Lizzo has never been one to shy away from sharing her honest opinions, especially regarding body positivity.
Now, the singer has touched on the topic once again in an interview with Brazil’s TV Folha, after her debut performance in Rio de Janeiro.
“I think that women are always going to be criticized for existing in their bodies,” Lizzo said. “And I don’t think I’m any different than any of the other great women who’ve come before me that had to literally be politicized just to be sexual, or sexualized just to exist. Things on them that were beautiful were called flaws and they persisted against that and fought against that.”
She continued, “Now, I’m able to do what I do because of those great women. And they all look completely different. They don’t all look the same. And they all had to deal with the same type of marginalization and misogyny.”
She then called out the double standard between women and men’s physical appearances: “So what does that tell you about the oppressor—what does that tell you about men? Get it together. We don’t talk about your dick sizes, do we? And say that’s not a conventional dick size—it’s too small. We still let y’all asses run all over the goddamn place.”
Lizzo also touched on the “lack of representation in the world” with Brazil’s G1.
“There is a lack of representation in the world—full stop. Especially for women who look like me,” she said. “But my choice process was to make myself visible, not to shrink. To be heard and use my platforms to raise other women. That’s why I put black and big dancers and also an entire orchestra of black women on the Grammy stage—because I think that if I can help them, I must help them.”
She has eight nominations Sunday night, a performance slot and the devotion of fiercely loyal fans. What’s behind this Lizzo momentum? Let’s discuss.
JON PARELES Lizzo enters this year’s Grammy Awards with the most nominations — eight, including all four top categories. Nominations don’t guarantee wins — ask India.Arie or Jay-Z — but Lizzo also has a prime-time slot as a performer, and she knows how to take over a screen.
Going big, of course, is Lizzo’s home turf and her brand. She’s a physical force, reveling in her body. Her musical skills are considerable: Singing, rapping, writing, playing flute and leading an ecstatic troupe onstage, she’s a full-spectrum entertainer. She’s ubiquitous as a celebrity, online presence and self-appointed idol, an exemplar of unshakable self-love and punch-line-slinging, take-no-guff arrogance who started her 2016 EP, “Coconut Oil,” with a song that instructed, “Worship me!” (Her social-media posts mingle her own milestones with fans testifying about how she helped them accept themselves.)
And she turns up the volume, speed and energy. “Cuz I Love You,” her long-in-the-making major-label debut album — Lizzo’s first indie album, “Lizzobangers,” came out in 2013 — literally starts with a scream and rarely lets up from there.
CARYN GANZ Wins or no wins, this is Lizzo’s year at the Grammys, which isn’t a shock because 2019 was Lizzo’s year everywhere: the charts (she earned her first No. 1 with “Truth Hurts”), the red carpet (did you catch her tiny Valentino bag?), so many presidential candidates’ playlists (we see you are feeling “Good as Hell,” Pete Buttigieg!). It helped that her hallmarks — the emotional cheerleading, the fierce attitude, the big-tent sound — aligned so perfectly with the national mood distilled to its rawest form on social media, where people (young women in particular) are anxious, angry, craving humor and distraction, and tired of seeing perfectly posed influencers flogging tummy-slimming teas and pretending to be flawless. And the B-side to all that, of course, is Lizzo has the voice and stage presence to back everything up.
JON CARAMANICA In a year when the Grammys were looking to display an embrace of difference, a modicum of open-earedness, a sense that the show is taking place in the present day and not being hologrammed in from a decade or two earlier, it would have been difficult to invent a musician better suited to the situation than Lizzo.
Lizzo is indisputably modern — a singer and a rapper, a meme-ready (or meme-biting) songwriter, a hilariously present personality in every sense. And yet she is completely legible to the sorts of people who vote for Grammys: She prefers time-tested pop structures, she revisits the sweaty soul and disco energy of the 1970s, and sometimes even finds herself channeling some 1920s bawdiness. Or there’s that one song that (lawyers stop reading here) rips off Bruno Mars ripping off everyone else, which is the type of thing Grammy voters love, because it reminds them of when they were relevant.
WESLEY MORRIS That, Jon C., I must say, is the only nagging element of “Juice.” It really is a Bruno Mars song. And Lizzo makes the approximation feel like a dare — anything Bruno can do, she can do with a flute. But there’s more going on with the sweetest sugar of that song. The chorus also knows the real delight of CeCe Peniston’s “Finally” is the stanked-up “Ya-ya-ee,” so it swipes that, too. “Juice” is a perfect pop song. All high. Even the deadpan bridge — “Somebody come get this man” — is cleverer than it needs to be. (You guys, why is that not up for record or song instead of, or alongside, “Truth Hurts”?) SEE MORE ON THIS STORY:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/arts/music/lizzo-grammys.html
Under no circumstances will Lizzo play “Flight of the Bumblebee” tonight. Don’t get her wrong. She’s a classically trained flautist, in addition to a singer and rapper, and could twerk circles while playing it (that’s a trademark). But as far as songs go, “ ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ is for basic bitches,” declares Lizzo, and tonight she needs a show-off song.
