Lizzo deserves to pop off for “Juice” alone. When that song burst onto the scene in January its effect was immediate; it racked up the streams to be her second most played song to date, earned her a litany of talk show appearances, and just made people feel good. It’s “Uptown Funk” but even better, an effervescent and endlessly catchy ode to self-love that was as winningly cocky as it was inclusive in its confidence (“when I’m shining everybody gonna shine”). Even if she’d never released “Juice”, though, her breakthrough has been a long time coming. She’s funny, she’s loud, she’s sharp, and she represents an underrepresented demographic with the utmost joy. The world at large is rooting for Lizzo.
That being said, the album is just good. With Lizzo it was never going to be any less; It’s packed head to toe with bops, bombarding the listener with huge beats and a brick wall of vocals and never once letting up. “Like A Girl” and Soulmate” are relentless, designed to be meme’d and screamed back at her at gigs, while “Heaven Help Me” is relatable and suitably manic for its anxious musings until breaking down into a gorgeous flute coda. This everything-at-11 approach is a good way for Lizzo to showcase her lovable personality and vocal chops, but it also makes it feel like she’s overstaying her welcome on an album of just thirty-three minutes. Tracks as cacophonous as “Soulmate” and “Better In Colour” make the purring Missy Elliot collab “Tempo” seem restrained by comparison.
“What’s confusing is Lizzo’s newfound love for shallow faux-town concoctions and pastiche bordering on, dare we say, Meghan Trainor territory”
What’s confusing is Lizzo’s newfound love for shallow faux-town concoctions and pastiche bordering on, dare we say, Meghan Trainor territory. She has hinted at this penchant since “Good As Hell” and her collaborations with common Trainor producer Ricky Reed, but never has it been so present and overblown as on songs such as the title track and “Jerome”, a one-note kiss-off to a fuckboy.
With these waltz-time tracks as well as vocals always exhaustingly set to “final chorus”, what Lizzo has basically done is remade Demi Lovato’s Tell Me You Love Me. Even taking into account that they share a producer, “Like A Girl” has more than an echo of “Sorry Not Sorry”, as does “Jerome” of “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore”. The latter track and “Soulmate” even feature the same “you thought I was talking to a lover but I’m actually taking to myself” bait-and-switch, popularised by Lorde and never bettered. The one thing TMYLM has that CILY doesn’t is enough comedowns like Demi’s “Lonely”, which is baffling seeing as Lizzo has done introspective downtempo sublimely on tracks like “Humanize” and “My Skin”. In fairness, though, Demi has never had a “Juice”.
This all points to at least a bit of bet-hedging, an over-simplification of Lizzo’s brand. CILY is very obviously being pushed as her official debut, her star-making album, and good for her, she more than deserves it to work. Her desire for mainstream co-option just feels a bit watery when her brand has been captured much more succinctly and organically on tracks like “Water Me”, “Fitness”, and “Truth Hurts”, the latter of which is currently trending for featuring in Netflix film Something Great. Like “Truth Hurts”, her best songs are deathless because they attain a near zen balance of personality and spot-on production. Think of “Boys”, the pre-”Juice” indicator that Lizzo had reached her peak; here was a track with touches of soul and funk that didn’t even come near pastiche, modern but not-too-slick production, and deliciously funny come-ons. The fact that “Boys” doesn’t appear here tells us that it wasn’t an artistic decision as much as it was a way to make room for more “More”.
“It’s culturally important and just for Lizzo to succeed but, even if it wasn’t, we want her to succeed”
All that said, any criticism is probably going to fall on deaf ears; it’s been made clear that Lizzo will never read a single review if it’s not positive, as evidenced by her all-caps tweet that read “PEOPLE WHO ‘REVIEW’ ALBUMS AND DON’T MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED”.
Like… what? There are so many things wrong with this, not least the fact that a lot of people can be both unemployed and music writers (ahem…). Furthermore, if someone makes shitty GarageBand beats, are they suddenly allowed to critique culture? Are people only allowed to critique culture when they’re lavishing praise on her, as the 6.5 score from Pitchfork proved by provoking her to tweet what she did? Her pronouncement just doesn’t make any sense, and all of the replies basically amounted to “Girl, we love you, but this isn’t it”. This kind of sulky defence is the reason celebrities are interviewing other celebrities for fear of being asked a question they don’t like. Criticism is imperative, even though it’s probably frustrating when a bad-to-mediocre critic makes their money from explaining why artists aren’t proficient in their own fields.
It’s culturally important and just for Lizzo to succeed but, even if it wasn’t, we want her to succeed. She’s fun and endlessly charismatic, a talent who pulls off being a multi-hyphenate with more aplomb than anyone in the game, and thus she can safely coast on high levels of good will. Why she would risk eroding that good will is anyone’s guess, but it’s not too much for anyone, critics and stans alike, to ask for a little more variety and nuance on the next album.