mainstream hip hop to celebrating the visibility of curvier women musicians. These conversations will hopefully forge new perimeters around who gets to be a musical superstar and what narratives are embraced. These are good things.
Lizzo’s delivered a soundtrack for our summertime glow-ups.
Lizzo stirred up another conversation on Monday about the strained relationship between critics and artists. After receiving what she perceived as an unfavorable album review, Lizzo implied through a tweet that music critics who don’t create music should be unemployed. These days, artists have more control over how their projects are rolled out, but there are fewer spaces for open discussion and criticism about their art. Some artists unreasonably expect music publications to act as an extension of their press teams, but attempting to silence critics won’t detract from the fact that some listeners won’t favor their music.
Though Lizzo is an artist of the modern era, she’s not the first or last Black woman to use art, music, and literature to embrace radical love for their bodies, minds, and spirits. For Black women—the most marginalized people in American culture—self-love isn’t the standard, so they’ve had to define it for themselves. Lizzo is connected to a lineage of those who have been doing so before it was a selling point for companies targeting millennials and Generation Z. Whether it’s Maya Angelou stating in her iconic 1978 poem “Still I Rise”: “I’m a Black ocean, leaping and wide/ Welling and swelling I bear in the tide,” or lines from poet Nikki Giovanni’s 1996 “Poem For A Lady Whose Voice I Like”: “Show me someone not full of herself/ And I’ll show you a hungry person.”
It can be heard in a word from Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body is Not Apology, who said, “Waking unrepentant in our skin is a hero’s journey and the only way we collectively prevail.” Black women have always had to love on themselves and each other for the praise they deserve and to survive. Although Lizzo has said her brand of self-love is personal and isn’t meant to be political, the messaging she invites us to embrace is generations deep. Surely, the album proves, she’s the future of it.