The singer-songwriter known as Lizzo is getting ready to take her pro-woman, body-confident empowerment music on the road, which includes a Nov. 8 show in Los Angeles at the Fonda Theater.
She performs with a core girl group that includes her DJ, Sophia Eris, and two dancers who she calls "the big girls." Sporting unitards, they do coordinated choreography behind Lizzo while she belts out her music, dressed in a stylish leotard, no less.
Her song "Good as Hell," which appeared in the film, "Barbershop: The Next Cut," was a big hit last year. Samantha Bee invited her to perform it on "Full Frontal" the night after the 2016 election. She opened her performance with a rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," also known as the "Black National Anthem."
Though the song was a last-minute addition to her performance, Lizzo says she'd been thinking about singing it for awhile:
I have been thinking about "Lift Every Voice" for a while. My old manager asked me months earlier, Would you ever sing the national anthem at a football game or ... a basketball game? And I told him, Yeah, I'll sing the national anthem, but I'm going to sing the "Black National Anthem." And I said that initially not as a joke — everything I say kind of comes off like half-joke, half-dead serious. And I said that ever since and I've been thinking about it.
The Frame recently visited the recording studio where Lizzo makes her music, up a winding road not far from Dodgers Stadium. After showing us around the studios and the back garden, we settled in for a chat.
Click the play button at the top to hear the conversation. Below are some highlights.
How do you cast dancers? Because your dancers don't look like people you see dancing in most shows. They look like ordinary folk.
Well, you know, everybody's ordinary to somebody. And I'd like to think that the big girls are pretty extraordinary. I think that they're more of a "spectacle" than the size two, super-buff dancer that you see. I want the women who dance on stage with me to be an extension of me, to be my dream. They dance like how I think I dance in my head. And I want them to be an example for anyone who doubts bigger women, who think that they can't be flexible, who think that they can't be spectacular and sharp.
I was thinking about this driving over here — that if someone were to watch your show and not hear anything, that what you were saying by who you are and the way you're performing on stage says as much about who you are and what you have to say as your lyrics do. Do you buy into that?
I think that's pretty cool. I With a lot of people who have an impact like that, it's never really intentional. Like, I didn't say, OK, being pants-less on stage is going to be this statement. I just don't like wearing pants on stage and I think I have really nice legs.
It's the era of the individual. I think that we've been kind of homogenized and put in boxes and socially taught that certain boxes are who we should be. I think the desire to be an individual is starting to flourish and I think that's why people catch on to me.
I want to ask you about something that happened almost exactly a year ago. You went on Samantha Bee's "Full Frontal." It was the night after the presidential election and you began your performance by singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is also known as the "Black National Anthem." Was that something you planned to do? Why was that the right song at the time?
We had months and months and months of planning for that. The girls were wearing suits because we were going to have a whole montage of women in power suits and we had so much planned to celebrate women and the first female president, you know? We were on the plane flying to New York and I was watching the election on the back of someone's [seat] and I went to sleep and I woke up in New York in a Trump presidency.
And then Samantha came in my dressing room — she was crying, she was so devastated — and she said, What do you want to do? And I said, We're going to continue to do "Good as Hell" because, first-off, I have a job to do. And also part of that job is to uplift people. So when I thought of "Lift Every Voice," I asked her, Can I do anything? Can you see if [the rights are] clear? Can I sing this on television? And they just were like, We don't even care if you can't. And they did the research and said, You can. And then I was like, Okay, horns, just play this one note and I'll sing over that.
I realize there's two things you can [do]: watch history happen or choose to be a part of it. And instead of ignoring it, I chose to engage in it.
How much of your music and your art and everything you believe in is about empowering other people to live up to their potential and do what they can do to change the world? You're not telling them what to do, but you make them feel as if they have the opportunity to do that.
I think that's the reason why I am doing this. A couple years ago, I decided to dedicate myself to positive music because if I'm going to do this, I might as well make the world up a little bit better. But I never want to tell anyone what to do because I don't want anyone preaching to me. I'm not a preacher, I'm a musician and I'm a singer. So what I love is when people listen to my music they put on a Lizzo suit or a Lizzo mask or a Lizzo mindset or mind frame and they feel emboldened. But the reality is my music is what I'm going through and created to help myself.
I wrote "Good as Hell" a year ago to help me, now I'm performing it on stage. I'm so sad all day and then I get on stage because it's my job and as I'm singing "Good as Hell" sometimes, I'm just like, Oh, I wrote this for me! And I think that's super important. It's helped. I mean right now we're at two million views and I heard almost 10 million streams, which is massive for me. All those millions of people are being helped, but I wrote it for me.
I want to ask about your musical education, about the whole idea of growing up in a world in which Pentecostal gospel music was where your ears and eyes were opened — that there was a different way of using music to say something that was important.
I used music as a vessel into religion into Christianity. And then I used religion, the Pentecostal church, as a vessel into spirituality. And then I realized spirituality and music came back full circle. So I realized that music is transformative and all of my songs are a vehicle for change, for self-reflection, a vehicle for self-care, self-love. It's important and I think that it was instilled in me as a child. I continue to have little Eureka! moments when people tell me what my song has done for them. The last time I heard something that I was completely floored was last year in Austin when I play South-by-Southwest for NPR. Someone came up to me and told me that they were transitioning from male to female and when they listened to "Scuse Me," it helped them during their transition.
Because when I [sing], Look up in the mirror, oh my god it's me, she would look in the mirror during her transition and see this person and would be shocked at who she was becoming — sometimes excited, sometimes unsatisfied and wanting more. But mostly just appraising herself and praising herself. And that for me was, like, Yo, people are taking this music and traveling so far with it. They're flying with it and that's why I continue to do it.
To listen to John Horn's full interview with Lizzo, click on the player above.