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Who is Lizzo? What you need to know about the singer behind this powerful image all over your Instagram feed.

Sitting naked in front of a dark background, covered only by a curtain of long jet black hair, this image of US singer, rapper and classical flutist Lizzo is hard to forget.

It’s not an album cover we’re used to seeing from a breakout artist, let alone one Rolling Stone describes as “an artist you need to know”.

There’s a good chance you’ve been seeing this image all over your Instagram feed. Since releasing her third studio album Cuz I Love You in April and playing at Coachella 2019, we haven’t been able to stop thinking about this woman known only by one name. Madonna. Rihanna. And now, Lizzo.

Just this week, she ticked over to one million Instagram followers, and celebrated by sharing an aptly-timed cover and feature in V Magazine’s annual music issue.

Her message? “Dear big girls, your body is high fashion. You are beautiful. You are worthy. And I am on the COVER OF V MAGAZINE!”

Despite now being labelled one of 2019’s biggest stars, Lizzo has been working on her craft since forever. Cuz I Love You and its iconic cover art aren’t the first we’ve heard or seen of the 30-year-old, but some of us are only just catching up.

After years of “fighting” to be heard, Lizzo released her first EP Lizzobangers in 2013. She says of her sudden and steep rise to stardom, “I feel like I’ve just been marathon training for this my whole life.” But she’s also not mad it’s taken her this long for her album to beat Beyonce’s in the charts because, in her own words, she was “such a sh*thead” when she was younger.

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You might’ve already heard Lizzo’s music without knowing it. Sung along to it, even. Her 2017 hit ‘Truth Hurts’ is featured in the new Netflix movie Someone Great. It’s the tune Gina Rodriguez’s character Jenny dances to while sipping whiskey at 10 in the morning after being dumped by her boyfriend of nine years (you can watch the clip below, post continues after video).

Video via Netflix

These women getting down in the kitchen, one dancing in her undies, encapsulates what Lizzo’s music is about. Being a bad b*tch, but more importantly, being yourself.

Lizzo, the public figure, is more than her music, though. And by simply being herself – a black woman who identifies as plus-size – she’s automatically representative of millions of people, whether she volunteered to be or not.

It’s something she’s grappling with in real time, juggling the responsibilities handed to her by people who finally feel represented in the mainstream music industry, but also just doing her own thing and making music.

From her upbringing and unique sound, to her outspokenness on issues like diversity and body positivity, we dove deep on Lizzo to find the story behind the woman in that image.

Who is Lizzo?

Lizzo (real name Melissa Viviane Jefferson) was born in born in Detroit, Michigan.

A self-described over-achiever in school, she told V Magazine: “When I was little, my mum would always say I was ‘doing the most.’ I would do every class, every elective, every after-school activity. And I would just go until I passed out. I was really ambitious, really smart. Teachers would call my mum and be like, ‘Melissa is trying to teach my class.'”

She was identified as being different from her peers. At 12, Lizzo began taking flute lessons. She liked anime and comics, played in her junior high marching band, and listened to Radiohead and classical music while everyone favoured rap. It’s a good thing she did – her flute, Sasha Flute, has over 65,000 Instagram followers thanks to its party trick, the flute and twerk.

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As a teenager, she moved to Houston with her family. Later, they relocated to Denver but she stayed on in Houston, studying music performance on a scholarship at the University of Houston.

But in her second year, tragedy struck – her father died.

He had been one of her fiercest supporters and his passing sent the then 21-year-old spiralling into depression.

In an interview with Trevor Noah, she said: “I was like ‘I have no reason to do this anymore because I was doing it for him.

“But then I realised I have to do this for myself, because he was doing it for me.”

She told Greenroom Magazine in 2015: “I dropped out, flew to Denver for summer vacation, went crazy and decided to become a singer.”

During that summer in Denver, Lizzo completely withdrew. She didn’t speak for three months, only communicating in shrugs.

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“[I went] crazy… in a good way though, because I got inspired,” she told E Online. “That was a summer of metamorphosis.”

“I didn’t love myself until I was 21,” she told Teen Vogue. “Twenty-one was the worst year of my life.”

Not only had her father passed, but Lizzo was also now homeless, having dropped out of university and losing her dorm room. She spent time sleeping in her car and snuck into a 24 hour gym to use the showers.

