Lizzo soars Profile: After years of performing with groups, the musician goes solo

Lizzo (Photo Courtesy of Lizzo)

Minneapolis-based musician Lizzo defies genre. Her music is electro-dance pop, hip-hop, and rap. It borrows from ’60s girl group melodies, ’90s hip-hop, and gospel music. Her genre fluctuates between songs, and sometimes changes mid-track. 

Her flexibility could be credited to growing up in a multimedia generation. She says, “Right now I have a very young mind. I live day by day, week by week, you know? I just want to make better music.” 

In addition, Lizzo feels that being inundated with media as a kid in the ’90s influenced her style and relationship to music. “I don’t remember listening to music outside of Destiny’s Child and Ludicris, but I have all these influences from the music that my sister listened to,” she says. 

Looking back, she’s aware of how artists like Bjork, Radiohead and N*SYNC all helped shape her. Lizzo’s newest solo album, “Big GRRRL Small World,” includes effervescent, twinkling melodies alongside crisp lyrics and execution. Combined with her exploration of genre, her music seems timeless, edgy and current all at once. 

Lizzo recently took flight as a solo artist, and she’s soaring. She signed with Atlantic Records and crafted a radio-ready single, “Good as Hell,” for the movie “Barbershop: The Next Cut.” She is quickly becoming a force on the national scene. 

Musical path

Born in Detroit, Lizzo moved with her family to Houston when she was 10 years old. Her family was very musical and she listened to a lot of gospel music growing up, which influenced her as a singer and musician. Her first introduction to musical education was through flute lessons, and she credits her flute teachers for mentoring her as a young musician. 

“I was really untrained and wild,” Lizzo says. “I played really fast and really good, but they taught me patience.” 

In particular, her teacher Sydney Carlson, who worked with her in high school and college, supported and encouraged Lizzo, teaching her discipline. “A lot of what I learned in flute I carried on into [my] music,” she says. Lizzo went on to study music performance at the University of Houston on a full scholarship. 

In 2011, Lizzo moved to Minneapolis, where she played with a variety of bands, groups and duos, such as The Chalice, Grrrl Prty, The Clerb, and Absynthe. She began to get recognition not only locally, but nationally as well. She was named an artist to watch by Time Magazine in 2014, and has appeared on late night talk shows. 

In 2013 she released her debut solo album, “Lizzobangers,” a bold statement that established her as a formidable force as an artist and performer. The track “W.E.R.K. Pt. II” includes a lyric that became the title for her newest album and lays the groundwork for the stronger language of advocacy for concepts like body positivity on “Big GRRRL Small World.”

Sharing the stage

Though she loves the artistic freedom making solo music, Lizzo prefers to share the stage with others, whether that means having back-up dancers or people who help rev up the crowd. She has even made her creative director and tour manager get up on stage and jump around with her. “I just like the energy of having more things to look at,” she says. “There’s more for the audience to participate in.” 

She’s been shaping her personal message to become more focused with her lyrics. In earlier work, she brought up issues such as body positivity into her work, but it was often in a conversational way. “It just wasn’t as concise, because I didn’t know that I was doing that,” she says. 

As she began to get more attention, Lizzo noticed people started to describe her as an activist. “People start telling me, ‘Oh, did you know that you’re body positive? Oh, did you know that you’re an activist?'” she says. “I am a woman, and I am black and I am a big girl. I’m not just going to put my nose in the sand and try to ignore who I am.” 

Her songs like “Good as Hell” and “En Love” focus on taking pride in her appearance – and send a clear message of acceptance and the embrace of self-love. 

Besides the love of making her music, Lizzo’s success has allowed her to take care of her friends and family in a way she feels good about. “There have been moments in my life where I’m proud that I’m able to do those things, but I’m not settled yet,” she says. “I don’t think I’m there. Call me in a year or so, maybe we’ll be there.” 

FFI: www.lizzomusic.com