She spent a year living in a car while trying to break into the music industry and is now the hottest ticket in showbusiness. Where did this creative powerhouse, who doesn’t conform to celebrity norms, come from, asks Suzanne Harrington.
Motivational speaker, self-esteem advocate, classically trained flautist, rapper, belter of anthems, twerker, queen of sass and icon of body positivity – meet the force of nature that is Lizzo.
On a steady upward trajectory since 2013, her Dublin tour date in November is sold out; a Lizzo gig is like no gig you will have ever experienced, her audiences the most joyful and inclusive to ever grace a dance floor. Even more than Lady Gaga.
At a recent London gig, the venue is packed with bodies of all sizes and genders, dressed in glitter and sparkles; gay men and straight women, trans people, mothers and daughters, best friends.
It is, in 35 years of going to gigs, the happiest gig I ever attended. Sorry Beyonce, Janet, Nicki — it’s Lizzo time. Make way for a new queen.
Aside from a soulful voice to rival the late Whitney Houston, Lizzo’s performances are, in her own words, a hybrid of TED talk and bangers; mesmeric and magnetic, she gives her audience enough energy to power them home on jetpacks of Lizzo love.
Her dancers — an all women crew, the Big Grrrls — compliment her perfectly, as does her long time DJ, Sophia Eris. Her lyrics are fierce, yet she does great big ballads.
And her body is powerful, “a big grrrl in a small world”, as is her message: “This world needs some posi-fat black feminine energy.”
She has 5.8 million followers on Instagram @lizzobeeating. She has collaborated with her heroine, Missy Elliott, and with Prince on a 2014 track, Boy Trouble, from his album Plectrumelectrum.
She has been in Vogue, and at the Met Gala. Who IS this woman?
Lizzo was born Melissa Viviane Jefferson 31 years ago in Detroit, Michigan and moved to Houston, Texas when she was ten — she has a rich Texan drawl, y’all.
She studied classical flute at the University of Houston– which she incorporates, surreally, into her live performances — before moving to Minneapolis, and becoming part of the music scene there, releasing her first album Lizzobangers independently in 2013.
You might have seen her performing a note perfect acapella version of her first single, Batches and Cookies, with Sophia Eris in their wellies behind the scenes at Glastonbury the following year.
Three more albums followed: Big Grrrl Small World in 2015, an EP, Coconut Oil, in 2016, and her mainstream breakthrough album, this year’s Cuz I Love You, after being signed to Atlantic Records.
In 2018, her single Truth Hurts was released, complete with an promo video of her in a wedding gown marrying herself (it’s a break-up anthem); at the time, it didn’t do as well as she had anticipated, to her great disappointment.
Then it was picked up by the Netflix romcom Someone Great.
“So glad I never settled on a genre,” she tweeted in July. “Genre is dead.”
This year, she has been nominated for multiple awards including Best New Artist and Push Artist of the Year at the MTV Video Music awards, and won Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the BET awards.
Barack Obama listed her single Juice as one of his favourite summer tracks; it’s had 37 million views on YouTube.
Lizzo, with her DIY ethos and rock star attitude, is proving unstoppable. Her single Truth Hurts just spent six weeks at the top of the Billboard 100, and Justin Timberlake has announced a collaboration.
She has appeared in the movie Hustlers, and on every major chat show from Ellen DeGeneres to Jonathan Ross, where she provided an impromptu twerking lesson.
Yet there are tons of talented people in the music industry. What sets Lizzo apart is her personality — it’s huge, funny, charismatic, authentic.
She has star power to burn. Even her flute, which she named Sasha Flute, has its own Instagram page with 256,000 followers.
Instead of being moulded by record company execs, she has emerged fully formed, her own creativity shaping who she is, and her indie background meaning she can musically move between funk, soul, hip hop, and pop — she has opened for Sleater-Kinney, Haim and Florence and the Machine.
Her family were musical, with diverse tastes, so her influences include everything from classic rock to indie to gospel; she namechecks Texan prog-rock noodlers The Mars Volta in interviews. She is a multi-trick pony.
“I can do anything, you know,” she recently told an interviewer.
It’s taken her ten years. At 21, after the death of her father, she spent a year living in her car as she tried to break into the industry.
Since her success, she has been hit by charges of plagiarism — on her hit Truth Hurts, UK performer Mina Lioness says Lizzo copied her phrase 100% That Bitch, then tried to trademark it for her merchandise.
Another songwriter, Justin Raisen, says the lyric “I just took a DNA test and I’m 100% that bitch” comes from a track he and others co-wrote with Lizzo in 2017. The situation remains unresolved.
Meanwhile, as her star continues to rise, Lizzo remains a beacon of body positivity.
In a misogynistic industry where female musicians and performers are judged by looks as much as talent, being a plus size black woman who takes no prisoners as she rides a trail of sparkles is just what the world has been waiting for.
We could all do with being more Lizzo.