Coconut Oil, Lizzo's first release under Atlantic, is her ode to body positivity, self-love and the trials of getting to the point where you believe you deserve it.
Lizzo is having a good year. The ink is dry on her deal with a major label, one of her songs got the silver screen treatment and she’s gracing the airwaves too, as a host of Wonderland—MTV’s new live music program. She found time in between all of this to finish Coconut Oil, a six-track EP that marks her official debut for Nice Life Recording Company, an Atlantic Records imprint.
This busy stretch for the Detroit native coincided with an intense period of reckoning for the world at large. Every week brought renewed potential for despair, as images of war, humanitarian crises and police brutality were plastered across our TV, computer and phone screens in stunning high definition. Faced with this seemingly relentless stream of horrible news, and short of going off the grid completely to avoid it, taking time to look after your physical and mental wellbeing is a matter of survival. Coconut Oil is Lizzo’s ode to body positivity, self-love and the trials of getting to the point where you believe you deserve it.
The perception of coconut oil as a cure for all of life’s problems has achieved legendary, and therefore meme-able, status. It’s now hailed as a balm to alleviate everything from the pain of heartbreak to the pressure of student debt. As an integral part of many skin and Afro haircare rituals, it has come to represent something very important for black women in particular, who rally around its power to heal from the outside in. From acknowledging this in the EP’s title down to making songs that speak directly to the lived experience of this demographic, Lizzo is both channeling and fuelling the zeitgeist under which black women’s oft-ignored specificities are being celebrated in popular culture.
In some circles the substance that inspired the EP’s name is used with an almost religious fervor. Lizzo honors this sentiment by taking us to church on the title track, crooning “I thought I needed to run and find somebody to love, but all I needed was some coconut oil” against a backdrop of organs. It’s a light-hearted retelling of the journey from youthful insecurity (“I remember back, back in school, when I wasn’t cool”) through to hard-earned confidence, with a nod to the experiences and people that helped shape her along the way – especially her mother. Saved for last in the play order, “Coconut Oil” the most reserved and lyrically modest effort on what’s otherwise a very spirited collection. Over the five songs leading up to it, she pushes to the upper reaches of her vocal range, quite literally belting out her own praises with no hint of shyness.
The twinkly opening keys of “Scuse Me” give you just enough time to prepare for the impossibly long bass drops and frantic drum sequences to follow, over which she explains just how much she’s feeling herself. Her pre-chorus line “Feeling like a stripper when I’m looking in the mirror, I be slapping on that ass getting thicker and thicker” plays out like a 2016 rewrite of “Oops (Oh My)” turned up to 11.
Two promotional singles from earlier this year found a home on Coconut Oil. “Good As Hell,” featured in the latest installment of the Barbershop series, is brassy encouragement for anyone who is worn out from giving more than they get in a relationship. “Phone” is pure MPC and bassline magic, on which the existential dread of losing both your cellular device (“Where the hell my phone?”) and your friends at the club is somehow turned into a danceable moment.
Weaving in and out of sung and rap verses on all but one song, it’s clear that Lizzo feels at ease in both of those spaces. Still, the EP as a whole doesn’t reach its sweet spot melodically. The mambo-inspired horns on opener “Worship,” give way to a chorus that drifts into show tune territory, leading into two very different syncopated dance rhythms before getting to “Deep.” If neither “Phone” nor “Good As Hell” brought you to this EP, “Deep” would likely be quick to standout as a club-ready dance tune with its soukous-inflected guitar riffs. There is nothing wrong with these elements individually, but it’s hard to know which thread to follow when they’re all packed into a running time of under twenty minutes.
Lizzo’s career and sound have already been through many transformations: from rocker, to electro-soul crooner, to rapper and singer by way of on-air talent. Perhaps Coconut Oil works best when considered as a statement of intent – an inventory of all the things she’s good at, and a testing ground for how best to blend them in the future.