Lizzo on Hope, Justice, and the Election | Sunday Observer

Lizzo on Hope, Justice, and the Election

4 October, 2020

In our new world, where travel is no longer advisable and social distancing mandatory, it has been a bit hard to connect with Lizzo. She has been on vocal rest in her home in Los Angeles, while I’m mostly isolated in my house on the East Coast.

When a window of time finally opens, she settles in before the Zoom camera dressed casually, her sweater falling off her shoulders. She looks even more youthful than her 32 years, with her hair in two buns, reminding me of another princess, the fictional Leia from Star Wars.

Both women took on the world and won. For Lizzo, this was not necessarily in our national script; for a Black woman it is never a given. But Lizzo’s script is an updated one. As she sings in Scuse Me: “I don’t need a crown to know that I’m a queen.”

This is not the first time I have encountered the singer. On my birthday last year, my teenage daughter gave me tickets to her concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. She knew I would be ecstatic because every morning, as I pedaled away on my stationary bike, Lizzo’s music filled our home.

Diverse crowds

It had been a long time since I first visited Radio City, on a class trip to see the Rockettes. In my memory, they were a line of leggy white women kicking the air — maybe a woman of colour or two was included, but they are not who I remember. This time, the Black woman onstage would leave an imprint.

As my daughter and I made our way to our seats, we passed through one of the most diverse crowds I have ever seen at a concert: queer men, older than I am, holding hands; suburban-looking women with young girls; people who drove their SUVs through the tunnels or across the bridges, judging from the license plates of the cars blocking the streets outside. All came to see Lizzo — in gold lamé pants with THAT BITCH embroidered down each leg — probably for the same reason my daughter and I did. Her music was a part of our daily lexicon — a means of communicating a myriad of emotions at breakneck speed.

Driving home from the concert, I was struck by the sense that I had experienced something singular. Lizzo is the kind of artist who speaks to multitudes because — in an era of fake news and lying politicians and stressed-out white Americans shouting racist words at stressed-out people of colour — she was committed to positivity. This despite the trolls going after her for her race, her weight, her sexuality. Anyone who could understand what it was like to be targeted felt spoken to by Lizzo. They were seen by Lizzo and were taking her lead to love themselves a little bit harder.

Feels very far away

But when I speak to her in late summer, last year’s gathering at Radio City feels very far away. Though I still do the bike in the morning and Lizzo’s songs still fill our home, we are in the middle of a global pandemic and a new civil rights movement, sparked by a police killing in a city Lizzo lived in not long ago. We are nearing 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the US, and the deaths continue to mount.

“I’m in a hot spot,” she tells me, referring to Los Angeles, where she’s lived since 2016. “I’ve been in my house every single day. I can count on my hands how many times I’ve actually left. I’m fortunate that I am in that position. I really had guilt about that, early on.” She is acutely aware that the lockdown orders can put people in dangerous situations. “A lot of times, staying home isn’t staying safe. There are so many levels to the butterfly effect of this pandemic—not just the sickness but the emotional and mental effects.

That is what keeps me up at night. And that’s what stresses me out.”

What Lizzo has not indicated, at least initially, as one of the stresses of the moment is the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, where her musical career ignited and where many of her friends and colleagues remain. Lizzo knows the streets where Chauvin knelt on Floyd as he called out to his deceased mother. She is familiar with the places where the protests occurred. On Instagram, days after the killing, Lizzo wrote: “Protest is not the end of progress, it is the beginning.” She received almost 300,000 likes and 3,000 comments. Like all conscious Black people, Lizzo says she has “been brokenhearted by this country” since she was a child. “My dad taught me very early on about what being Black in this country is. When I learned about Emmett Till, I was so young. And I have never forgotten his face.”

The formation of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in 2013, after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, was a somewhat hopeful moment; BLM demonstrations seemed to signal that change could occur. But then 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered, and Lizzo shut down. As she describes it to me now, she was thinking, “They don’t actually care. And ‘they’ I don’t know who ‘they’ are.

But I know that they don’t care, because if shit like this is still happening, there has to be a ‘they.’ They don’t care about somebody’s actual life.” The realization in part prompted her to write My Skin, which she released in 2015, just after the Jamar Clark shooting in Minneapolis by police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze. “I woke up in this,” Lizzo sings. “I woke in my skin. I can’t wash it away, so you can’t take it away — my skin. Brown skin.”

 

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