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Cuz we love her: in conversation with LIZZO

The queen of self-love talks flute camp, trolling the trolls, and working with Missy Elliott.

She seems to have gone from 0 to 100 in a second, and that includes dethroning Beyoncé from the number 1 spot in the American album charts. But the truth is, Melissa Viviane Jefferson has devoted every single moment of the past 31 years to getting where she is today, from shaking up the world’s biggest stages, to (t)werking her flute in viral videos, or rocking the red carpet of the Met Gala and boarding her morning-after flight in the same opulent Marc Jacobs feathers. All hail LIZZO, the equal-parts fun- and foul-mouthed artist setting new standards in hip hop and beyond. Rapper, vocalist, songwriter, director… whatever it is that LIZZO does, her whole being speaks of a deep, beautiful and infectious self-love. It is this unapologetic charisma that allows this new-born superstar to bend, break and rewrite all possible rules. Glamcult met LIZZO just moments before the release of Cuz I Love You—and God, do we love her.

LIZZO, so nice to meet you! I brought you the latest issues of Glamcult…

Whoa, Devonté! Oh my God, SOPHIE! This is amazing, fuck me right up. Jesus, these photos are gorgeous—why don’t you put my naked ass on the cover?

I wish we had the time… Anyway, where to start this interview? Today I was thinking about how I got to know your music, and realized in one of the early issues of Glamcult there was a review of your first album, Lizzobangers.

Oh my God, spill the tea! What did it say?

“If you’re listening to this album and it doesn’t do anything for you, you should go sit in a corner and ask yourself why.”

Yasssss! Yasssss, Amsterdam. [Laughs]

But it also said: “Lizzo is treading in the footsteps of Missy Elliott.”

Oh my God, goose bumps! Damn, that makes me feel good about that little fucking tape.

Last night I was enjoying the video for Cuz I Love You, and the first thing that struck me is the power of your vocals. Can you tell me how your voice has developed over the years?

Yikes, I think performing live has really helped. I heard SZA say something very similar; when she was performing on her albums her voice was a little more falsetto, but on stage she found her full voice. I think it was the same for me, the difference being that I was always really loud on stage but on my album I was very controlled. People would come to my shows and say, “I really like your albums, but you’re better live.” And I’d be like, “What the fuck, why?” I don’t think I’ve ever been able to capture that wild, raw vocal on an album—until now. I think it took years of working on having control of my voice instead of my voice controlling me. And I think being able to sing Cuz I Love You right now on this chair, on a stage in front of hundreds of people—well, thousands now—took a lot of work. I don’t think I would have been able to do that before. It’s a mental thing, to be honest. Singing is very mental; everyone can sing, you just have to believe you can.

I can imagine for a lot of people performing live is scarier than singing in the studio.

Yeah, all my shit’s always been real backwards… [Laughs]

Who or what does the new album title refer to?

The song refers to me! I think that I really just discovered by doing these interviews that Cuz I Love You was written in a window of time where I actually believed that I was in love, that I was going to be in love with someone, and they were going to be in love with me. I think that’s a very manic window to be in; there’s a fine line between being crazy and happy in love. Of course that window was very short and it closed. Instead of writing a song about that person, I kinda celebrated the fact that I was able to be so vulnerable and ready. I don’t think I’ve ever in my entire life been at that point. I’ve been very closed up; I’ve been very defensive. And this song was a celebration of the fact that I was able to tear that wall down. I’m crying and being vulnerable—but I love you, and I’m telling you that I love you. That’s such a strong statement to make. I realized that when I’m singing that song, I’m looking in the mirror and being vulnerable with myself. And when I’m singing that song, I’m looking out to all the people that have supported me so far. I’m being vulnerable with them… it’s not about a fucking boy! [Laughs] Well, it was inspired by a boy. Good for him.

You’ve mentioned before that when people tell you, “I’ve just discovered your music,” you think, “I’ve always been making music, you’re the one who’s late to the party!” Now that you’re doing huge shows all over the world, how do you feel about this?

I’m still getting discovered on a daily basis. Every fucking day someone is like, “I just heard about you today!” [Screams] How? How? I did Dutch radio this morning and someone tweeted, “What is LIZZO?” Damn, what am I? I don’t know. I think I’m always going to be discovered by somebody and that’s great because every day is a new opportunity to gain a new fan. But at the same time I’m like, “Lord, that’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of ‘Intro to LIZZO’ interviews.”

I hope the slow build-up is worth it in the end.

At least I’ll have a career, goddamnit! [Laughs]

I’m sure everybody already asked this question but… let’s talk about your collab with Missy (which Glamcult predicted a long time ago!).

