Review: Pink and Lizzo make mature, non-icky empowerment pop

Lizzo performs at this month's Coachella festival in Indio.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Pop Music Critic

Pink and Lizzo both begin their new albums with funny, blaring, slightly rough-edged retro-R&B numbers in which each woman addresses a man who’s done her wrong — or is sure to in the future.

In Pink’s “Hustle,” she’s warning such a manipulator against trying it again. “You took my love, mistook it for weakness,” she sings over a jumping juke-joint groove, “I guarantee I won’t repeat this.”

Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You,” with a brass-and-piano arrangement à la early-soul powerhouse Etta James, catches her in a more exposed mood. Having thought she was “love-impaired” after too many bad experiences, now she’s “standing in the rain … ’bout to tat your name.”

She knows it’ll go south, of course. Yet Lizzo’s gutsy tone taps into the same inner strength that Pink puts across. It’s clear she’ll be fine.

These songs — from Pink’s “Hurts 2B Human,” due Friday, and Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You,” which came out last week — are just one point of overlap between two singers offering affirmation in a pop scene filled with gloom.


Pink you know from her two decades of hits and the live show in which she spends nearly as much time in the air as onstage — success that’s positioned her, at age 39, in a unique sweet spot between the Top 40 and Las Vegas. (Believe it or not, “Get the Party Started,” her breakthrough smash, came out all the way back in 2001.) Lizzo, in her early 30s, is a newcomer to the big time, a feminist social-media hero with proudly naked photo shoots and a major-label debut that follows work she did as an indie rapper (and flautist!) in Minneapolis.

But if they lack a shared background — not to mention a skin color or a body type — the music they make can feel strikingly aligned. At a moment when artists half their age are writing songs about drugs or depression, Pink and Lizzo sing about overcoming obstacles and learning to trust in their abilities; the presentation is aspirational (“Serena Willy showed me I can win the Wimbledon,” Lizzo sings) yet relatable (“I’m walkin’ uphill both ways / It hurts,” Pink admits).

In “Happy,” Pink vividly recounts the years she’s spent hating her body, while Lizzo revels in her confidence in “Tempo,” a collaboration with Missy Elliott in which she declares that “slow songs, they for skinny hoes / Can’t move all of this here to one of those.” Different sides of a coin, clearly — yet both songs open up a valuable space in pop to think through what we’ve been trained to believe about women’s beauty.

Pink performs last year at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)

Lizzo’s “Like a Girl” flips that phrase, often deployed to mean less-than, to celebrate femininity of all kinds: “If you feel like a girl, then you real like a girl,” she insists. Pink’s “Circle Game” borrows the title of one of Joni Mitchell’s signature works to tell a story about wanting her daughter to view her as the protective figure that Pink once saw in her father.

That none of this comes off as preachy or simply lame is a testament to both singers’ astute record-making skills.

Though the streaming age requires pop stars to be fluent in multiple genres, Pink and Lizzo are expert in more than most. Working with A-list producers including Max Martin and Greg Kurstin, Pink moves on “Hurts 2B Human” among electronic funk, EDM-lite and the homespun acoustic balladry that she focuses on at the end of the album; “Love Me Anyway,” a duet with Chris Stapleton, feels remarkably natural given that it was almost certainly designed with a performance on some awards show in mind. (Less happily, there’s also some Lumineers-style stomp-folk in the form of the clunky “Walk Me Home.” )

Lizzo roams nearly as widely on “Cuz I Love You,” which she made with studio collaborators a rung or two down from Pink’s — Ricky Reed and X Ambassadors, among others — but which often sounds even better. “Juice,” with a guitar lick Nile Rodgers would envy, is ’80s pop-soul perfection; “Cry Baby” throbs like vintage Prince (with whom Lizzo worked briefly not long before he died); “Tempo” somehow finds room for Lizzo’s flute playing over a minimal club beat.

And then there’s “Lingerie,” the album’s steamy slow jam of a closer, in which she dials down the brightness of her singing to paint a picture of two people in a darkened room.

Only wait: “Let’s open the window,” she sings, “and let the world know.”



“Hurts 2B Human”



“Cuz I Love You”

(Nice Life/Atlantic)

Twitter: @mikaelwood