Lizzo Is the Bad Bitch Who Wants to Lift You Up

Lizzo Is the Bad Bitch Who Wants to Lift You Up

We talk to the fiery rising artist about her uplifting music, the importance of self-care, and how she stays positive in the turbulent cultural climate.

We talk to the fiery rising artist about her uplifting music, the importance of self-care, and how she stays positive in the turbulent cultural climate.

Photography: Raf Tillis

Text: Jake Viswanath

One encounter with Lizzo is all that’s needed to be dazzled. When the rising hip-pop artist enters a room, she doesn’t go unnoticed, as evident when she stopped by the V Magazine offices for a chat. Her infectious laugh and witty one-liners light up the room, her sense of humor preventing everyone from working as they burst into fits of laughter. And that positivity is what she aims to radiate through her music.

Lizzo got her passion for music, specifically rap, in her hometown of Houston, home of local rap icons like Lil Flip and pop legend Beyoncé, both of whom she cites as major inspirations. And when you’re surrounded by the buzz of rising local music, it’s difficult not to catch the bug to create. “The lunch rooms in the mornings is where we would freestyle, the bus going home, banging on the side of the bus is where we would freestyle. The radio, 97.9 The Box, I would call in the mornings and do the freestyle challenges and I would win. I won tickets to concerts. I saw 50 Cent,” she remembers, the look of glee still noticeable on her face. “I think growing up in Houston, it was like a right of passage to freestyle.”

Somewhere along the way, she made a swerve and started to study music in every way she could, becoming a classically trained flutist, before her love for rapping took over once again and incorporated itself into her music, especially on her most recent project, 2016’s Coconut Oil EP. A seamless mixture of rhythmic flows, pop melodies, and gospel influences, Lizzo’s music at times plays as a non-preachy church sermon, where she serves positivity and advice for herself and her community of black, plus-size women.

“I don’t know how I was given the ability to emote and notate this process in music, but I can, and so I’m doing it. And I think people can sometimes be preachy about self-love and self-care and I think that that can come off as very exclusive and non-inclusive because you’re like, ‘This is what you should do because I did it and I’m the shit and you’re not like me, so do like this so you can be like me.’ That’s never been my message because I’m not talking to nobody but myself in music. Because who am I to tell you what to do?,” she wonders aloud. “And I think that people can feel that like, ‘Damn, she really learning that coconut oil greases the scalp, or she’s really learning to be in love with herself and not worry about these dudes.’ I’m actually going through this in my life, so I’m not just writing songs about self-care. I’m experiencing self-care through my songs and I think that people are joining in on that experience.” And while she has the ability to make everyone feel included, make no mistake—she’s drawing off nobody’s experiences but her own. “I can’t teach like a white girl how to take care of herself because I’m not a white girl, but you can just look at me and be like, ‘What’s good?’ Like, she put coconut oil on and maybe it’ll work for me.”

The importance of self-care is especially highlighted in the clip for her recent single, “Water Me,” which elevates the typical grooming tricks into something that should be celebrated, specifically for the empowerment of black women. “We wanted the metaphor to be about nourishment and black body and movement because I think that it’s really important to teach self-care, but I also feel like the black community does not get that message,” she explained. “So we wanted to celebrate [self-care] and use mundane activities to celebrate that too, like washing a baby, washing your hair. Washing your hair as a black woman with natural hair is a very intimate and sometimes very scary thing to do in public, so we wanted to show the vulnerability and some of the little things and show how special it can be, and it came together really well.”

During these turbulent political times, Lizzo’s music shines as a beacon of light and encouragement, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think if I knew how to be a super intentional writer, then my shit would be all moody and dark because that’s what I want it to be, but I can’t do that, so I’m just going to what’s naturally me and it’s working for me. I think that’s why people like it so much because they can just tell that it’s not coming from a place of overthought.” But that doesn’t mean that she ignores politics altogether. She briefly expresses guilt for making feel-good music in the midst of turmoil, but emphasizes the importance of finding a silver lining as “there’s no point in living a life of anxiousness and fear.” “Even if I’m freaked out and I’m in the studio and it’s like ‘North Korea just shot a ballistic missile and it can reach D.C.,’ I don’t want to sit and be like, ‘This is my North Korea ballistic missile song. Let’s go. Four on the floor drums’,” she says, air-jamming to the drum she’s beating in her head.

