Lizzo’s ‘Special’ & “About Damn Time” – Billboard
Written by GRB on 26/07/2022
Lizzo has the top-debuting album on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week (dated July 30), with her latest album Special bowing at No. 2 on the chart — behind only Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti blockbuster — with 69,000 equivalent album units moved. Both numbers are up from her 2019 breakthrough album Cuz I Love You, which bowed at No. 6 with 41,000 units.
The set’s presence does not make an enormous impact on the Billboard Hot 100 in its debut week; only “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” is the only track from Special to bow on the chart this frame, appearing at No. 84. However, advance single “About Damn Time,” which has been slowly ascending the chart for months, completes its climb to the No. 1 spot — marking Lizzo’s second No. 1 on the chart, following “Truth Hurts” in 2019.
How should Lizzo feel about her first-week numbers? And which song from Special might follow “About Damn Time” to single success? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below:
1. Lizzo’s Special debuts at No. 2 this week with 69,000 equivalent albums moved — both numbers that are easy career bests for the pop star, though still well short of the 103,000 posted by Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti in its sixth nonconsecutive week at No. 1. On a scale from 1-10, if you’re Lizzo, how excited are you by this debut showing?
Rania Aniftos: 10! Her first solo music since 2019 breezing to the top 2? Incredible. Any way you slice it, 69,000 units is still really impressive and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 is still a career best for Lizzo. It speaks volumes to her unique ability to stay relevant in pop culture even when she’s not actively releasing music.
Kyle Denis: I would say about a 6. Of course, I’m ecstatic that Lizzo just scored her highest-charting album ever and that “About Damn Time” and her previous singles success resulted in a solid bow for Special. On the other hand, I find 69,000 to be a bit of a disappointment. That’s a lower number than what Nicki Minaj pulled for the streaming release of a decade-old mixtape just last year. I think Lizzo’s relatively lackluster performance on streaming hurt her a little bit. When you combine that with the understanding that she doesn’t have a fanbase as rabid as Harry Styles’s or BTS’s, the number makes sense. Nonetheless, “69,000” doesn’t feel like it represents the power that Lizzo’s name holds or how big “About Damn Time” was and continues to be.
Jason Lipshutz: A 6. With a smash lead single, an arena tour coming soon and relatively light chart competition during her release week, I’m sure Lizzo was hoping that Special could live up to its title commercially and secure that No. 1 spot. Still, a career-high No. 2 showing on the Billboard 200, with a career-best 69,000 equivalent album units, is a pretty great consolation prize – and if Special spins off more hits, maybe the album could compete for No. 1 in the weeks ahead.
Taylor Mims: If I am Lizzo, I am at a 9. I am only straying away from that peak of 10 because it would have been damn nice to hit No. 1 with such a triumphant album. But Bad Bunny is a force to be reckoned with right now and there is no shame coming in second behind him. While 69,000 may not be a record-breaking number for the year (or even the week), it was plenty to get her to the second spot and the biggest debut of the week. The sales are also a career high for her, so she’s consistently moving the needle in the right direction and celebration is in order.
Andrew Unterberger: I’ll say a 7. No. 2 maybe feels a little underwhelming given what a cultural force Lizzo has become in the three-plus years since Cuz I Love You, but it’s still a first-week number that would’ve been big enough to make it No. 1 a lot of weeks earlier this year, and most of that number coming via sales is certainly a good sign for her upcoming arena tour. Plus, being No. 1 on the Hot 100 at the same time probably takes a decent amount of the sting out of settling for runner-up on the Billboard 200.
2. While her album debuts at No. 2, its lead single ascends to No. 1 in its 14th week on the listing — an impressive, gradual climb from its No. 50 debut. What do you think was the biggest factor behind “About Damn Time” ultimately having the juice to get all the way to the top spot?
Rania Aniftos: TikTok, of course. Very rarely does an artist – especially one as high profile as Lizzo – take part in a trend relating to their song. Lizzo loved the “About Damn Time” dance trend, and even supported the creator who choreographed the dance, which I think had fans respecting her and feeling connected to her (and the song) that much more.
Kyle Denis: I think there’s a combination of factors at play. At its core, the song’s success is a result of how infectious it is. From the groovy bassline to the empowering lyrics and earworm hook, it’s one of Lizzo’s best pure pop offerings ever. Then, of course, you have the TikTok dance trend, her relentless promotion of the track across social media, and the song just being a genuinely radio-friendly single that can make waves across formats.
The biggest factor, however, is probably that “About Damn Time” isn’t tied to a specific moment. The song didn’t debut at No. 1 as a part of an album bomb like Future’s “Wait For U” or Drake’s “Jimmy Cooks,” nor was it intrinsically connected to a cultural moment with a limited lifespan like “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and Encanto. “About Damn Time” has been able to enjoy several months of people genuinely connecting to the song itself.
