A lot has happened since Lizzo last made an appearance in Ireland.
In 2019, Lizzo played the Olympia Theatre, and the show felt like a justifiable wave of hype and buzzy energy dissipated glowingly in the room as Lizzo delivered a sermon of collective self-empowerment more than a regular gig.
Nearly three and a bit years later, and the world feels much different, fractured and divisive, as the personal has become more politicised. Support for body autonomy receives pushback in the US and celebrations of self-identity are met with hostility.
In that environment, Lizzo’s message of self-care and self-love feels more necessary than ever, as her Special tour operates as an affirmation of positivity of the self and sisterhood.
“I Love you / you are special / you can do anything,” has been Lizzo’s mantra for a while and in Dublin’s 3Arena last night ( or “Dooblin” as the Texas artist adopted last night after audience feedback), the reception of the message has expanded to an arena-size where young girls and their mothers dance side to side with excited roars.
It’s likely many of the young people in attendance’s first gig, and bar parental guidance in navigating the empowering use of provocative words like “ho” and “bitch”, this is a safe space. Lizzo is for the children.
The amped-up Monday night energy is clear from the off, as vintage pre-show hits like ‘YMCA’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ are treated as an interactive singalong before Lizzo takes the stage.
The Special tour is a big production, with a stage that’s set like an Oscars backdrop, with high-definition cameras and lights galore shining every move of the performers, which total 19 with a full live band, DJ (Sophia Eris, still with her since her first Dublin show), backing vocalists and a 10-strong troupe of Big Grrrls dancers.
Over 26 songs and nearly two hours, Lizzo and band absolutely work it, with last year’s album Special naturally being the driving force in the setlist.
As a record, it suffers from an over-reliance on catchphrases and a sense of covering its bases to homogenising songwriting effect, but its album songs like ‘Grrrls’, ‘2 Be Loved’, ‘Everybody’s Gay’ and ‘Break Up Twice’ (with a segue-way into the song it interpolates – Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo Wop’) soar in this welcoming environment.
There’s only the occasional dip – ‘Coldplay’ or ‘If You Love Me’, but an outing for ‘Boys’, Lizzo’s most overt Prince inspiration is welcome in the wake of her most recent shoutout of the artist’s importance to her at her Grammy win.
Lizzo is an extremely present performer, able to work the stage – twerk, lift, dance, hit all the marks, and hold the audience for the more static lounge act middle-section of ‘Scuse Me’, ‘Naked’, ‘Jerome’ which sees the most overt statement of support for autonomy as Lizzo’s literal body is projected with the words “my body / my choice,” to rapturous applause. Costume changes abound, predominantly with sequins attached.
Most impressive though, is the strength of Lizzo’s voice, a beautiful instrument of power, control and tone.
Speaking of instruments, the appearance of Sasha, Lizzo’s flute allows her to showcase her musical skills, and later, a blubbing fan gets her own instrument signed (which she calls Florence) by the singer.
The inevitable “Olé, Olé” chant occurs half-way through and flusters Lizzo. She makes us sing it back, then gets a girl in the front row to sing it. With the Dublin accent, she is none the wiser, settling on confusingly singing ‘Okay Okay Okay Okay.”
The set is littered with hits like ‘Soulmate’, ‘Tempo’, ‘Rumours’ ‘Good As Hell’ and ‘Truth Hurts’ and towards the end, Lizzo takes the time with help of a roaming camera to spotlight her fans young and old carrying placards of support and absolutely thrilled with the acknowledgement. It’s a heartwarming section, with the near 10 minutes it takes up underscoring Lizzo’s genuine appreciation.
By the time the encore one-two punch of ‘Juice’ and ‘About Damn Time’ fill the arena, the disco ball has dropped and so has the sense of a performer, singer and entertainer who has taken a giant leap into the upper echelons of pop – and has done it by trading in genuine individuality, positivity and empowerment, itself a rare occurrence in need of celebration.