Lizzo - Cuz I Love You
Apr 21, 2019
76
It's hard not to cheer for Lizzo. She's a reliable emcee, she's absurdly charismatic, her flute skills are on point, and even the most anti-PC cynic would have a hard time arguing her rise to fame was a product of idpo-laden industry planting rather than her own natural talent and charisma. For those of us free of the conspiracies, it's also without a doubt thrilling to watch a woman of color with a larger body get her long-deserved come up. Cuz I Love You, technically her first full-length project in four years, may very well still be the moment when a star in the waiting is finally born, even if it's not always as concentrated or deep as its stark, exposed cover would suggest.

Before the album was even released, it's possible Lizzo set the bar a little too high with a run of ultra-strong singles, namely the near-perfect "Juice." Still unimpeached for pop song of the year in my book, the track beats Bruno Mars at his own game as Lizzo somehow makes both the hackneyed "I'm the shit" mantras of mainstream-friendly rap, as well as 80s throwback instrumentals, sound fresh and exciting. "Tempo" is a plus-sized acceptance anthem that dares to actually be sexy instead of preachy; the tongue roll-laden guest verse from Missy Elliott is just icing on the cake. The biggest surprise, however, is the title track, which establishes Lizzo as a vocal powerhouse with range that was only hinted at on previous singles. Instrumentally the track sounds like Sleigh Bells covering a blues ballad, and Lizzo's wailing matches the intensity blow for blow. The titular stressed-but-soulful moan of "IIIII'M CRYING, CAUSE I LOOOOOVE YOU" is such a fantastic way to kick off the album and convert the nonbelievers to the church of Lizzo (as she does in the track's incredible video), what follows certainly has its work cut out for it. She mostly follows through, even if the intensity isn't always matched.

I appreciate Lizzo's decision to record all-new material for this record instead of compiling her single output from the past few years (of which there is not a single dud), but the newer stuff doesn't always feel as thought-out, and the album occasionally suffers from "all the effort went into the singles" syndrome. "Truth Hurts, " "Water Me," and especially the magnificent "Boys" would easily be upper-50th percentile material here, especially against the likes of "Exactly How I Feel" and "Better in Color," both of which fizzle out barely past the two minute mark. "Like a Girl" is a surefire follow-up single to Cuz I Love You's strong preview run that even manages to be trans inclusive ("If you feel like a girl/then you're real like a girl!", but its melody and production lean a little too Nickelodeon, even bordering on teen pop (does anyone know what happened to V V Brown?). "Heaven Help Me" is the record's climax, where whoever she's been singing to is dunzo, and love turned out to be the villain all along, but the verse lyrics don't add to the overall message and the instrumental (save for the glorious slowed-down flute outro) is easily X Ambassador's least-exciting contribution (although I do credit this song with introducing me to the phrase "dickmatized").

But perhaps the biggest disappointment of the album is that for all her interview candor on fat-positivity, race relations, and the importance of being a plus-sized black woman who is portrayed as beautiful and makes music about self love, Cuz I Love You frequently shies away from the brass tacks of Lizzo's full identity by siloing the various aspects of it into bite-sized portions. There are songs that champion being female ("Like a Girl"), and songs that champion being plus-sized ("Tempo"), but the former has always thrived in the mainstream, and the latter has become relatively accepted in the past decade thanks to artists like Nicki Minaj and (whether you like it or not) Meghan Trainor. What's sadder is the closest she comes to addressing her identity as a black woman is on a song about interracial love ("Better in Color"); while there's nothing wrong with having a partner of another race, it's a bummer that she can only address her blackness by centering it with a different race (doesn't help that the song only name-checks white partners).She's explicitly addressed race on pre-major label songs like "My Skin," and her music videos portray black families thriving ("Water Me"), fantasized black mecca societies ("Scuse Me"), and black male romantic counterparts ("Juice," "Cuz I Love You"), but for the actual music of Cuz I Love You, it almost feels like Lizzo is downplaying the more uncomfortable identity politics for the sake of universal palatability.

Fortunately the album is saved by a handful of deep cuts that at least partially build on the promise of the singles. "Jerome" has the swing-time atmosphere of the title-track but without the urgency of needing to be a single, thus allowing Lizzo to luxuriate over the instrumental as she tells off an ex who's just too immature to handle her (that beard tho!). It's a sweet but soulful kissoff that is about as close as Cuz I Love You gets to having a true ballad. Immediately following this is "Cry Baby" - a powerful funk slowburner that would make Prince (a late collaborator of hers) proud. Once again she finds herself crying over someone who now seems to not be returning her advances, but it approaches from a different angle of vocal catharsis. Of course Lizzo's vocals remain a selling point, and the song's hazy, nearly-psychedelic bridge is one of the more out-there moments on an album that occasionally plays its instrumentals somewhat safe. "Lingerie" is a sensual closer that mercifully breaks the uptempo onslaught of the previous four tracks (even Lizzo herself sounds out of breath by the end of "Heaven Help Me"). The close-mic recording is inconsistent with the max-produced aesthetic throughout the record, but with proper context it is thrilling to hear Lizzo tempt someone with the image of her in see-through underwear. If only that context weren't so frequently underdeveloped and implied rather than given.
3 Comments
Apr 23, 2019
The second to last paragraph is so well thought out. Your reviews are always fantastic, but this one is particularly amazing. Thanks for sharing!
Apr 24, 2019
Thank u, I like yours too!! Obviously Lizzo is not obligated to make #woke music, but to me the line she said on Trevor Noah - "my mere existence is a form of activism" - just feels too convenient in terms of allowing the actual songs to be so innocuous. Reminds me of Sam Smith hailing himself as being groundbreaking for LGBT performers but then shying away from pronouns in his music because "I want everyone to be able to relate to my music uwu"
Apr 25, 2019
Especially because the lyrics (as you well stated) dance around the more generative, and compelling conversations about black femininity AND being a plus-sized black woman. Also, lol about Sam Smith just use a pronoun it’s 2019. Still some bangers on this record, The user score should be higher.....
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