Lizzo Covers Vogue, Talks Election, Justice & Body Positivity
Lizzo covers the October issue of Vogue where she discusses justice, the election, body positivity and life in quarantine. Photographed by the legendary Hype Williams and written by Claudia Rankine the breakout star gets real about the elephants in the room and her white appeal.
When I share with her my initial surprise and delight with the diversity of her audience, she reassures me I am not the only one who feels this way. Early in her career, Lizzo says, she was told by music-industry executives, “You can’t go white to Black. But you can go from Black to white.” Her response: “‘Well, I’m a Black woman. So I can do just about anything I want to do.’ How dare these people sit up and tell me who my music is going to appeal to or not?” In part owing to the music scene in Minneapolis—dominated by indie rock and Prince, rest in peace—Lizzo’s early audiences were predominantly younger, white crowds. In 2015, she opened for Louisville rock band My Morning Jacket. “Lotta white feminists,” she says of her early crowds.
Now Lizzo is the recipient not only of Grammys and Queerty awards but also NAACP Image Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, and BET Awards. “When I go hiking or whatever,” Lizzo tells me, “it’s Black girls being like, ‘I like your music.’ ‘Hey, that’s Lizzo.’” These Black fans confirm for Lizzo what she already knows, that she’s “a Black woman making music from a Black experience”—and that her message can speak to anyone. Suddenly Lizzo’s usual unflappable confidence gives way to genuine disbelief: “I never thought that I would have…I guess you could call it ‘crossover appeal.’” I can’t help but grin back at her.
Lizzo tells me about her childhood, and it’s ordinary in the best ways. Melissa Viviane Jefferson was born in 1988 in Detroit during rush hour. Like her idol Aretha Franklin, she grew up with gospel music in the church. When she was nine, her family moved to Houston, where she took up the flute and joined the marching band. (Lizzo’s now-famous flute is known affectionately as Sasha, after Beyoncé’s alter ego, Sasha Fierce, and resides in a Swarovski-crystal case in her home.)
Houston was also where Lizzo began free-styling, in school and on the school bus. Band music, Destiny’s Child, and rapper Little Flip offered Lizzo her first sense of ownership over music. “Beyoncé had a major impact on me,” she says now, “as an artist, period. She is the definition of work ethic.” Lizzo was also encouraged by Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot; both began as rappers—like Lizzo—and neither fit the mold of other popular female performers. They were, Lizzo explains, “women who looked like me and who were successful in the ways I wanted to be successful. I was like, ‘Okay. I can be confident and look this way.’ You know?”
Malcolm X famously said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in American is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” He meant thin or fat, tall or short, big or small, citizen or undocumented, senator or vice president—and so I have one last question for Lizzo regarding how she feels about our Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris. I am thinking about the avalanche of disrespect Harris will have to negotiate as a woman and as a woman of color.
“Having a Black woman as vice president would be great,” Lizzo says, “because I’m just always rooting for Black people. But I want actual change to happen…in the laws. And not just on the outside, you know? Not a temporary fix to a deep-rooted, systemic issue. A lot of times I feel like we get distracted by the veneer of things. If things appear to be better, but they’re not actually better, we lose our sense of protest.” She makes sure to mention Breonna Taylor and Sandra Bland and all the women who, inadvertently or not, often get dropped from the conversation: “We need to talk about the women.”
Read the full Lizzo Vogue feature here.
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