She has made a name for herself as a body-positivity icon and through viral flute-playing videos, but with her latest and third album, Cuz I Love You, American singer and rapper Lizzo is finally taking a valiant stab at the pop throne.
Her first album to be released on a major label is a joyous work that melds rousing pop anthems, rap bravado and soul music's emotional heft.
The 31-year-old, who appears unabashedly nude on the album cover, heralds a new landscape of inclusivity in pop music. She is proud and unapologetic of who she is and what she looks like, and is fiercely in control of her narrative.
The classically trained flautist, whose real name is Melissa Jefferson, shows off her singing chops from the get-go, kicking off the album with a Whitney Houstonworthy howl on the title track. Almost immediately, her big band kicks in with a burst of horns and orchestral flourishes as she pines passionately for a loved one.
This is flipped in Jerome, a mellow tune where she goes ballistic lyrically on a suitor whose looks are not commensurate with his maturity: "Poor little baby/Who told you that you stood a chance with this royalty?/You're so sweet, bless your heart/Can't let a pretty face distract me from business."
In Like A Girl, she redefines the titular phrase, turning it from an insult into an empowering slogan, slipping in a burn to past lovers along the way: "Only exes that I care about are in my ****ing chromosomes."
CUZ I LOVE YOU
It has become trendy for pop singers to sing of self-love (hear Ariana Grande and Ava Max) but Juice, an effervescent funk-pop lead single, takes that concept to another level. "No, I'm not a snack at all," she sings. "Look, baby, I'm the whole d**n meal."
Even more exuberant, musically and thematically, is Exactly How I Feel - "Love me or hate me/Ooh, I ain't changing"- while the gospel-inflected Heaven Help Me - "Say whoa, something like a Hitchcock/ Say whoa, got you goin' psycho" - ends with a flute solo from her.
Cry Baby taps several generations of funk, with shades of Prince and Parliament-Funkadelic, and Lizzo is equally adept at slow, sensual numbers, such as album closer Lingerie.
The founding member of indie hip-hop groups such as GRRRL PRTY and The Chalice enlists female rap stalwart Missy Elliott on the album's most club-friendly track, Tempo. She holds her own, spitting fiery verses with a confidence that can be honed only from years of live performances.