Audiences have come to expect the highest echelon of pop stars to look, sound, and act in certain ways. From Taylor Swift’s tightly curated public image to Post Malone’s beer pong-infused everyman miraculously becomes an unfathomably rich globetrotter persona, there’s a clear sense with most pop stars that highly resourced teams of marketing experts are hard at work behind the scenes shaping images and transforming human musicians into hallowed pop idols. Lizzo, the phenomenal pop, soul, funk, and hip-hop project headed by singer and instrumentalist Melissa Viviane Jefferson, is winning over massive audiences on her own terms by breaking the mold of how pop stars can and should present themselves to the world.
Both Lizzo’s infectious music and accessible, disarmingly side-splitting personality are deeply resonating with audiences in 2019 who are growing weary of hipper than thou pop icons and the perpetual doom and gloom dished out by the non-stop news cycle. The world might be falling apart, but you wouldn’t know it from Lizzo’s music, Instagram feed, or the many ridiculous videos of her playing the flute posted online. When Lizzo sings about being her own soulmate, loving her body, and telling a lover that “2 a.m. photos with smileys and hearts/Ain’t the way to my juicy parts,” we get the sense that she really believes what she’s saying. Most pop stars sing thoroughly calculated lines about love, humor, and humanity from a safe, sanitized distance, but Lizzo’s work is rare for the fact that it’s accessible pop music that seems to be sourced from a place that’s human and unfiltered.
After moving to Houston at age 10, Jefferson started rapping in the local scene as a teen before graduating from the University of Houston with a Classical Flute Performance degree. She performed in celebrated local indie and R&B groups before creating the Lizzo persona. Lizzo’s debut album Lizzobangers was released on the independent music label Totally Gross National Product in 2013 and earned rave reviews from the likes of The Guardian. Virgin Records re-released the album the following year.
It’s easy to see why fans view Jefferson’s Lizzo as a relatable persona to root for. She frequently performs at Pride festivals and has established herself as an influential body positivity advocate. Big Grrrls, Lizzo’s group of backup dancers, are all plus size women. The lack of confidence and body shaming issues that gave Lizzo cause for stress and anxiety in her teens have become the driving forces behind her creative philosophy and positivity. Jefferson is committed to creating “feel-good music” that’s rooted in self-acceptance, coming to terms with who and what a person is, and a celebration of life for all its moments, no matter how revealing and absurd.
In an interview published in the New York Times last year, Jefferson was asked what she would say to herself as a child if she had the opportunity. “I would tell her, ‘You know what girl? I’m going to let you finish because everything you’re doing right now is going to create the person I am today. I don’t want you to change who you are, because I think the struggle is what makes me special.”
Today, it’s clear that Lizzo truly is something special in the eyes of audiences and critics alike. In 2016, she inked a deal with Atlantic Records, and released her major-label debut Cuz I Love You earlier this year. Currently, at well over half a billion streams on Spotify alone, Lizzo is rapidly becoming one of pop’s most captivating and inspiring figures, especially for millennial audiences searching for art to feel good about and understood by.
From the oddly satisfying trap-rock hybrid title track to the soul-inspired sex-positive “Lingerie,” Cuz I Love You is an effort that blends old and new styles and musical approaches into undeniable and memorable energy. Whether she’s belting lyrics about refusing to change to be loved by another person or rapping a clever line about how, like wine, she’s only getting better with age, Lizzo pulls it off with charm, swagger, and an unpretentious aesthetic that lets audiences of all walks know they’re invited to the party.
Lizzo performs October 5th at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver.