Lizzo Is About To Conquer The World, So You’d Better Listen Up
"When I ask her how she manages her time, she pauses before telling me: 'I get my pussy eaten!'"
Every so often, an artist comes along whose apparent mission is to uplift the community through their music, and Melissa Jefferson, better known as Lizzo, is doing just that.
The current state of the world oft-turns pop culture into activism, where “big black women” like Lizzo end up becoming the face of a movement. “Even when body positivity is over, it’s not like I’m going to be a thin white woman,” she told The Cut earlier this year, “I’m going to be black and fat.”
It’s the subversion of labels and trends that make Lizzo a pillar of inspiration, even if we don’t have the words beyond “body positivity” to describe her. “My movement is for everybody,” she tells me, the morning of the GLAAD Media Awards. Squeezing in time to talk before her debut awards show performance, Lizzo is generous with her time, even during the busiest period of her life.
From the time she started playing the flute in sixth grade to staring her first rap group, the Cornrow Clique, Lizzo was always destined to be a star — but no path to success is ever easy.
Despite battling homelessness, her father’s passing, band breakups and self-doubt, Lizzo continued to endure, evolving into the product of her own self-love. When I ask her how she manages her time, she pauses before telling me: “I get my pussy eaten!”
Her Coachella performances coincide with the release of her third and most anticipated studio album, Cuz I Love You, on April 19, and both fans and Lizzo are bubbling with anticipation. Remaining tight-lipped yet simultaneously warm, she laughs with excitement while professing, “If what I think is going to happen happens, you’re not going to want to miss it.”
Frankly, when it comes to Lizzo, we don’t want to miss a single beat.
You’ve been invited to perform at the GLAAD Media Awards. What does that mean to you?
There’s a moment in every artist’s career where Beyoncé touches them and they skyrocket and today is one of those days [laughs]. All I need for her to do is touch my shoulder, that’s all.
This is the first awards show I’ve ever been asked to perform at, which is such a testament to how much the LGBTIQ community has supported me first, you know what I mean? They’ll always be the first to put me on. And I’m so appreciative to be considered an ally.
I just feel like they see the vision, they see the movement, they see the work I’m putting in for not just big black women but for all marginalised people. I’m really trying to bridge the gap between all of our movements. Allyship is so much deeper than just being cool with someone’s life or cool with someone’s existence, it’s about reaching out a hand and pulling them up and making sure that ya’ll are walking side by side. And that’s what I’m trying to do.
‘Tempo’ is a certified bop! I know you’ve looked up to Missy Elliott since you were quite young, what was it like working with a legend like her?
They ask me this question a lot and it’s hard to answer because it’s still very surreal, its not real to me yet, it kind of sunk in — actually I’m not allowed to say that, [laughs].
I’m really trying to bridge the gap between all of our movements. Allyship is so much deeper than just being cool with someone’s life or cool with someone’s existence.
I did have a moment of gravity, way, way, way, way, way later, at an extremely inappropriate time. She was walking into the room, and this is after the song had already been mixed and mastered and I freaked out. I had this moment and I started fucking crying. I was like “oh my god”, I kept saying “I prayed for this, I really prayed for this” and then I had to wipe my face up before Missy got there, and then she walked in.
But I had this crazy strange full circle moment way after the song was done so I think I’m still experiencing shock, but it’s delayed. So ask me again in 20 years and I’ll let you know.
Right now you’re on half a dozen magazine covers, slated to play music festivals, and about to tour your own album. How do you relax?
I get my pussy eaten. [laughs] Yeah I love to work, I’ve been doing this since I was little — not in this capacity — but you know I was always a hard worker, so I’m like ‘finally, bring it on’.
That’s definitely your Virgo moon talking. I saw that you got your birth chart read, but they didn’t have your rising sign, and as an amateur astrologer, I bet your ascendant is Leo.
My rising is Leo!
I feel validated now. Back to music. You’re releasing your third album, Cuz I Love You, as Coachella is wrapping up. Tell me a bit about the album.
Oh, dude, this could take all day. The album… it just happened. I made a decision last summer to start from scratch. I discovered a sound and a voice I’m really proud of. I used my life experiences, even the sad ones, to my advantage and I’m celebrating on this album — even when I’m crying.
So, how’s the flute beef with Ron Burgundy going?
Holy shit. Apparently my Juice flute video made his blood boil, so hopefully, he brings something to the table soon. We’re waiting on your move Burgundy.
I think you Ethered him.
We’ll see what happens. He always comes in mysterious ways.
You’ve become a powerful representation of what people call the body positivity movement. You often respond by saying you’re leading your own movement that is separate to anything else. How would you describe the Lizzo movement?
My movement is for everybody. My movement celebrates diversity. It’s all about inclusion. It’s all about getting our flowers and giving each person their own space to be an individual and speak up for that individuality.
I believe that because of my own experiences I had to learn that women who are bigger experience the same type of mental oppression that smaller women do. I think that women, in general, are really marginalised and programmed to believe that we aren’t good enough — even the ones that we’re like, “she has everything”.
I used to say that about girls that were my friends. I’d be like, “Ugh you can’t complain, you’re a size 2 and all the guys like you”, and my friend said, “Don’t you know I have problems too” and we had a huge argument. Three of my friends, we were all crying and yelling and talking about our problems and what we’ve gone through, [like] body dysmorphia.
My movement is for everybody. My movement celebrates diversity. It’s all about inclusion.
I realised that it’s not fair of me to shame someone else because they’re accepted in mainstream media and I am not. Once I realised that I was like, “Oh shit I have to open myself up”. I have to sit back, I have to listen, I have to speak up simultaneously when it’s appropriate and that’s when I really started to create a safer space for everyone.
For instance, I’m doing the #fuckituptothetempo challenge, where I wanna fly out two big girls to dance with me at Coachella. This girl in the comments was like, “Can I make a video too? I’m slim but I think that it would be really cool to have a moment on stage.” And I was like, “Make a video, sis.”
But then this girl was like “No, don’t make a video because this is for us, can we have something for once?” and I was like, “My movement is for everybody, she can make a video but I will be flying two big girls to Coachella and that is the definition of my movement. Please, you’re invited! Make a video! Represent yourself! But right now I’m going to fly two big girls out, not you, but I want you to show me what you got. I want to appreciate you but right now I’m gonna treat us big girls.”
So that’s what my movement is all about.
You recently put out a call for big girl dancers — were there just no big girls turning up to auditions?
The issue was that bigger girls don’t get agents, they don’t get representation like smaller girls so when we were doing auditions, we were going through agencies because that’s how you usually get the word out.
The girls that were showing up were a smaller size and didn’t really balance me out on stage as a bigger framed woman, so I did an open call because it didn’t matter how many agency calls we did, the girls were just not going to be my size. There are plenty of women who can dance — they just don’t get the representation. They don’t get the platform.
How’s the response been?
I had an amazing open call audition, I found three or four amazing dancers.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do what you do, but feels like a weirdo that doesn’t fit in the industry?
I mean, I’d like to say my music is that and my existence is that advice. I have words for them every day on social media. Just by being myself and existing how I am and dealing with that. I’m not perfectly myself, I am just myself.
I have good days and I have bad days, and I try to express that as much as I can because I know that there are people out there just waiting for the opportunity to be themselves.
It’s a fucked up thing to say, but it’s how society has programmed us and trained us to be. I don’t have an inspirational quote for you right now, but life isn’t like that, you just have to deal with it.
Okay, I am dying to ask… Has Shawn Mendes slid in the DMs yet?
No! He hasn’t, I’m so shocked that he hasn’t. I’ll let you know the next time I see him. I met him before that too, so we’ve spoken and he was really sweet. I’ll holla at him the next time I see him.
Lizzo’s debut album, Cuz I Love You, is out April 19 through Warner Music Australia.
Kish Lal is a writer and critic based in New York City. She is on Twitter.