Jason Lipshutz: One could argue that its TikTok glow-up in the first few weeks of release were crucial to “About Damn Time,” helping the single transcend its slow start and become a crucial hit for Lizzo as she returned with a new project after a three-year wait. Yet anyone who has turned on pop radio over the past month and has heard “About Damn Time” an endless amount of (damn) times understands that top 40’s embrace of the track helped deliver it to the top of the Hot 100. Without that type of radio dominance, the song could have been stuck in the outer reaches of the top 20; instead, Lizzo has another No. 1 smash to her name, after radio scooped up “About Damn Time” with the same fervor as “Truth Hurts” in 2019.
Taylor Mims: The ultimate factor is Lizzo. Not just as an artist but as a person. TikTok is certainly a huge factor in the single’s ascent, but nobody was pushing that song as hard as Lizzo herself. She has a knack for social media and she makes it a blast to interact with her on all platforms. Whether she is dancing, joking, singing, talking shit, whatever it may be – she’s engaging people with content constantly and she’s good at it. Obviously, interaction with the new album was the boost she needed to get to the top spot, but she’s been putting in the time all summer.
Andrew Unterberger: Radio definitely finished the job that TikTok started with “About Damn Time,” but Lizzo also deserves credit for timing all of this smartly — she was able to keep momentum going for the song moving in the right direction, assisting song sales with an iTunes discount in previous weeks, so that the song was close enough to No. 1 that the final push of the Special album release would be enough to vault it to the top spot. After 10 weeks, I’m sure her BFF Harry Styles doesn’t mind ceding her the top spot regardless.
3. Though Lizzo stands alone at the Hot 100’s peak, she debuts just one new song on the Hot 100 this week — “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” at No. 84 — with a comparatively low streaming total of 37.17 million, over 14 million of which is accounted for by “Time” alone. Why do you think her streaming presence when it comes to entire albums is lower than you might expect from such a big-name artist with huge pop hits and strong sales numbers?
Rania Aniftos: I’ve always thought of Lizzo as a “singles” artist, and not so much an “albums” artist, which makes sense as to why her singles do significantly better than her other songs. Because she’s so ever-present in pop culture, you don’t really have to go out of your way to listen to Lizzo’s albums to hear her music on the radio, commercials, TV shows, etc. She dominates the music world in a more passive way, making her inescapable without fans actually having to put in effort to listen to her non-singles. It obviously works, given the No. 1 placement of “About Damn Time” this week.
Kyle Denis: I think our perception of Lizzo’s numbers is sometimes unfairly clouded by her relatively unorthodox breakthrough. In a sense, “About Damn Time” is both her first genuine post-breakthrough hit (“Rumors” may have debuted higher, but it had considerably less impact than “About Damn Time”) and her first hit single from a current album. Her two biggest hits prior to “About Damn Time” – “Truth Hurts” and “Good As Hell” – both came from projects that predated the album that she was actually promoting at the time. Lizzo hasn’t really had a chance to establish a streaming presence with new music until now.
Additionally, Special is completely solo. Without any other names to draw in casual listeners or other fan bases, Lizzo was relying on her name and the success of “About Damn Time” to convince people to give her album a spin. During the break between Cuz I Love You and Special, Lizzo released just one song of her own. There were no remixes or featured turns on tracks from other artists to keep her name at the forefront of consumers’ minds and further pad her streaming presence. Finally, although Special is Lizzo’s fourth record, for many consumers this is essentially her second album, and she’s still viewed as a relatively new artist.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s a great question! Lizzo is a household name with multiple hits and a passionate fan base; one could argue that her fan base might be a little older than the average streaming juggernaut, but if that was the case, her songs wouldn’t keep soundtracking TikTok dances and going viral. For whatever reason, Lizzo has functioned more like a “traditional” pop star of the past – heavy emphasis on sales and radio play, less so on streams – and while that may result in only one other song from Special making the Hot 100 in the album’s first week, the upside is that “About Damn Time” is a radio smash and chart-topper.
Taylor Mims: An overwhelming amount of attention is still being focused on “About Damn Time” at the moment. As it should be, as that song is some of Lizzo’s best work. She’s been encouraging her fans to use the song on videos and stream it, but there has been a lot less of a concerted effort to promote the album as a whole. And that strategy makes sense to me: She’s releasing a full-length album amidst a lot of the biggest names in music (Bad Bunny, Harry Styles, Beyoncé) and, album-wise, they are taking all the oxygen out of the space. The focus on “Time” has been a smarter move for her.
Andrew Unterberger: I feel like Lizzo’s fanbase is maybe a little older on average than we realize — more folks in their 20s and 30s than teens — who may be more likely to just add a song they hear on the radio to a playlist (and maybe even to buy a concert ticket) for an artist they like than to necessarily stream their new album over and over. Which makes sense: Lizzo is in her mid-30s herself, and only really became a pop star in her 30s. She may owe a lot of her success to TikTok, but she’s not really of the TikTok generation.
