Lizzo is an American singer, rapper and classically trained flutist whose music talks about race, sexuality and body confidence.
Who Is Lizzo?
Lizzo is a three-time Grammy Award winner who has created hit songs like “Good as Hell,” “Truth Hurts” and “Juice.” Her first major label album, Cuz I Love You (2019), made it into Billboard’s Top Ten. Lizzo’s name combines a childhood nickname of Lissa and the Jay-Z song “Izzo.” Before making her mark in rap and pop, she was on track to become an orchestral flutist. Even with her change in musical direction, Lizzo has continued to play the flute, from samples on her first album to live performances.
Early Life and Family
Lizzo was born as Melissa Viviane Jefferson in Detroit, Michigan, on April 27, 1988. Lizzo’s family was part of a Pentecostal church in Detroit. Due to their faith, gospel music held sway in their household. Lizzo’s parents also listened to Elton John, Queen and Stevie Wonder. When Lizzo was 9, her family moved to Houston, Texas. There, she has said, her horizons expanded to include Destiny’s Child, Missy Elliott and twerking.
In fifth grade, Lizzo started playing the flute, an instrument she became devoted to and eventually played in her high school marching band. Though the flute was her focus, Lizzo also rapped. She was writing rhymes as a teenager and formed groups with her friends.
From Classical Music to Rap and Rock
Lizzo’s flute skills resulted in a scholarship to the University of Houston, where she studied music performance. She initially planned to continue her studies at the Paris Conservatory and eventually play in concert halls.
In addition to hours of flute practice, Lizzo continued to rap and perform in shows while in college. By her junior year, she decided to leave school to focus on making her name in the music industry. She explained on the radio program Fresh Air, “I was like, I’m already performing. What do I need a music performance degree for? And I just stopped.”
Lizzo joined a prog-rock band, in which she sang and sometimes played her flute. Her family had relocated to Denver, so she was on her own as she tried to launch her career in Houston. Lizzo lived in her car, sometimes slept on floor of her recording studio and showered at the gym.
When Lizzo was 20, her father passed away. The two had been close and it was a devastating loss. She left the prog-rock band in 2010, after her father’s death. Following a brief stop in Denver, Lizzo moved to Minneapolis in 2011 at the invitation of a friend. She was soon ensconced in that city’s music scene. She performed with the girl groups Chalice and GRRRL PRTY. Her first album, Lizzobangers, came out in 2013 on an independent label.
While living in Minneapolis, Lizzo was encouraged by local rock icon Prince. She appeared on his album Plectrumelectrum (2014) and performed at his parties. “To be embraced by Prince, I am eternally grateful for that,” she said in 2020.
Another Lizzo album, Big Grrrl Small World, arrived in 2015. Soon afterward, she signed with Atlantic Records. Following a move to Los Angeles, Lizzo released the EP Coconut Oil (2016). She also started hosting Wonderland, a live music show on MTV, and opened for Sleater-Kinney and Florence + the Machine on tour.
Using her full vocal abilities had been a struggle for Lizzo because “the big Black girls were always the belters, and I’ve always been afraid of being put into that box.” Her range was demonstrated on Cuz I Love You (2019), the first album she made for a major label. Inspired in part by Lizzo’s own relationship heartbreak, the record had it all: ballads, compelling raps and songs perfect for dancing at the club.
Cuz I Love You made it into the Billboard Top Ten. The tour for the album sold out, so Lizzo scheduled more dates. Then “Truth Hurts,” the underperforming single, was featured in a movie and finally became a hit.
In addition to her blockbuster album and platinum singles — “Truth Hurts,” “Good as Hell” and “Juice” — in 2019 Lizzo wowed the Met Gala in a brilliant pink gown and received a standing ovation from Rihanna and others after singing “Truth Hurts” at the BET Awards. She also had a role in the movie Hustlers (2019).
For the 62nd Grammy Awards, Lizzo received eight nominations, the most for any artist that year. She won three awards: Best Pop Solo Performance (“Truth Hurts”), Best Traditional R&B Performance (“Jerome”) and Best Urban Contemporary Album for Cuz I Love You.
Lizzo went through a copyright dispute about “Truth Hurts,” though a lawsuit against her was dismissed. She did give a credit to the woman who’d tweeted a version of the song’s opening line.
In 2020, Lizzo signed a deal with Amazon Studios to work on content for Amazon Prime Video.
“Rumors,” from Lizzo and Cardi B, arrived in 2021. It was the first single Lizzo had put out since 2019. Unfortunately, the release unleashed negative comments on social media. “It’s fatphobic, it’s racist, and it’s hurtful,” Lizzo declared on Instagram Live of the comments. “What I won’t accept is y’all doing this to Black women over and over and over again, especially us big Black girls. When we don’t fit into the box that you want to put us in, you just unleash hatred onto us.”
Self-Image and Body Positivity
“I was body negative for a long time,” Lizzo has admitted. Ultimately, she realized that “to continue to live in this body and survive in this body and be happy and actually enjoy life, I need to find a way to like myself.”
Yet Lizzo is wary of some of the plaudits she’s received for body positivity. “I don’t like it when people think it’s hard for me to see myself as beautiful,” she told Glamour. “I don’t like it when people are shocked that I’m doing it.”
“Body positivity only exists because body negativity is the norm,” Lizzo has stated. She hopes acceptance of all kinds of bodies will eventually be normalized and expand beyond entertainment, saying, “There’s a plus-sized Black girl at the Grammys. But plus-size Black women are still not getting the treatment they deserve in hospitals and from doctors and at work, you know what I mean?”