Lizzo plays the flute, raps, and defines beauty on her own terms

Why We Wrote This

Popularity and talent aren’t always followed by universal acceptance. As our columnist points out, for Grammy nominee Lizzo, success means continuing to making music while resisting people’s ideas of whom she should be.

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Lizzo performs at The Met in Philadelphia Sept. 18, 2019. Named entertainer of the year for 2019 by both The Associated Press and Time magazine, the rapper and singer is the top nominee at the 2020 Grammy Awards, airing Sunday, Jan. 26.

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Singer Lizzo is a contender for the most Grammys at Sunday’s awards show. She is breaking industry records, and as a full-figured black woman rapper, Lizzo celebrates her complexity in a society that remains determined to devalue it. 

Body-shaming by other public figures is a reminder that the world has a particular vitriol for confident, visible, and successful black women. Lizzo has also had to deal with rap’s notorious misogyny. But women rappers aren’t expected to stylistically embrace either androgyny or hypersexuality anymore; they are doing what feels natural to them. Lizzo is not only capitalizing on this shift; she is defying – and defining – what it means to be beautiful.

Lizzo is wholly aware that creating your own niche in hip-hop as a curvy black woman, in fact, makes you a bigger target. When she pointed out the double standard between herself and male rappers, she was met with ire. But it is more productive to keep making your art than defending it. With recent appearances in the film “Hustlers” and on Saturday Night Live, Lizzo is securing her place in music. Her reign shows no sign of letting up.

Unpacking Lizzo’s steady and fascinating rise in music proves to be as layered as the artist herself.

Named entertainer of the year for 2019 by both The Associated Press and Time magazine, the singer and rapper is also a contender for the most Grammy awards of any artist at Sunday’s awards show. Three of those are for her song “Truth Hurts,” off her third studio album, released in 2017. Last September, she broke a major Billboard record when the song became the longest-running No. 1 single by a female rapper, without other featured artists, in the chart’s history. She is also the first black solo female R&B singer to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since 2012.

Women rappers have been pushing hip-hop culture forward since the genre’s inception. However, what made “Truth Hurts” so popular two years after its release wasn’t just its undeniable catchiness or bold declarations of resilience and self-worth. As a full-figured black woman rapper, Lizzo celebrates her complexity in a society that remains determined to devalue it. She has recently experienced body-shaming from public figures like author Boyce Watkins and fitness guru Jillian Michaels. Their commentary serves as a cruel reminder that the world has a particular vitriol for confident, visible, and successful black women. 

Lizzo has also had to deal with rap’s notorious misogyny and general exclusion of women. The current renaissance finally gives listeners a bevy of female lyricists to choose from, including Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Tierra Whack, Rapsody, Noname, and Leikeli47. There is no longer just one domineering presence at the forefront.

Women rappers aren’t expected to stylistically embrace either androgyny or hypersexuality anymore; they are doing what feels natural to them. Lizzo is not only capitalizing on this palpable shift in rap; she is defying – and defining – what it means to be beautiful. 

We saw it at last June’s BET Awards as she sported a white bodice while dancing and playing the flute onstage. (She holds a degree in classical flute performance.) That live rendition of “Truth Hurts” earned her a standing ovation and even brought Rihanna to her feet, gazing in awe. Lizzo continued to showcase her infectious energy at August’s MTV Video Music Awards. Just like at the BET Awards, the stage at the VMAs was full of black female backup dancers of all shapes and sizes, as Lizzo impressed onlookers in a bright yellow leotard. The message of the night – in true alignment with her discography – was one of self-love and empowerment. 

As expected, Lizzo’s rap skills are criticized and called into question more than those of her male counterparts. Pitchfork writer Rawiya Kameir infamously rated “Cuz I Love You” a 6.5 out of 10, saying some songs were “burdened with overwrought production, awkward turns of phrase, and ham-handed rapping.” Lizzo replied, in a now deleted tweet, “PEOPLE WHO ‘REVIEW’ ALBUMS AND DON’T MAKE MUSIC THEMSELVES SHOULD BE UNEMPLOYED.” After public backlash, she sent another tweet inviting music journalists to her studio. 

Lizzo seems wholly aware that creating your own niche in hip-hop as a curvy black woman, in fact, makes you a bigger target. When she pointed out the double standard between herself and male rappers, she was met with ire. But it is more productive to keep making your art than defending it. With a cameo in the film “Hustlers,” a set at last year’s Made in America music festival in which Beyoncé took notice, and a monumental live performance last month on “Saturday Night Live,” Lizzo is rightfully securing her place in music. And her reign shows no sign of letting up.

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