4. Radio has fully embraced “About Damn Time,” with the song reigning on Billboard‘s radio chart for a third straight week this frame. Do you see any of the other tracks on Special likely following it to top 40 ubiquity? If so, which one(s)?
Rania Aniftos: I love the disco-tinged, Donna Summer-inspired feel of “Everybody’s Gay.” With a well-crafted music video and promotional strategy similar to Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down,” it could definitely groove its way to the top 40.
Kyle Denis: “2 Be Loved.” 100%. The hook is undeniable, and it’s got that late 80s/early 90s feel that emphasizes her euphoric vocal performance. Plus, that key change?! I’ll be heartbroken if this isn’t her next big hit. “I Love You Bitch” is probably too explicit for Top 40 in its current state, so I’ll go with “Special” and “If You Love Me” as more likely contenders.
Jason Lipshutz: The obvious answer here is “2 Be Loved (I Am Ready),” which sounds like a surefire hit and, importantly, doesn’t resemble “About Damn Time” in its tone or sonic makeup. I don’t think a facsimile of “About Damn Time” would have played as well at radio as something with a different (but still uptempo) blueprint and more vulnerable (but still positive) look from Lizzo, so “2 Be Loved” does a good job at catering to Lizzo fans while offering a fresh approach.
Taylor Mims: The song I would love to see enter the top 40 would be “Everybody’s Gay.” It’s got elements of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Rick James “Give It To Me Baby” and is an all-around good time. The song I think she’ll have an easier time getting on the radio – with some tweaks on the word choice of course – is “The Sign.” It’s a playful, light track with a chorus you can’t get out of your head. “The Sign” is the perfect song for summer drives with the windows down, so let’s hope she gets it to radio sooner rather than later.
Andrew Unterberger: I think it definitely could be “2 Be Loved” — Max Martin doesn’t really do deep cuts, and this one is a winner that definitely sounds of a piece with a lot of his recent ’80s-indebted post-“Blinding Lights” work. I’m a little worried it might end up being another Matin co-production though: “Grrrls,” the Beastie Boys-lifting (and slightly grating) anthem that debuted a few weeks in advance of Special. It didn’t make a huge impact upon its release, but then again, neither did “About Damn Time” at first — folks might just need to hear it in the right context for it to really click.
5. Now that Lizzo’s lead single has reached pole position, which other song that’s been creeping up and/or hanging around the top of the Hot 100 would you say it’s about damn time for it to actually hit No. 1?
Rania Aniftos: It’s! About! Damn! Time! For Bey’s “Break My Soul” to hit No. 1. It’s the song of the summer in my opinion and I’m hoping the release of Renaissance this week will give “Break My Soul” its much-deserved boost to the top of the Hot 100.
Kyle Denis: I’d love to see Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” hit No. 1 during or after Renaissance’s release week. It would be her first solo trip to the top spot since “Single Ladies,” and it would also be a well-deserved No. 1. I’d also like to see Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” or Bad Bunny & Chencho Corleone’s “Me Porto Bonito” hit the summit of the Hot 100. Both songs have been hanging around the top 10 for a while now and have reached a state of ubiquity. I always think it’s cool when older songs find a new audience years later, so I’m rooting for Kate. I also think it’s “About Damn Time” that Bad Bunny have his first No. 1 with his own song (after hitting the top spot in 2018 alongside Cardi B and J Balvin on “I Like It”) — and, as of right now, “Me Porto Bonito” looks like it has the strongest shot out of the Un Verano Sin Ti songs.
Jason Lipshutz: It’s about damn time for a 37-year-old song that’s crept ever closer to the top of the Hot 100 following its Stranger Things revival to finally make it to No. 1! I’m rooting for “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” by the legend Kate Bush, which moves up to a new peak at No. 3 this week, to make the improbable leap.
Taylor Mims: The obvious choice to me is Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul.” I can’t believe it hasn’t hit the summit yet. Is it comical to hear Beyoncé talking about quitting a nine to five? Yes. Does it make it any less of a post-pandemic anthem? Absolutely not. As she says on the track, she’s on a new vibration and I’m hoping “Rennaissance” blows us out of the water the way “Lemonade” did. Just like Lizzo, I have no doubt that the release of Beyonce’s full album this week will get her to the top. I’ll be sorry to see Lizzo relinquish the crown, but the queen is returning.
Andrew Unterberger: I’d like to say “Running Up That Hill,” but I actually think there’s something cool about a No. 3 peak for that song — let it keep just a little bit of that alternative underdog edge. “Break My Soul” is the obvious other answer, but I’ll also go to bat for Harry Styles’ “Late Night Talking,” which moves back to the top 10 this week (11-9) after debuting at No. 4 back in June, since I think it’s actually a stronger single than “As It Was” and deserves to follow it to the top spot. (However, the latter was just No. 1 for most of the summer, so maybe “Talking” can wait another couple weeks still before mounting its final charge.)