Lizzo on stage anxiety, her identity theft, Harry Styles’ music, and why she can’t be defined

Lizzo on stage anxiety, her identity theft, Harry Styles’ music, and why she can’t be defined

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and Lizzo can’t contain her excitement. EW over Zoom has already heard from her that the yams are calling her name.

One can’t blame the 34-year-old multihyphenate — rapper, singer, flutist, businesswoman — for wanting to indulge in a relaxing holiday. A few days prior, she wrapped up a run of more than two dozen dates on her Special tour, the last two nights of which were filmed in Los Angeles for the HBO Max special Lizzo: Live in Concert (premiering Dec. 31). It’s the culmination of a standout year for her, which also included hosting Saturday Night Live and serving as musical guest, releasing her Emmy-winning reality competition Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, launching her shapewear brand Yitty, releasing her album Special, and unveiling her new documentary Love, Lizzo (now streaming on HBO Max).

The film shows how Melissa Jefferson became an international star, from her roots in Detroit and Houston to her early years in music and her time living in a car, all the way to her breakthrough in Minneapolis. As any respectable artist would, she is quick to thank her fans. However, the title may be a message about her strength and perseverance.

Lizzo speaks to EW about her early years, how she found her voice, how she used it, the reasons she doesn’t want to be defined or labeled, Harry Styles , identity thievery, and the personal breakthroughs she has had from touring.

Lizzo recording ‘About Damn Time,’ as seen in ‘Love, Lizzo’

Lizzo recording ‘About Damn Time,’ as seen in ‘Love, Lizzo’

| Credit: HBO Max

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I want to ask first about the Emmys, which we see a tiny but very important bit of in the documentary. It seemed like you were having an out-of body experience when you viewed the awards. What was your feeling at that moment?

LIZZO: Oh, I was in my body. Every time. Mind you, I’m still getting used to winning awards on camera, on stage. For years, I was not even thought to be nominated. Then for years, I was nominated but I was certain not going to win. And then, after the Grammys, it was like “You gotta start taking awards on stage.” So I make sure I say the best thing in every moment. It’s not about me. Like, I have an audience. It’s always that way. So when I saw the Emmy, I thought, “Oh my gosh, what is the best thing I can say right at this moment?” What message do I need to send to make this moment feel good? I think I was having a conversation with myself and my younger self about what this show meant to me. The award is amazing, but it’s not about the show. It’s about all the girls in the crowd. I made sure I got tickets to every single one of them, even though they weren’t eligible for cast tickets. I thought, “Every girl should be in the show’s crowd!” Every girl should be wearing a gown! And that was something I was thinking about more than anything.

You say in the documentary that during much of your earlier life you were always chasing the music. It’s safe for me to say that this has happened and that you are now at that point. What’s the new goal? What are you chasing right now?

I don’t think it’s ever over. I don’t. Music is not a Grammy. You get what I’m referring to. You know what I mean? A Grammy is an award in music but music is something that has literally given me my voice and confidence. It has taught me how to love myself and others. Music will always be a source of guidance and therapy that I can use constructively. Because music was so important to my life and how it feels, I believe that’s why I chased it. And I think that there’s a new road being paved now that the special is out, especially after the Grammy nominations came out. You might be thinking, “Ooh, where are I going next?” Music is always calling. It is always calling. It’s always calling. I will always answer the call.

Congrats on those Grammy nominations, by the way. In the doc, your mom said that she knew from childhood that you would use your voice for something. Music was the first avenue to use your voice. Do you remember the moment you realized this? Not only as an artist but also as someone with a platform.

Yes, and we touch on that in the doc. There’s a specific moment in time, which I think is just very cinematic of me [laughs], but it’s true: I wrote a song, “My Skin,” and that song really was bigger than me. And I thought, “Oh, this doesn’t feed my ego.” This serves a purpose. This is being used for healing. Even if you don’t get to the healing process. I was tired of making music to please my ego. I wanted music to serve a greater purpose. That song is what I believe it began with.

I remember when the video for that came out and it made headlines. It was more than a moment in pop culture. It had a deeper meaning than its entertainment value.

It’s sweet that you remember that — it was so long ago to me. But I can remember thinking, “I want people that look like myself, larger bodies.” I wanted them to wear shapewear. I wanted them to be vulnerable and have an emotional moment with themselves. And I don’t think we’ve had much representation.

Going back to the beginning of your career with the Cornrow Clique, do you consider yourself a rapper first?

I literally was a rapper first. It’s hard to accept the title of singer because I rejected it for so long. It’s like if you aren’t good at singing and people say, “You’re singing,” or if people call you that and you don’t feel like singing well, one of the most frightening things you can do is sing in front of anyone. You’d probably be embarrassed to sing for me if I asked. You know what I mean? It’s like, I’ve done it. Maybe you could sing, who knows. But I’ve seen enough to know that it is so frightening that I was like, “Yeah, I’m a rapper.” Rapping was my escape because I couldn’t sing.

So I was literally rapping the first. Then, when I made Coconut Oil ,, I started singing more and better. That’s when I realized how far my singing voice could go. After “Truth Hurts”, I was able to gain more confidence as a singer. I was not confident for a while. I am proud to say that I am now a singer. All the people on the internet that have something to say about my music. They want to laugh at me. People are always trying to define who I am. It’s like you can’t. Don’t give up. You won’t lose. You will lose. [Laughs] I am who I want to be. I’m everything. But I was a rapper first. That’s why I can sing the way I do because I know how to rap percussively. My singing skills are unmatched. [Laughs]

You talk about a very rough time in your life when things weren’t going well — sleeping on friends’ couches, sleeping in your car. You specifically mention that you slept in your car on Thanksgiving. Here we are at Thanksgiving. Do those moments bring you back to them often? What kind of place does it hold for you?

