Even if you’ve never heard of Lizzo, you’ve probably at least heard Lizzo.
Around this time last year, the singer, who also raps and plays the flute (we’ll get back to that in a minute), established a ubiquitous presence in commercials and TV/movie trailers. Listen to her music, and it’s easy to see why — her songs are catchy and self-assured, blending thumping bass and gospel riffs into infectious tracks that are undeniably hers. The Detroit native, who grew up in Houston, has described her music as “church with a twerk.”
Lizzo, born Melissa Viviane Jefferson, has been an underground sensation for years. She performed in indie hip-hop groups before releasing her debut album, “Lizzobangers,” in 2013, followed by another indie release and several EPs. But she’s courting mainstream success with her latest album, “Cuz I Love You,” released Friday on Atlantic, a showstopping Coachella run and an ever-expanding catalogue of songs that speak perfectly to everything from a Netflix rom-com to a line of sparkling cocktails.
Lizzo is, as they say, having a moment. She just announced a second leg of her tour, dubbed “Cuz I Love You Too,” to support her major-label debut. (She will play a sold-out show at Washington’s 9:30 club next month and will return in September for a stop at the Anthem.)
Lizzo’s songs feel like instant song-of-the-summer contenders. Her confidence is contagious. “If I’m shinin', everybody gonna shine,” she declares on “Juice,” the joyful lead single on “Cuz I Love You.” In “Tempo,” a club banger featuring Missy Elliott, Lizzo asserts that slow songs aren’t worthy of her curves. “Can’t move all of this here to one of those,” she purrs.
Her lyrics are often playful, but that doesn’t mean she lacks musical chops. She’s been playing the flute since she was 10 and has worked the classical instrument into her music and stage presence. She’s a band geek at heart, having played in marching bands from middle school to the University of Houston, where she majored in classical flute performance.
“Juice” delightfully gave way to a parody of “Anchorman’s” legendary jazz flute scene.
Many of the songs that have popped into our collective atmosphere predate “Cuz I Love You.” Lizzo lends her 2017 breakup single “Truth Hurts,” to a memorable scene in Netflix’s new rom-com “Someone Great,” starring “Jane the Virgin’s” Gina Rodriguez.
Lizzo’s 2016 extended play, “Coconut Oil,” spawned at least two songs that went into heavy rotation. Her self-love anthem, “Good as Hell,” first featured in “Barbershop: The Next Cut,” was later heard in “A Bad Moms Christmas” and “I Feel Pretty.” A few months ago, Weight Watchers featured the soulful “Worship” in a campaign announcing the brand’s revamp as WW. (Cadillac has also used the song.)
Lizzo, who has been a champion of body positivity, drew some flak for the Weight Watchers ad. (“I made a commitment to feel-good music. I had to show my belly a lot of attention, a lot of love,” she told the New York Times last year.) Some fans were irked to hear Lizzo’s music being used to promote a brand built around dieting. She addressed the backlash in candid Instagram Live videos and recently called it “a learning experience.”
Lizzo’s body is the centerpiece of her new album’s cover, which features the singer nude, her long black hair cascading down her back. In a recent video, posted to her social media accounts, she smooches a cake version of herself in the stripped-down pose.
She has been open about the times she wasn’t so confident. Her father died in 2010, throwing the singer, then 21, into a deep depression. He had been her music’s biggest champion, and his death almost led her to quit. “I was like ‘I have no reason to do this anymore because I was doing it for him,’ " Lizzo recently told Trevor Noah. “But then I realized I have to do this for myself, because he was doing it for me.”
Lizzo says she is also doing it for her fans. “I can’t wake up one day and not be black. I can’t wake up one day and not be a woman. I can’t wake up one day and not be fat," she said in a Teen Vogue interview last year. "I always had those three things against me in this world, and because I fight for myself, I have to fight for everyone else.”
And she remains determined to share her music — and message — with the world. Over the weekend, as her Coachella set suffered from ongoing technical issues, she took matters into her own hands, performing “Juice” a cappella.
At one point, she reached for her flute. “If they ain’t gonna get the music right, I’m gonna get the music right,” she reportedly told the crowd.