When Texas-born artist Melissa Viviane Jefferson was 25, she went into an involuntary three-month period of absolute silence. After the loss of her father and a faltering sense of identity, she was unsure how to exist in a world that celebrates thin white women and shames any deviants. Her self-reflection led to an unapologetic sense of self love.
Now, as a songwriter, singer, rapper and experienced flautist, Jefferson, under her stage name Lizzo, synthesizes a mixture of pop, rap and soul in her third studio album, “Cuz I Love You.”
Lizzo’s purpose in “Cuz I Love You” is clear: The artist is claiming her space, basking in self love, honoring her emotions and, all the while, repudiating anyone who attempts to diminish or demean. Her omni-present, girl-empowering lyrics instinctively exist as anthems of liberation, accompanying her theatrically catchy hooks with fierce advocacy for herself and, more broadly, women who are sick of dating different variations of the same inadequate and emotionally stunted man-child.
As the self-proclaimed “Aretha Franklin for the 2018 generation,” the artist’s confidence is contagious. She is in the final stage of grief, accepting the incompetence of her past lovers and onto an exploration of personal acceptance. Understandably, and perhaps even necessary to the album’s authenticity, many of her self-directed love songs are backed with a “men ain’t shit” attitude, staying true to the themes of past albums “Lizzobangers” and “Big Grrrl Small World.” At times, it gets a little repetitive, but such is the nature of heterosexual dating as a woman. Her power is rooted in adversity.
The album as whole, though jam packed with distinct and elaborate tracks, functions more as a series of singles than an entire cohesive piece — aside from being bookended with the most stunningly intimate tracks. Detailed in are the name-droppy features of Gucci Mane and Missy Elliot, who provide variance and adaptability to the album, making it even more palatable.
Her body positivity and self love rings obviously clear on “Soulmate,” a self-dedicated love song in which she proclaims that she is, admirably and yet to no surprise, her own soulmate. “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.”
“Cuz I Love You” opens with the album’s title track— an introduction to the emotional vulnerability that is yet to come. She belts, “I’m crying / cuz I love you” lamenting how she has never been in love before and is distraught by her capacity to feel a love she believed she was incapable of. Just as forceful is the instrumental fervor of the rocky, soul-influenced guitar accompaniment. Here, her power and musical versatility distinguish itself from overproduced pop artists, yet her ability to make streamable singles resiliently stands.
The album comes full circle, showcasing Lizzo’s strikingly versatile voice. In the final track on the album, “Lingerie,” the artist essentially guides listeners through a sort of orgasmic experience, squeezing out some of her highest notes on the record with layers of sensual bluesy chords, begging for her lover to “make her crescendo.”
Lizzo’s sound as an artist in general is straightforward, accessible and Top-40 friendly — but before turning up your nose at the word “mainstream,” consider the importance of Lizzo’s musical activism. Her fierce opposition to a society that shames women simply for taking up space is a message that is both ubiquitous and timeless.