We find the rapper and singer on effervescent form as she tells us about her hugely anticipated new album, Cuz I Love You
“I’ve gotten to become that bitch,” Lizzo asserts when we speak at London’s Atlantic Records offices. “I look in the mirror now and think, ‘Damn, I don’t need anybody to tell me I look good.’ I don’t even need the fucking mirror to.”
The rapper and singer is back in the UK again, weeks after we first met at a listening party for her third album, Cuz I Love You. She was the life and soul of the room, twerking and drinking champagne straight from the bottle, and today she’s no less effervescent or joyful, despite all the travelling back and forth. She gesticulates with long pink nails, pausing only to pepper the conversation with answers in song.
You’ve probably seen Lizzo recently, whether performing and twerking onstage with Janelle Monae at Coachella (which she dubbed #ASSCHELLA), appearing with rhinestoned hair as a guest judge on season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, or being a “big bad bitch” on the pages of Playboy. That’s not to say that Melissa Viviane Jefferson hasn’t paid her dues in the music industry, though. She has been quietly making a name on Minneapolis’s indie hip hop scene for years, founding groups such as The Chalice, Grrrl Prty, The Clerb, and Absynthe, and independently releasing two albums, 2013’s Lizzobangers and 2015’s Big Grrrl Small World, as a solo artist. She even worked with local Minneapolis icon Prince prior to his death, appearing on 2014’s Plectrumelectrum.
More recently, you’ll have heard the bop that is “Juice”, the lead single from Cuz I Love You. It’s an irresistibly funky anthem with a strong self-care message with lyrics like “Heard you say I’m not the baddest bitch, you lie,” and “No, I’m not a snack at all / Look, baby, I’m the whole damn meal.” Those lyrics might lead you to think that Lizzo is unshakably confident, but she says that she still doubts her own abilities. Hours before we were due to meet, she ended an Instagram Live video after just a few minutes due to her nerves. “I was sweating because I had nothing to say,” she explains. “I thought nobody wanted to hear what I had to say.”
She might not have confidence in her talking about it on a public forum, but she showcases her knowledge (and love) of music both past and present with soundbites about Justin Bieber (“That motherfucker knows how to pick a bop!”), not to mention paying homage to fellow artists, recently covering Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” and Lady Gaga’s “Shallow”. That’s without even mentioning her skills as a flautist – she’s been playing since she was 14 – often appearing twerking or hitting the shoot while playing.
“I’ve gotten to become that bitch. I look in the mirror now and think, ‘Damn, I don’t need anybody to tell me I look good.’ I don’t even need the fucking mirror to” – Lizzo
For Lizzo, confidence is a chicken-and-egg scenario. It’s through her music that she manifests the woman she envisions, but her – for lack of a better word – extra personality is what has gotten her so far already. Listening to her music and watching her just be, she feels like a familiar friend and you can’t help but want to know her. “It’s a self-fulfilled prophecy,” she explains. “I’m not writing these songs to remind myself one day that I’m that bitch, I want to be that bitch – and singing them every day helps me manifest that.” Her message has resonated with a legion of fans (she has over 800k of them on Instagram alone), touched by her openness on being plus-size, a woman of colour, and growing up confused by her sexuality. “My music is relatable because everybody wants to be better, love themselves, and be 100 per cent that bitch,” she says. “I don’t think that I’m preachy or condescending. You can hear the earnestness, and that I’m actually trying and aspiring to be that too.”
The singer’s personal approach to songwriting and investing so much of herself into her work is both a blessing and a curse. When she was working on her new album and really feeling it, it would be a cathartic release, but when she was performing it months down the line, it would all be brought back up again. “I can’t express how many times I’ve gone into the studio and I just have to say, ‘No, I can’t write this right now.’ Or other times I’ve gone in fucking heated and just start venting and the producers say: ‘We should make this into a song,’” she explains. “Another time I said: ‘I just want to write a song about exactly how I feel,’ and that’s why there’s a song called ‘Exactly How I Feel’ on the record. It’s really therapeutic.”
