It’s not every day your live show is compared to the likes of Tina Turner and Beyoncé, but Minneapolis-based rapper Lizzo is truly a force to be reckoned with. Since making her debut in 2013 with the debut album LIZZOBANGERS, she’s been earning international acclaim, playing huge festivals like SXSW and Glastonbury, and making a number of high profile talk show appearances on The Real and Late Night with Stephen Colbert.
This year, Lizzo followed her sophomore album, 2015’s Big Grrrl Small World, with her latest EP Coconut Oil, her debut release on Atlantic Records. Between the affirming messages of self-love on “Good As Hell” and care-free club bangers like “Phone,” the rapper creates a space for women of all shapes and sizes to be beautiful, delivering personal-political statements that uplift her fans, whilst keeping the party bumping at every turn.
Ahead of her upcoming Toronto show at the Velvet Underground, we caught up with Lizzo to discuss the new EP, self-love, and her upcoming tour.
Read the Q&A and check out the tour dates after the jump.
How did playing in girl groups early on help shape your solo career?
Being in groups taught me how to share a stage and taught me how to collaborate. My solo career is all about collaboration. I never wanted to do anything strictly on my own, but as Lizzo the solo artist, I kind of feel like a band because all of the women that I tour with and perform on stage with are all just as important, so it still feels like I’m in a group. I always try to keep that mentality because I’ll always have my collectives and girl bands.
Is it hard breaking out in a smaller city when you’re first starting out?
I know some people think about that, but I definitely wasn’t when I first started out. I think it’s easier in a smaller city though. You can make a living and tour much easier being a musician in a smaller city. I think you only travel to the bigger cities in order to move further in the industry. The beauty of moving to Minneapolis and starting off as a musician there is I was able to establish myself pretty quickly. When I decided to take the next step, the universe brought me to L.A. to start visiting, to work on my record and then one day I kind of just stayed here. I think that the best artists kind of go with the flow, but it’s definitely easier to be a gigging musician living somewhere like Minneapolis.
You’ve played a lot of big music festivals recently. Any favorite experiences?
I’d have to say the most fun I’ve had was when I played Glastonbury. That was really fun! Playing festivals is cool because there are so many great afterparties.
Lizzo performs live on “Sway SXSW Takeover”
Tell us about your new EP Coconut Oil. How did your writing style change on this release?
With LIZZOBANGERS, a lot of those lyrics are referenced from journals and on Big Grrrl Small World, a lot of those lyrics are referenced from notes on a cellphone. When I wrote Coconut Oil, I created a lot of those songs in the studio, almost freestyling. A lot of the songs are complete freestyles. I made the song “Phone” in 15 minutes. A lot of the songs came off the top of my head, so it feels less complicated, but the subject matter carries the same weight.
Do you have a funny story about your song “Phone”? Have you ever lost one?
I couldn’t find my phone last night after I performed. I’m always losing my phone and the song came from an incident where my phone was stolen from the club. We ended up having to fight these girls because one of them stole my phone, so it’s kind of relatable and people can feel me on this because someone always loses their phone.
“Phone” music video
How do you strike that balance between delivering serious social and political messages, while keeping that fun, upbeat energy in your music?
I think that’s because it’s my personality. I’m never too serious. Even on my show Wonderland on MTV, we can be talking about something like the presidential debate, but I can still talk about it and joke around. There are some artists who are very lighthearted or very serious and their music is a reflection of that. I’ve always been the type of person to be able to filter in my politics into conversations so that you know where I stand on things. It’s never force-fed. I just think my natural personality comes out in my music.
Who are women in the industry that have influenced the way you convey self-love and black female empowerment in your sound over the years?
There were a lot of women in the ‘90s I looked up to who were body positive, but their expression of body positivity was taken in a negative light. Lil Kim is a good example of that. Her sexuality and her feminism were so bold. I think she and Trina were the baddest. We had to be harder as black women in the ‘90s to be able to cut through misogyny in hip-hop. These days it’s still the same message, but now we’re living and making music in an internet age where misogyny is called out. Those women are very important to me because I think if any black woman can make it this far in the industry, she is practicing self-love to a certain extent. It’s not easy for us, man. We have to fight for a lot.
“Good as Hell” music video
Even with the mainstream praise of Beyoncé, black women of other body-types are still disrespected and not celebrated for their work. How important is it create visibility for other curvier women and be an advocate for them?
I think the things I choose to wear, the pictures I choose to post, and the language I choose to use are all body positive without having to explicitly say “you have to be body positive.” I think it’s really good to have someone like Beyoncé to look up to onstage, but I also think it’s important to have someone like a Gabby Sidibe to look up to. I just feel like I’m a Lizzo for some girls to look up to because it feels obvious to them. The representation for women like us exist, it just depends on where and how you see it.
What’s it like being a judge on MTV’s Wonderland?
It’s been really, really, fun! I’ve never been a television host before and I think that’s why MTV chose me. I am just having a blast. It’s been really cool connecting with the artists that come on the show. I’ve connected with Lil John, Joey Badass, JoJo, Travis Barker, and a lot of other artist I wouldn’t have connected with outside of the show. The most important thing I take from it is the artist-to-artist interactions that go down at Wonderland. It’s truly a dream job.
Lizzo interviews Diana Gordon on Wonderland
What can we look forward to on this upcoming tour?
I just want people to be able to sing “Coconut Oil” and dance to “Phone” with me. We always connect so much with the audience and crowd, so we just want to leave everyone with a memorable experience. I’ve got all the girls coming on the road with me, so we’re just gonna have a lot of fun.
Anything you’re excited about for the Toronto show?
We love Toronto! One of our girls Sophia was like ‘I can’t wait to go back to Toronto! That’s gonna be my future home one day.” We all love the multicultural vibe over there. The city is very magical and we can’t wait to come back.
Are you working on some new music after this tour?
I’ve been writing music all year. The Coconut Oil EP was just the songs I wanted everyone to hear first. I’m gonna start writing the album in December. I’m really excited.
— Q&A by Max Mohenu
Coconut Oil is out now via Atlantic. Lizzo upcoming tour dates (buy tickets here):
Nov 29 The Foundry at The Fillmore, Philadelphia, PA
Dec 01 The Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY
Dec 03 U Street Music Hall, Washington, DC
Dec 04 Brighton Music Hall, Allston, MA
Dec 06 Velvet Underground, Toronto, Canada
Dec 07 El Club, Detroit, MI
Dec 08 Subterranean, Chicago, IL
Dec 10 First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
Dec 11 First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
Jan 20 The Echo, Los Angeles, CA
Jan 21 The Independent, San Francisco, CA
Jan 27 ALEXANDER GASTOWN, Vancouver, Canada
Jan 28 The Crocodile, Seattle, WA
Jan 29 DOUG FIR LOUNGE, Portland, OR