It’s really cool your review said that; here I am and I have a song with her. I definitely was influenced by Missy Elliott —maybe not stylistically but in terms of energy, what I’m capable of… singing, rapping, dancing, producing, creative directing. I will say that working with her… when this music video is out, I’ll have the answers for everybody because I still cannot believe it. It’s very surreal to me, and I’m not saying this in a cute way. I’m like, “What timeline am I in? I’m in the studio with Missy Elliott?” I imagined being on set with her and shooting a music video with her, and I really got emotional. I needed to step back away from it because I needed to experience it while actually there. You have heroes, and then you make songs with your heroes—and they’re really good songs!

One of the most “LIZZO” musical elements is the flute. When did you start playing it and when did you decide that you could use the flute in your music today?

I remember when nobody knew I played the flute, and now everybody is like, “Do you have any other special skills?” [Laughs] Well, to answer your question: I started playing flute in school, like everybody who went to school and joined a band in fifth grade. I played the recorder in fourth grade. Nobody knows—you got the scoop on that! In fifth grade we upgraded to a real band and I got chosen to play the flute. I was pretty obsessed with flute; I played in state competitions, I went to Floot Fire—

What the hell is Floot Fire?

Flute camp! Every year we’d just go off , I’d go to band camp on my own. I’d ask my mum, “Please, do we have enough money to send me to band camp?” I wanted to go to Amarillo, Texas, and play Star Wars with a symphony. [Laughs] I was obsessed and it was my dream to be a concert flutist. But when I went to college, rapping was sexier to me. I think that I’ve always brought the flute with me on this journey. I played flute in my rock band and there were di erent groups where I brought it in. No one knew that, though, I just played it. And then all of a sudden a viral video happened—and now it’s part of my identity. The flute would always have been there, whether I was playing samples or, you know, hitting the “flute and shoot” on stage. There’s always been a place for flute in hip hop. I mean, Dilla used flute samples a shit ton. The biggest rap songs have flute samples. Future and Metro Boomin love flute samples. So… flute is hip hop! Don’t nobody play it, but I do.

I understand you weren’t allowed to listen to secular music while growing up. When did you first discover music outside of religious songs?

I grew up in Detroit with all my cousins, grandparents and great grandparents—everybody. We had a big family church. Every Sunday we’d go to this temple and anything else was the devil! Going to the movies, going to baseball games, listening to secular music… When my immediate family (my mum, dad, sister and brother) moved down to Houston, it was less strict because we no longer had a family church to answer to. And so I was able to discover rap through the radio. I would listen to the hip-hop station in Houston all the time. I’d do the freestyle Fridays. You know, I remember kids on the bus singing rap songs and I’d be like, “What’s that?” When I’d discover what it was, I’d think, “That’s Big Pimpin!” [Laughs] You know what I’m saying, I had no choice… there’s so much rap in Houston! It’s embedded in the culture, impossible to avoid.

About the music you grew up with, especially gospel music. How did that shape you? Does it still shape you?

Yes, I think you’ll hear a lot of gospel music on my new album too. The soul in this music comes from a special, sacred place. It comes from rejoicing and from sadness. I think that’s what I got from gospel. Rejoicing when you’re so sad—that’s the heart of it. Black Americans, when we were enslaved, we used that moment on Sundays to shout and sing because we were so grateful for life. We had so much darkness, but that spirit carried on. Through my ancestors I’m singing songs of joy from sadness.

And where does that irreverent side of you come from?

Hmmmm, I don’t know when I became risqué! [Laughs] But I really have developed into a risqué person. I never ever wanted to be sacrilegious and I don’t think that I am; I’m very respectful. But I think there’s a little tongue-in-cheek undertone to everything that I do. I think it’s my sense of humour, I just think shit is funny (and sometimes I think certain shit is funny that maybe isn’t appropriate). We like to bring a lot of humour into our visuals, into the music… I have a very dirty mouth in music! I don’t really have a dirty mouth around my family. I think it’s a rebelliousness that happens. You know, okay, my mum’s not around, “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” That’s little me. When I was little, I’d get in trouble for that. You know, you’d have to eat soap and get your ass beat. I’m definitely letting it out now.

Does your family listen to your music?

They do! It’s finally good enough for them to hear. [Laughs]

Your whole essence speaks of so much self- love. Today, what do you consider the key ingredient to keeping up this love for yourself?