Cuz I Love You is Lizzo’s most sophisticated album to date, refining many of the ideas heard on her previous releases. She proves her vocal chops on the album’s title track, where her voice soars to new heights, but the variety in different genres and her effortless blend of rapping and singing still remains. Ignoring critics of her 2016 EP, Coconut Oil, for being a “testing ground for all the things she’s good at”, Cuz I Love You is like a chocolate box, with something for everyone. “I had a lot in my head after Coconut Oil,” she says. “I needed to figure out what a Lizzo song sounded like. One of the things I wanted to do was figure out who I am with this record, but I realised I didn’t need to choose, which led to my genre, my style, and that eliminated the fear of people thinking it was too weird.”
From the big brass sounds on the title track, there are rock influences and riffing guitars on “Crybaby”, nods to her religious upbringing with the gospel-tinged “Heaven Help Me”, all the way through to the sultry closer “Lingerie”. Missy Elliott’s appearance on the infectious, twerk-inducing “Tempo” – a song that inspired its own dance challenge on Instagram – was among Lizzo’s highlights, and a dream come true. “I worked with Missy because I had the opportunity to,” she enthuses. “When you do, you don’t say no. Missy Elliott is one of my biggest musical inspirations, and working with her helped me to see myself. Being able to help more young girls see themselves through it is just a full circle moment.”
“I finally understand why Taylor Swift always looked so shocked whenever she would win an award. I’d always lowkey think, ‘Come on bitch, you know you’re going to win, you’re Taylor Swift!’ But now I get it” – Lizzo
Being an inspiration comes naturally to Lizzo, and she isn’t fazed by being automatically politicised for being different to the norm. “It doesn’t annoy me at all. Why would something so positive annoy me? That’s just who I am,” she muses. “I think expectations are the worst, though. At the end of the day, I’m not here for anyone else, I’m here for myself. If I was created to please all these people – the bi-positive community, feminist community, plus-size, and black communities – I’d be in trouble. There are so many intricacies and intersections, so much shit I would have to constantly aware of.”
Eradicating the expectations of her from others (and on herself too) is a valuable lesson Lizzo learned early on in her career, and urges others to do too. “We’re in an instant gratification generation,” she says. “As soon as I post a photo, I get immediate satisfaction. We expect that from people we know, too, and I had to unlearn that.” Instead, Lizzo is working with what she’s already got; all the tools she needs to succeed. “As an artist, I’ve always had everything within,” she adds. ”It just needed chiselled down to create the final sculpture.”
Despite Cuz I Love You being her most high profile release to date, Lizzo is refreshingly unaware of her impact, recently appearing on another Instagram Live with tears in her eyes after selling out dates on her upcoming tour. “I’m genuinely shocked,” she exclaims when we speak about it. “I don’t think it’s got anything to do with being humble. It’s great that people are finally starting to connect to the visuals. Now, I finally understand why Taylor Swift always looked so shocked whenever she would win an award. I’d always lowkey think, ‘Come on bitch, you know you’re going to win, you’re Taylor Swift!’ But now I get it.”
That’s not to say the journey to success is without its roadblocks. Recently, photographer Luke Gilford, the same photographer who shot the singer resplendently nude for the album’s cover artwork, revealed on Instagram Stories that designers refused to lend looks for the singer’s appearance on the cover of Allure. Unsurprisingly, Lizzo remains unbothered. “Fuck them,” is her simple answer to any haters. “I fully believe in myself and know I can do anything. I don’t need labels to accomplish the things I want to. I just need money and time. Give me time and watch.”
That’s all Lizzo wants for now – the same, but bigger, with time to hone her craft. “I’m completely unaware of what my presence and part is in the mainstream, but I feel like shit is definitely changing,” she concludes. “Black women are finally getting a platform to speak and getting highlighted – even though we’ve been outchea.”