It’s hard to believe anyone would deny the link between politics and art; the blurry line that exists between self-expression and commentary on the factors that shaped that self.
With his love yourself anthem i, Kendrick Lamar has brought the honest experience of what being a black man means back to the forefront of public discussion; with a new intensity due to the Black Lives Matter movement and increasing racial tension in the US. Likewise, Beyonce’s acclaimed album Lemonade brings the words of Warsan Shire and Malcolm X together against the trauma of infidelity and loss. In the video to ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, the singer poses defiantly against the voiceover, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman”.
But I’m sure you’re familiar with both these artists, so I’d like to introduce you to a new one.
Pioneer of the body positivity cause, Lizzo is a singer and rapper who has been preaching the value of self-love and self-care since 2013, with her debut album Lizzobangers.
She has the kind of effortless coolness that makes you want to be her friend, before her songs even reach the chorus. Bold, comedic iconography, like in the ‘Scuse Me’ video, with its juxtaposition of an enthused pastor preaching to his church, while Lizzo mouths “Feelin’ like a stripper when I’m lookin’ in the mirror, I’ll be slappin’ on that ass getting’ thicker and thicker” to the camera. Not too different from Nicki Minaj, Lizzo’s art is in her vernacular, in her own way and under her control. And she uses this to convey the very simple message; she loves herself, and we should follow suit.
Lizzo’s album Big GRRRL Small World doesn’t just tell us why we should think about giving the self-depreciation a break. It reminds us of her own unique position and experience as a black woman in America, as this is after all her story. The aggressive ‘Ain’t I’ dismisses not just white boys in general but the legacy which many come from and benefit from. What begins with the sound of static against a repetitive thumping beat, transcends into a distant piano interlude, as Lizzo’s quick word play “What was Russia without the czars? What was Henry Ford without the cars?” soon delves into the issue of reparations, and with it, all the lingering injustices from the past still faced by African Americans.
If talented and creative wasn’t enough, Lizzo, which is a stage name for the woman commonly known as Melissa Jefferson, is clever. Sampling the speech given by former slave Sojurner Truth, way back in 1827, Lizzo’s shouts of “Ain’t I a Woman?” connects the dots between the treatment of black woman today and their historical position in society. Not so much an example of Malcolm X’s words but rather an affirmation. Here, this artist shows an awareness of history that not too many care to ponder on. Yet, Lizzo interweaves this with her fast rapping, slow melodies and steady beats, creating a piece of art that goes beyond an individual’s self-expression, while at the same time remaining Lizzo’s own personal story and message.
If these weren’t enough reasons for why you should listen to this innovative hip-hop artist, there is still more (I know, right). The embracing of female sexuality, openly and honestly, paves the way for Lizzo as a feminist voice amidst the dominance of patriarchy in the music industry, with her 70s feel, soul infused song ‘Good As Hell’ not just rejecting the male gaze but taking it out of the equation completely. The feminine lyrics of the joy of having your hair and nails done is an ode to female past times and pleasures; a direct contradiction to the stereotypes of the rap genre itself, which still repeatedly uses misogynoir in its lyrics. The gospel element of Lizzo’s backing vocals in this track elevates how and why women indulge in self-care. Instead of dismissing a trip to the nail salon as frivolous or superficial, Lizzo celebrates its place as confidence building exercise, all the while directly addressing her audience “If he don’t love you anymore, just walk your fine ass out the door” with a no nonsense attitude towards how we should treat and view ourselves.
With songs filled so much with empowerment and joy, combined with Lizzo’s own success as a writer and performer, it’s not hard to see why Vogue described her as “the rising musician who’s starting a body-confidence revolution”. As an unapologetic fat black woman, Lizzo described her aim as being to “put women who look like me in the mainstream, I want that visibility and fairness” and “That message of being comfortable in my own skin is number one for me”. With this kind of uplifting message, Lizzo is not an artist exclusively for black women, or fat women. She could be the role model for either, the combination of these groups, or a person removed from the artist’s own experience entirely, because her music has the simple message of the importance of self-love.
Words by Nicola Smyth
Words by Nicola Smyth