Well, the place it holds is trauma. Traumatic experiences are man. They also propelled me and got my out of — I didn’t want to stay there. I had the need to change, to grow, to improve. Although I don’t think about it very often, recently I found myself thinking about it a lot. Recently, I was having this full-circle moment where I was like, wow! I’m in my new house and I’m watching this documentary on my life. It talks about the times when I was sleeping in my car and Thanksgiving. It’s very cyclical, and full-circle. It’s also the first time that I own a house. I love where I live. Two years ago, I lived in an Echo Park apartment with one bedroom and one bathroom. And then I had like a rental house as of December 2019. This is being a grown-up. I feel like I have my big-girl pants on, and this is a new space for me. I feel safe in the space I’m occupying. It’s a huge deal. It’s worth celebrating.

You mentioned your house. Is it true that your house was built on the property Harry Styles once owned?

[Eating a cookie, laughs] No comment.

My understanding is it’s not the same house, but just the same property, which is kind of —

Harry’s House is a great album.

It is indeed, isn’t it? It’s funny, though, because you play his song “Falling” in the doc. I think it’s one of his best songs and one of my favorite — his vocals are so vulnerable. But I must admit, I feel like he was an unrecognized character in this story.

I know. Harry, that was a big moment. On one side I’m having a really bad day and on the other you can see the power of music. You do. It’s amazing how music has such a visceral effect on me. The funny part was at the end, when I was saying, “Music is so powerful,” while Alex, my makeup artist, said, “You should really attend a Lizzo show.” [Laughs] And I just think that that’s like such a real moment, you know? It’s like I can’t, that’s impossible. But just to show how much music transforms lives and how my music affects the feelings of fans, that’s how I felt about Harry Styles’ song. It’s something I feel too. I’m there too.

Well you’re going to experience a Lizzo concert when you’re watching that special back during the edits.

I’m gonna love it. [Laughs]

Lizzo in ‘Love, Lizzo’

Lizzo in ‘Love, Lizzo’

| Credit: HBO Max

Okay, so someone stole your identity? Did you find the thief? Please tell me that you did.

I didn’t. It’s not clear who it was. I had two IDs. I don’t even know what that was. It’s too scary to even consider it. Why won’t they …?? Because mind you, my side of the identity was kind of dirty too [laughs] — I had to clean that part up too, honey. After I had cleaned up that part, I thought, “Wait! What else do I need to do?” Then I discovered that there was another Melissa Jefferson who was reckless. So, I don’t know the identity of it. Unsolved mystery. [Laughs] But I have a driver’s license.

That’s a whole other documentary. You also talk about backlash and people saying you and your music aren’t Black enough. Is this a stigma in pop music? Pop music can seem so white-feeling that people assume you cater to a certain demographic.

Absolutely. Genres are racist inherently. If people did some research, they would find that there was both pop music and race music. They used race music to keep Black artists out of mainstream music because they didn’t want their children listening to music made by Black and brown people. These genres were almost code words: R&B and then, eventually, hip-hop and the rap genres. I think when you think about pop, you think about MTV in the ’80s talking about “We can’t play rap music” or “We can’t put this person on our platform because we’re thinking about what people in the middle of America think” — and we all know what that’s code for.

So yes, because of that — fast-forward to 2022 — we have this well-oiled pop machine, but remember that it has a racist origin. The coolest thing I’ve ever seen is hip-hop artists becoming pop. Pop music is now rap in its DNA. Rap is running the show, and that’s what I think is so cool. But we forget that in the late ’80s and the early ’90s, there were these massive pop diva records that were sang by Black women like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey. I give that same energy. I give that same energy, but with a little bit more rap. People just have to get to know me. People will criticize anything new and feel it’s not right for them. Once you understand what it is, it may be for you. I know a friend who doesn’t like avocado but loves guacamole. People who don’t like pop music or don’t like Black artists making pop music might eventually find me appealing. They might find me guacamole. You have to get used to me. I’m good —.. You missing out. [Laughs]

Lizzo performs at Radio City Music Hall in 2019, as seen in ‘Love, Lizzo’

Lizzo performs at Radio City Music Hall in 2019, as seen in ‘Love, Lizzo’

| Credit: HBO Max

That’s why I can’t wait for people to see your concert special, because all the No. You do so much more than just the No. 1 hits. You put on a great show. The last question I have is: I believe it was towards the end of the show, when you spoke to the audience and said that you hoped we would spread the positivity and love that we felt in the arena. My question is: What are you taking away from that tour and that arena into the world?

Hmm. I think I’m taking… I made great breakthroughs in my personal and professional life on this tour. I have dealt with anxiety in the past, especially on stage. I believe that I have been actively healing that by having honest conversations with my audience. I believe that this tour has helped me become the person I am and the responsibility I have taken to improve myself personally. This tour has supported that. There were many things I felt like I could do better. I could take better care of my voice. Let’s start with the basics. Number one, I wasn’t doing vocal warmups or cooldowns. None of this. I didn’t think about it, and it wasn’t like I was doing something. It was a huge lesson to me to treat my instrument as well as my flutes. I have experienced a lot of personal growth through this tour. But let’s not go into detail. I have taken better care of myself and have really healed myself during this tour.

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