Why Lizzo’s eight Grammy nominations feel different
She’s focused on giving us a show, not just a beautiful performance
With her eight Grammy nominations, Lizzo’s time has finally arrived.
She scored three nominations for the song “Truth Hurts,” including record of the year, song of the year, and best pop solo performance. “Exactly How I Feel,” with a Gucci Mane feature, is nominated for best R&B performance. “Jerome,” a rhythm and blues breakup song, earned her a best traditional R&B performance nod. The deluxe edition of Cuz I Love You is up for album of the year, and the original edition is nominated for best urban contemporary album.
Her best new artist nod completes the set, making Lizzo the most nominated artist of the 2020 Grammy Awards. But the woman who everyone thinks of as the female breakout star of 2019 actually has been planting earworms in our cultural consciousness for about half a decade. She even worked with Prince back in 2014, when she lived in Minneapolis.
As a longtime Lizzo fan, it’s nice to see her to get this level of validation. I learned about the performer in 2015 when I watched her music video for “My Skin.” She appears on screen as a brown-skinned girl with a frizzy blown-out Afro. She stands in an empty warehouse space, forcing the viewer to focus on her. There is no narrative arc here — the tension comes solely from the lyrics of the music she presents to us.
“I woke up in this, in my skin,” she croons. “I can’t wash it away, you can’t take it from me.” Her words resonated with me — as many things as I could change about myself, I couldn’t escape the vessel that bound the tissues, vessels and fat together — my skin. Her subsequent songs were about her journey toward loving herself and understanding her place in the world, things that she knew others could relate to. A good Lizzo performance leaves you with a little more confidence and greater appreciation for the emotional depth we all contain.
From her concerts to her 2019 BET Award performance, Lizzo acts as a female minister taking us to the church of self-acceptance and unconditional self-love. “I just want everyone to remember, if you can love me, you can love yourself, every single day. If you can love my big black ass at this tiny, tiny desk, you can love yourself. Can I get one more hallelujah?” she adds at the end of her NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
She understands the traditions that she is working in, melding a bit of riot grrrl (signaled by the title of her 2015 album Big Grrrl Small World), a little bit of gospel, and a lot of personality into her stream of consciousness rhymes backed by syncopated dance and a bumping bass line.
Fat girls, black women and the LGBTQ contingent have been rocking with Lizzo for years. She gave us the “love yourself” vibe we all needed before body positivity was in fashion.
A year ago Vanity Fair asked, Has 2018 Killed the Pop Star? If the era of the global superstar is gone, something better has appeared in the phenomena’s wake, filled by Spotify streams and niche cult followings. Performers aren’t pressured to be all things to everybody, which leaves a musician like Lizzo to be radically herself.
“My mere existence as a musician is activism,” Lizzo said in an interview with Great Big Story in 2017, and I believe she’s right. Ten years ago, Adele was the plus-sized musician of the moment with 18 Grammy nominations and subsequent wins in the best new artist category. She has won 15 Grammys.
Still, Lizzo’s nominations hit differently — perhaps because she is an entertainer, focused on giving us a show, and not just a beautiful performance. In 2009, when Adele took over America’s airwaves, there were contingencies on who she could be. The magazine covers featuring Adele seemed to only photograph her from the waist up. By contrast, on Lizzo’s September Elle cover, the singer’s full body is shown. She demands that we see all of her, and deal with it. She is willing to wear those bright colors and bold prints big girls have been told for years to stay away from. She highlights instead of concealing and is unapologetic about her proclivity for twerking while playing her flute.
I am not sure that mainstream media has seen a plus-sized performer like her, garnering viral success while resisting the industry’s pressures to fit a certain mold, along with its expected phenotype.
Her ascension doesn’t come without its hiccups — she is being sued by a delivery service driver whom Lizzo accused of stealing her food and there is a controversy about the songwriting credits for “Truth Hurts.” But even with these sidesteps, it is hard to refute that Lizzo is one of 2019’s musical supernovas.
Lizzo is out here living her truth. And as messy and incomplete as her blueprint may be, she’s encouraging her listeners to lift one another up in a world that is filled with so much toxicity, division, and uncertainty. Yeah, it may only be pop music to some ears, but for the people who follow her on social media and memorize her lyrics, she is something of a talisman, reminding us never to accept second best (I will never ever ever be your side chick), allowing us to explore underdeveloped parts of ourselves (What the f— are f—ing feelings, yo?) and reminding us that we already have the “juice” (I was born like this, don’t even gotta try/ I’m like chardonnay, get better over time), we’ve just got to let it out.
Lizzo’s music was around before the intersecting worlds of body positivity and social media vulnerability made her popular, and hopefully she’ll be around after those trends wane. Either way, she’ll probably have some Grammys to show for it.