That’s a good question; no one has really asked me that. I thought I heard it all, bitch, you win! [Laughs] What’s the key ingredient to keeping up love for myself? Shit. You know what, it’s the ability to be honest about my own ability. I was going to say “honesty” and I’ve always been very honest, but I’ve also always been dishonest about my vulnerability. When I want to cry I don’t allow myself to cry. If I’m upset I don’t allow myself to be upset immediately—I have to process my anger and turn it into words so I can articulate it without hurting nobody’s feelings. So I think being honest about those moments… I think anger is vulnerable as well, as much as sadness, and learning how to be honest about my vulnerability is a big deal. Instead of being, like, “I’m good!” and not talking to anybody for two weeks. I think that’s really important. We have to let ourselves be more vulnerable and be honest about it when we’re communicating with people who care about us because they’re gonna help us love ourselves. You can love yourself the best in the world, but if that’s not built into the DNA of the people around you, what good is it gonna do?

When you communicate this message to the world, which you’re doing in an amazing way, there might be moments when the world isn’t ready for it or not willing to accept it. How do you deal with those moments? For instance, when you get hateful social media comments?

You know, they’ve said the worst things. I’ve read comments and it affects me for a second—it’s like a little bee sting. But then you delete the comment and keep it pushing. The thing that hurts more is backlash from people who looked up to you and say, “I’m so disappointed in you, how dare you?” When you get waves of that in your comments, that’s different. I think that is more of an, “Oh shit, I’ve shifted the energy in the way that people respond to me. Why? What is happening? Why am I perceiving a new kind of energy, what can I do and what can I learn from it?” Those are the kind of comments I care about more. I don’t care about the, “Ew, what are you doing? Is that the best thing for your health?” I don’t care about those people. They can fucking eat shit and die. They can kiss my ass. Actually, they can kiss my ass after eating shit. Wow, this insult is going very wrong—let’s move on! [Laughs]

Ha-ha. Speaking of social media though… this has become such a huge part of being an artist today. How do you approach it? Do you have a standard for things you post and don’t post or is it all very natural?

If it’s popping, I’ll post it—that’s it! I have a gut feeling about social media. I remember the first post where I was playing the flute and twerking to A$AP Rocky. I was like, “I have to do this video. Lauren, you have to film me!” We were on tour and the first night I tried it, it didn’t work. So I was like, “I gotta get this video!” I felt this burning urge in my stomach, this intuition. We filmed it again and posted it— that was the first video that went viral. A$AP Rocky DM’ed me, we tweeted, it was a whole thing… With social media I’ve learned that it’s not just pictures, it’s not just the internet; it’s an actual social tunnel or something to the world. It’s a tunnel from my stomach to the world. [Laughs] It feels like an organ in my body connecting all these people at once. The way that the culture is moving right now is so driven by that—more so than by a song, a newspaper, or anything else. I enjoy it but I definitely have this weird feeling about it, this psychic inclination. At the end of the day I’ll just be posting what I feel like.

As you’re getting more and more famous, do you still communicate with your fans?

Yeah, I’ll be tweeting them motherfuckers. It’s fun and interesting to see how they react. I gotta work on not responding to the negative people because I’ll have the best comebacks for them. There was this one dude who said, “That’s the worst performance I’ve ever heard, she doesn’t have the range to sing that song.” And I was like, “Guys, we gotta do something about the crack epidemic!” I like trolling trolls, but I also realize it’s unfair to show attention to negative people; I need to show equal attention to the positive comments. Every time I do—and I can’t wait to clap back at somebody, it’s my favourite thing—I remind myself I have to do five positive responses for each clapback. Just to balance out the energy.

That’s a solid strategy. Something I found out through your Instagram account is that our last cover star, Mykki Blanco, is one of your fans! Are you a fan of Mykki as well?

Of course, I love Mykki. A pioneer!

Would you consider working with him?

Yeah, I’d work with everybody I like. But it’s gotta be the right song and the right time. I think this collab culture is starting where somebody favourites my tweets and people will scream, “Collab!!!!” I’m like, “Bitch, they just favourited my tweet. That don’t mean we have chemistry in the studio and we can write a popping-ass song.” That being said, Mykki’s popping and I would fucking work with him. I’ll work with anyone I’m a fucking fan of. The way that I do music is: I have to make sure it feels very natural—it has to happen, it has to be good. I don’t like just being sent songs and sending verses out. No, how do we feel about each other? Does this make sense? Does the world need this? But give me a check, bitch, and I might change my tune! [Laughs] Just kidding…

I have an important last question and it refers to something you said about “making things happen” in a previous interview. You—and Jesus— said: “You just gotta ask, and you’ll receive.” What is something you’re still asking for?

I guess I’m asking for a few things. I think that my career is going really well and I’m really excited about that. My relationships are going very well, and I’ve been working very hard to have balanced friendships, family-ships and work- ships. But I’m definitely curious about what romantic love looks like for me… I have yet to fully experience the spectrum of it. Yeah, I think that’s what the next chapter is going to be about.

Words by Leendert Sonnevelt
Artworks by Safae Gounane

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