It’s two hours before a live taping of 2 Dope Queens’
HBO special, and hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson have asked
her to perform her signature move, but the stakes — HBO, the
3,000-person-deep audience at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre — call for the
kind of song that will make eyes widen, jaws drop. Normally, the
trill-filled missile in Lizzo’s arsenal is 19th-century French composer
Jean-Baptiste Arban’s “Carnival of Venice,” a song that requires the
lung capacity of a runner trained at high altitude and the ability to
double-, sometimes triple-, tongue. Except a producer just
apologetically entered the dressing room to tell her she’s so so sorry,
but she can’t play that particular song. Something about legal.
What to play? she wonders aloud in a mild panic to the eight or so people milling about. The producer helpfully starts suggesting other legally cleared songs. “How about ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’?”
People are often surprised that Lizzo can actually play the flute.
At 30, she’s been playing for 20 years, since she was a preteen in her
Houston junior high school’s marching band and people would tell her
“that shit is corny!” She went to the University of Houston on a music
scholarship. She practices four hours a day when her schedule permits.
The flute even has its own Instagram account, @sashabefluting (it follows no one). She’s played on most of her albums, starting with 2015’s Big GRRRL Small World, and does so again on her forthcoming major-label release, Cuz I Love You, which drops this spring.
junior-high punks might have called her corny, but like most hobbies
people mock you for in adolescence, it’s now one of her greatest assets.
The flute is earning her Shade Room–blessed viral fame, especially
after one particularly notable moment from a performance at the
University of Iowa’s homecoming. As she tells it, that video was born
out of a direct challenge to her ability to play the flute — or to
perform at all. During sound check, a professor threatened to report her
to campus police unless she showed permits. “The privilege that you
have to have to walk up to young women, brown women, black women, and
yell, ‘Do you have a permit to be here?’ While we’re clearly onstage
with microphones singing and dancing,” says Lizzo, shaking off phantom
pangs of annoyance. She was so fired up that night, she told the
audience the story, then ripped into a flute reworking of “Big Shot,”
from Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther soundtrack, while she and
her two dancers, dubbed the Big GRRRLS, hit the shoot with more
ferocious joy than BlocBoy JB ever had, even though he invented the
dance. She ended by lobbing her trademark “Bitch!”
was from the bottom of my heart,” Lizzo tells me. “That was for anybody
who tries to stop my shine and tries to challenge my existence. Don’t
challenge my motherfucking right to be here, bitch.” She posted
a video with the caption “have u ever seen a bitch play flute then hit
the shoot?” And since nobody had, it got half a million views. People
started making Lizzo flute YouTube mash-up videos. She released a single
version of it called “Bye Bitch.”
Lizzo plays the flute, it’s a gentle “Fuck you, yes I can,” to everyone
who is surprised to see her take the stage in a spandex bodysuit and
play a song by an old Frenchman. She knows she’s doing something with
the instrument that nobody’s ever done (please see: recent Instagram
videos from her album-listening party in an L.A. strip club — a
singular moment in flute-performance history). Her career has been full
of those kinds of expectation-defying swerves, ones that shock, delight,
and challenge preconceptions. And not just ours, but her own. “I’ve
said it before, but me just existing is revolutionary,” she says again.
People think they know what to expect from a pop star, but then they
She pulls out her beloved Sasha Flute (so named for Beyoncé’s third album, Sasha Fierce) and begins to run scales. “I could play some fake jazz shit, but that’s boring.” She improvises some exaggerated riffs in the key of Anchorman. Finally she decides to play “Bye Bitch,” in tribute to her viral moment. She tests a few bars, making sure she can play and clap cheeks at the same time. She can.