But it was this time in her life that inspired the Lizzo we see today.

 

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Welcome to the Garden of Eden My Pussy????

A post shared by Lizzo (@lizzobeeating) on

Lizzo’s music.

Cuz I Love You is Lizzo’s third album, but her first since signing to major record company Atlantic Records. In 2013, she released Lizzobangers, which was followed by a second album Big Grrrl Small World in 2015.

The influences behind unapologetically honest tracks like ‘Juice’, ‘Coconut Oil’, ‘Good As Hell’, ‘Soulmate’ and ‘Tempo’ come from her own life, particularly her self-discovery through therapy.

“That was really scary,” she told Rolling Stone. “But going on that journey of being vulnerable with someone who I didn’t know, and then learning how to be vulnerable with people that I do know, gave me the courage to be vulnerable as a vocalist.”

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Lizzo is not the first female artist to make music about female empowerment, body positivity, self-love, or all of the above. But as The Washington Post’s The Lily put it, Lizzo’s brand is unique because she’s “promoting body positivity for ourselves.” Not for anyone else.

In an interview with Teen Vogue, she said: “I can’t wake up one day and not be black. I can’t wake up one day and not be a woman. I can’t wake up one day and not be fat. I always had those three things against me in this world, and because I fight for myself, I have to fight for everyone else.”

(You can watch Lizzo’s video clip for ‘Juice’ below, post continues after video.)

Lizzo and inclusivity.

In a world where we’re increasingly being told we’re all different, Lizzo’s brand is universal.

As one Pitchfork reviewer put it, “In fact, Lizzo does have a genre, something like empowerment-core, and she offers songs for an astonishing array of demographics: thick women, independent women, women in general, anyone struggling with body image, people who are single, people who wish to become single, etc.”

This is exactly her strategy. Not just because it’s good business, but also because she knows what it’s like not to be ‘enough’.

“My movement is for everyone. It’s about inclusion. And if I am going to fight what I have been marginalised for, I am going to fight for all marginalised people… Because f*ck boxes; I’m too big to be put in one anyway. I’m a fat bitch,” she told V Magazine.

“I have felt excluded my entire life, from so many things. I have felt excluded from [my] blackness because I wasn’t [culturally] well-read on certain things. I feel like, because of that, I never want anyone [else] to ever feel excluded.”

Whether you agree with how Lizzo is re-claiming the term fat or not – you can’t deny the tangible impact seeing images of Lizzo and her body in pop culture is and will have on the women listening to her music.

Like this image of Lizzo in Rolling Stone. This is truly powerful.

 

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PUT ME IN THE LOUVRE ????bitch @rollingstone (2-page spread of my fineass on newsstands now!)

A post shared by Lizzo (@lizzobeeating) on

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In 2019, businesses, brands and public figures don’t know how to ‘do diversity’ without it coming across as tokenistic. But Lizzo is just doing it. Both through her music, but also creative choices like her backup dancers, the Big Grrrls, who are all plus-size.

But being a body-positive icon comes with an interesting set of challenges – like ‘having’ to love yourself unconditionally when you’re kind of only in-like with your body, and how to represent something that, right now, is a trend, but is also your forever existence. Lizzo discussed this in an interview with Jameela Jamil on her I Weigh Instagram TV series.

Lizzo says she didn’t have many people to look up to in the media growing up who looked like her, and were also considered ‘beautiful’. Now, here she is, being the woman others can look up to, but what about when everyone’s moved on from the body positive movement?

“I don’t think that loving yourself is a choice. I think that it’s a decision that has to be made for survival. I realised no matter how I look, someone’s always gonna have something to say about it. But all that matters is what I think,” she said.

“Even when body positivity is over, it’s not like I’m going to be a thin white woman. I’m going to be black and fat. That’s just hopping on a trend and expecting people to blindly love themselves. That’s fake love. I’m trying to figure out how to actually live it.”

For this writer, her back and forth internal dialogue is the most relatable thing about Lizzo. It’s also not what she wants to be the main takeaway from her listening to her music on the way home from work.

In her words, “It’s not about me being big. It’s about me being me.”

Do you follow Lizzo and her music? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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