Rapper, singer, and flautist Lizzo released her third LP last week, though its singles have been shaking speakers for months. Cuz I Love You, her first record on Atlantic, doubles down on her brand of body-positive bops and unapologetic self-love. In an anxiety-ridden, hate-filled world, Lizzo just might be the elixir that society needs right now.
But a recent Pitchfork review left the prominent pop princess extra salty, and her response was more disappointing than some of her album’s finessed filler. Writer Rawiya Kameir’s review is what one would call a “mixed review.” It’s an absolute must-read if you’re keen on it, but here’s a summary: While Kameir seems to have nothing but respect for Lizzo’s extraverted approach in showing the world how to be comfortable in one’s own skin, she writes that the new tunes “can feel like a means to a greater end.”
“The rollout for the album, featuring magazine covers and late-night talk show appearances, has been one extremely long yaaaaaaas, centering her welcome approach to body-positivity and self-love as much the soaring mid-chorus notes of the single ‘Juice’ and her uncanny ability to play a flute while twerking,” writes Kameir. She segues stating that “some of the album’s 11 songs are burdened with overwrought production, awkward turns of phrase, and ham-handed rapping” and that one track, the Gucci Mane cut “Exactly How I Feel,” “echoes of the Black Eyed Peas’ triumphant, if soulless, stadium-pop ring hollow.”
The fact that I’m in agreement with Kameir’s assessment is irrelevant. Lizzo’s clapback, however, is up for discussion. She responded: “PEOPLE WHO ‘REVIEW’ ALBUMS AND DONT MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED”
PEOPLE WHO ‘REVIEW’ ALBUMS AND DONT MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED
That was way harsh, Tai. (And, uh…many of us are, so…thanks?)
Kameir’s review was neither a slam, takedown, or flagrant flame piece. She writes that “an artist’s identity and how it is narrativized are by necessity inextricable from their work, making the task of assessing an album’s merit increasingly layered and complex.” She even goes so far as to call Lizzo’s genre “empowerment-core.” It’s about as empathetic and respectful as a (mixed) review could be, and Lizzo’s response made me feel some kinda way.
To expect reviews to be 100 percent positive across the board seems not only unlikely but entitled. If you read anything about Lizzo these days, 9.5 times out of 10 it’s absolutely fawning. (The Independent called the record “a polished, playful album, though it has a DIY edge to it” while The A.V. Club praised it for its vulnerability.) Since her 2016 EP Coconut Oil, Lizzo has been on a steady climb toward an absolute pop takeover and the press has been a huge ally to her momentum. Her blanket statement about music journalists is a slap in the face to everyone who’s ever praised her, which as I’ve implied is basically fucking everybody.
It’s also an attack on criticism at large. It implies that one cannot have a sound opinion on a piece of art that she, herself doesn’t make. That is so completely unfathomable and shortsighted that it hurts my brain. The best part about art of any kind is that we search for the things that work for us. We comb album after album, rummaging through record racks and streaming until our data plans abandon us trying to find that next piece of subjective gold that we want to blast in our cars with the windows down or cuddle up with when shit gets heavy. Lizzo’s tweet marks all opinions but her own as irrelevant and suggests that musicians are on a pedestal above us pedestrians. It feels cold and off-brand for her.
I would never argue that critics’ opinions are more important than any other individual’s, and while there’s always a faction of fans who eschew critical takes, it seems off for such a well-received artist to bite back mostly unprovoked and bring it to such a low level. (Does Lizzo really undervalue other opinions…because it seems like she cares a lot about what people are thinking and writing, which is also quite off-brand.) If she’s this quick to dismiss Kameir’s piece, will she be as quick to toss out the borderline-groveling high praise of other reviews?
Shortly after Lizzo tweeted: “THIS IS AN INVITATION TO ALL MUSIC JOURNALISTS TO KICK IT IN THE STUDIO WITH ME FOR MY NEXT ALBUM! I’d like to understand your world as much as you can understand mine.” But it felt like a backpedal, a failed attempt to make peace; bitterness is a bitch to mask.
THIS IS AN INVITATION TO ALL MUSIC JOURNALISTS TO KICK IT IN THE STUDIO WITH ME FOR MY NEXT ALBUM! I’d like to understand your world as much as you can understand mine https://t.co/niZhmrEvIl
Yes, it tracks that a writer would defend criticism. We’re all just trying to find our own truth as we search for the music to best evoke emotion and help us on our journeys…or hell, at least help us slam a few cocktails on a long weekend night (“Juice” and “Tempo” are fires that’ll never be extinguished). Writers, for the most part, want to help deliver music’s message to its intended recipients. We want the right ears to find the right tunes. And as the old adage goes, “no press is bad press so maybe have some chill, k?” (It’s like a super famous quote or something.)
Despite our admiration for certain performers, artists should never be immune from a fair critique of the actual art itself. Someone may think the rest of an album doesn’t stand up to those face-melting bangers…and that’s OK. But taking down an entire profession after one mediocre review isn’t a good look, it just reeks of entitlement. I want to stan a gracious queen who won’t let a single review rock her quest to lift up those around her through her tunes, twerks, and fabulosity. Please don’t get it twisted, my dear Lizzo. I’m writing this Cuz I Love You. See you in the studio, gurl.