The Rise of Lizzo: A New Pop Icon

By Clarabel Smith ‘20
Staff Writer

For many people, their first introduction to Lizzo was through her viral music video for her song, “Juice.” Or maybe you saw her performance of “Truth Hurts” at the VMAs, and the many retweets and imitations of her flute solo. Maybe you saw her in the October movie “Hustlers,” or you were recommended her Instagram, or you’ve just heard one of her infectious songs on the radio in the past several months. But you’ve probably heard of Lizzo by now, and she’s only getting started. 

Lizzo, or Melissa Vivianne Jacobson, is not new to the music scene. She’s been steadily releasing rap and hip-hop albums, EPs and singles since 2014. Although her early albums “Lizzobangers” and “Big Grrrl Small World” have been removed from Spotify, they include songs like “Lizzie Borden,” “En Love,” and “Paris,” which are prime examples of the lyrics and voice that made Lizzo such a hit with her latest album, “Cuz I Love You” and her singles. Lizzo’s current radio success is not the only measure of her popularity, although it was certainly no joke when she broke the record for longest-running #1 hit for a female rap artist with “Truth Hurts” at six weeks. The use of “Truth Hurts,” in the Netflix movie “Someone Great,” was at least partially a catalyst for the song becoming a sleeper hit, and Lizzo’s roles in “Ugly Dolls” (voice only) and “Hustlers” continued this Hollywood connection. Lizzo also recently appeared on the cover of Vogue this month, which, along with her Instagram, asserts that her fame stems as much from her beauty and style as from her music.

Many of the songs that are hits now, like “Truth Hurts” or “Good as Hell,” which was recently released as a remix with Ariana Grande, were released in 2017 or earlier. What makes Lizzo’s music the sensation of 2019 is just a delayed appreciation for an artist who has always had the confidence of a superstar. Lizzo’s body positivity and radical self-love is not only a central theme of her music, it’s something she radiates in live shows and social media for the benefit of her audience as well as herself. Much of the testimony of her fans centers on the way Lizzo’s pride in her black, plus-sized beauty inspired or encouraged their own journey of self-love and acceptance. As Lizzo told fans in a recent performance, “If you can love me, you can love yourself.” 

Photo courtesy of forbes.com

One can also question the pressure on Lizzo as this all-encompassing figure of positivity. Certainly no one expects this kind of endless self-love and self-promotion from skinny white pop artists like Ariana Grande, who was able to sing both “thank u next” and “needy” in the aftermath of a messy public breakup. Meanwhile, Lizzo is not as well known for her ballads like “Cuz I Love You” or breakup songs like “Jerome,” although these are just as impactful and catchy as her upbeat hits. 

Having established herself as such a thriving personality and talent, and seeing an acceleration in her releases, we can hope for upcoming music from Lizzo. We can also hope that she has the freedom to continue to innovate and explore daring themes in this music, and I doubt we have to worry about Lizzo stopping anytime soon.

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