In January, Lizzo
released “Juice,” an energetic funk affirmation that should have Bruno
Mars watching his throne. When she sings, “If I’m shinin’, everybody
gonna shine,” in the song’s bridge, it’s both an earworm and a mission
statement. By her own declaration, Lizzo has been at the forefront of
the positive movement. Which positive movement? All of them. She’s sex
positive, body positive (hers and yours), vocally practices self-love
and self-care. “I am a pioneer in creating modern self-love,
body-positive music,” she explains, which could ring cheesy — or, worse,
totally disingenuous. But it isn’t just the modern twists she puts on
old self-help sentiment (e.g., “I just took a DNA test; turns out I’m
100 percent that bitch”) that keep it from teetering over the line. It’s
the fact that Lizzo has been teaching herself to be 100 percent that
bitch since she was Melissa Jefferson, a self-described dorky,
family moved to Houston from Detroit when she was 9. Her parents worked
long hours building a succession of businesses, and her two older
siblings were often doing their own thing, so music was an early
babysitter. In sixth grade, “the flute chose her,” when her school’s
band director asked Lizzo if she wanted to learn the instrument. At 14,
she formed her first rap group, the Cornrow Clique, with two of her
classmates and got her nickname, Lizzo. (She was originally Lissa, but
Jay-Z’s “Izzo” was a popular song at the time.) She could rap — which
should have made her popular — but she was in marching band, so she
wasn’t. Also she smiled too much and laughed too loud. Sometimes she
wore hippie clothes, like flowing shirts and bell-bottom jeans. She
listened to Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie because her older sister
did. She wore Uggs, the tipping point. Her classmates said she was “too
white.” “But like, Lil Wayne also wore Uggs,” she points out.
started college in 2005, but by her junior year, she felt trapped by
all of the boxes she was trying to fit herself into. Was she an AKA,
making the rounds at all the historically black sorority and fraternity
parties? Was she the rapper performing at late-night shows? Was she
pursuing the flute professionally and committing to 7 a.m. master
classes? She couldn’t make all those identities fit together, so she
dropped out. Her parents had moved to Denver, and without the dorms, she
often slept in her car, a T-boned 1990s Subaru. But the universe always
offers another weird portal — and a floor to sleep on. In 2008, she
joined her first real band, playing the flute in the prog-rock-inflected
Ellypseas. “I dead-ass asked them if they wanted to get on MTV.” They
did not. She didn’t realize it then — or maybe she was afraid to admit
it — but those were her ambitions. The band never made it to TRL, but it was good enough to book shows at South by Southwest.
slept at the band’s rehearsal space, sometimes on the drummer’s floor.
“I would drive around to my friends’ houses, and if they were having
dinner, I’d be like, ‘Hey, come hang out! You got some food? Let’s kick
it!’ And just eat the chicken and rice. Actually, I was a vegetarian. So
I would eat the chicken-juice-soaked rice.” She shrugs. “I was like,
‘I’m too broke to have morals.’ ”
2010, the band retired, and her father passed away. She communicates
with him now, through a psychic medium she frequently visits in L.A.,
but at the time, it sank her into a depression. She finally answered her
mother’s pleas and joined her in Denver. Ten months later, restless,
she moved to Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, at the behest of a friend
who thought she’d like the music scene there. She did. Aaron Mader,
a.k.a. Lazerbeak, a local producer and member of rap collective
Doomtree, describes the Minneapolis scene as a collaborative utopia. One
night Lizzo could open for a punk band; the next, she could collaborate
with an electronic band. She lent backup vocals for a rock-soul group
and performed at the legendary First Ave, the venue made famous by
Prince. To prepare, she watched Purple Rain, took a rowboat into the middle of Lake Minnetonka, and purified herself, just like Prince did in the movie.
all the diversity of genres, though, the scene was still dominated by
white dudes. Younger acts — especially women and women of color — found
it difficult to break through, but it also meant that people noticed
Lizzo a lot faster. “When someone is a force and has an energy about her
that is pretty magnetic, it didn’t take her long for people to pay
attention,” says Mader.
formed two bands. First, the Chalice, which made melodic pop with a
little bit of rap like the Spice Girls. Later, she and the Chalice’s
Sophia Eris started GRRRL PRTY and went full N.W.A, explains Lizzo. “We
were crazy,” recalls Eris. “It was like a riot onstage. Women just like
drinking, cussing, and rapping and singing.” GRRRL PRTY became a local
darling. Even Prince took notice, asking them to record a song,
“Boytrouble,” and inviting them to play a show at Paisley Park. They
couldn’t curse or drink onstage, but they did get to play in front of a
projection of Finding Nemo.
On the side, Lizzo was also working on solo material. She felt a lot of anger and sometimes a crisis of confidence. She needed an outlet. “There’s one line on my first album where I say, ‘I got a lot on my chest, so here’s my breast reduction.’ ” She’s referring to a line from “Hot Dish,” off Lizzobangers, which she worked on with Lazerbeak. They met when she tweeted, “I wish I could afford a Lazerbeak beat,” and he responded, “Just give me a case Mike’s Hard Lemonade.” After Lizzobangers, she entered what she calls her artsy-fartsy phase, which, like any good indie musicians in 2015, included bangs, a visit to Bon Iver’s Wisconsin studio, April Base, and a Pitchfork mention. The album that resulted, Big GRRRL Small World, persuaded Atlantic to sign her, and she moved to L.A., taking as much of her Minneapolis crew as she could. Next thing she knew, she was opening for acts like Sleater-Kinney, Florence + the Machine, and Haim.