In a sense, her live shows compensate for the positivity and serve as a form of activism themselves, where she intends not just to make her audience feel empowered, but understand the issues in her community. “I remember for a long time I would look at the crowd at my shows and my crowd would be like 85 percent white and I would look at them and be like, ‘I want you guys to know that because you are here, because you’re supporting a big, black woman, you understand Black Lives Matter and you understand that representation is important and you understand that beauty is beyond size’,” she explained. Almost surprisingly, they got it.

The issues that Lizzo focuses on, in life and in music, make her one of the most relatable rising artists, but also one of the most underrepresented. For any black women in the music world, especially one who proudly embraces her heritage and authenticity like Lizzo, it’s sadly almost impossible not to face certain hurdles. “I think I represent something that’s very possible. [Fans are] like, ‘Oh, I can do that,’ in the same way that Missy Elliot represented possibilities for me when I was growing up, and I think the industry is afraid of it because once everybody feels comfortable with theirselves, then they’re not going to buy shit no more,” she says. “But at the end of the day, people want to feel good, and I think that is more accessible and more relatable than anything than looking a certain way, than dressing a certain way, than having a crazy ass voice that can’t nobody sound like.”

Even though the world at large has a long way to go when it comes to inclusion and representation of minorities, Lizzo’s commitment to keep on shining is, in its own way, an act of defiance and a sign that the tides are slowly changing, especially in the creative industries. “I think I’m a bad bitch and I think that’s what fashion’s all about,” she declares. “It’s about being a bad bitch, and I think that the industry has changed literally in the past five years to where it’s not even, like, about a body type, it’s more about a vibe.” That vibe encompasses the natural parts of the body, something that the fashion world is emphasizing more and more. "Now that everything is reverting to this natural state and everybody is coming as they are and individuality is king and queen, I think that it’s harder to phase what’s going to work in and out of the trend… so when you’re just you, it doesn’t matter what your body type is, what you’re wearing, who you’re wearing, and how you’re wearing it, and your color scheme, you going to be in fashion."

And if Lizzo has it her way, she’s going to be in fashion, both literally and culturally, for a long time coming. She has dreams for a clothing line that she keeps under lock and key (“If it doesn’t exist, I have to create it”), as well as some acting parts in the works (her dream role is Ursula from The Little Mermaid). But her music is the top priority (“I’ve got music for days, bro”), with a potential collab with her idol Missy to come. “I got to play her my music and she was like, ‘That’s fire,’ like she really liked it. And then I literally sounded like her and it was super embarrassing and I was like, ‘Um, I know you hear the influence,’ and she was like, ‘Yeah, I can hear it girl’,” she reiterates with a nervous yet awestruck look.

It may seem like fate that Lizzo’s career is heading this way, but she had the intuition before anyone else. “Even if I would be singing at the jazz club in Houston to like 30 people once a week, I knew that somehow I would inspire other people through music because that’s my calling,” she remembers. “It’s been a long time, okay? This is not no overnight motherf*cking success, by the way. This is hard work and a long journey, and I think as soon as I decided to stop worrying about where I was going and just respect the process and enjoy the journey, then things started going quicker and quicker. And then I look up and I’m like, ‘Oh, shit. I’m at V Magazine,’ Like, what the f*ck?,” she asks, seeming genuinely amazed at her surroundings. “It’s wild because I’ve just been on the ride and now I can stop at the little scenic locations and just peek at what we’ve done, but we’re just going to keep going and look up one day and hopefully have a ton of money because I just need to take care of my momma.” And like a good daughter, she’s dead serious. “That’s it,” she concludes, with one of those hearty laughs that come from something so sincere it turns comical.

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