“I'm sorry, there's just a lot going on right now,” Lizzo tells me over the phone. The 28-year-old singer-rapper is on her way to the airport and what's going on is some problem with the car tires, a problem that's interrupting our interview as she hurriedly confers with the driver. But she may as well be talking about her career. Or America, for that matter.
Tagged as a body-positive, feminist rapper by the media, Lizzo's star has been rising since her 2013 debut, Lizzobangers, a catchy hip-hop album made in collaboration with producers Lazerbeak and Ryan Olson. Born in Detroit and raised in Houston, she came up through the Minneapolis music scene, independently releasing another album, Big Grrrl Small World and appearing on Prince's Plectrumelectrum before and relocating to Los Angeles in 2016 ahead of her first major-label outing, Coconut Oil, which arrived last October via Atlantic Records.
Her independent-woman anthem, “Good as Hell,” hit big last year, earning a spot on the Barbershop: The Next Cut soundtrack and leading her to hosting gigs on MTV as well as a memorable appearance on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. In a segment titled “Lizzo Saves Us All,” aired the night after the election, Lizzo summed up her appeal in a single performance. She was supposed be part of Bee's “Hillary won” party, but after Trump's victory, Lizzo recontextualized her part on the fly, segueing from a soulful rendering of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” into a joyful performance of “Good as Hell.” It read as a statement, a determination to feel good in a time when feeling good is a political act of will.
Coconut Oil is a genre-fusing paean to self-care, particularly for black women. It's a more pop-forward riff on the same kinds of themes Solange explored in her album A Seat at the Table, which dropped around the same time. “My music isn't ever explicitly political,” Lizzo says. “I think my music and its existence just happens to be political because of who is making it and the things I'm talking about. I don't have to say, 'Hey, I'm a body-positive feminist' in my songs because I'm saying other things. I'm saying, 'I'm in love with myself,' or 'Excuse me while I feel myself.'”
And yet such self-love is a radical act in these times, an absurdity Lizzo acknowledges. “It's crazy but it shouldn't be that way. It shouldn't be such a shocker that a woman like me likes the way she looks and is proud of it and talks about it a lot,” she says. “I'm just trying to be myself.”
Lizzo moved her base to Echo Park last year, a move that came with some trepidation “There's nothing like Minneapolis and working in such a rich city with so much creativity that's flowing around,” she says, “and I thought that when I would go to L.A., I would miss that. But in fact, when I went to L.A. to work with Ricky [Reed, her producer on Coconut Oil], it was just a different type of enrichment.”
The studio she records in now is outside. “There's flowers,” she laughs, and notes that the natural world here infuses her music, just the same as recording in the Wisconsin woods infused Big Grrrl Small World. “I think the music has taken on a sunshine-y feel,” she says. “Something like 'Worship' is way different than 'In love with myself' [a lyric from her BGSW track “En Love”]. So L.A. has definitely influenced it but I truly believe that everywhere you go, if you're really channeling creativity, then the location should enhance the music.”
Her West Coast tour launches with a show at the Echoplex on Friday, Jan. 20 — the night of Trump's inauguration. The timing has turned out to be meaningful, although not by design; her booking agents determined the dates long ago. But it's meaningful to her fans, who have been tweeting the singer to let her know that they're attending in celebration, and in defiance of any dread they might feel otherwise at Trump's election.
“That was really special to me,” Lizzo says. “I'm glad that people are seeing a light, seeing a silver lining, and I'm a part of that silver lining. Because that's the reason why I do this, yo.”
The spirit of celebration and affirmation in the face of fear that those fans represent is a metaphor, she says, for how she'll get through the next four years. “Even before we fathomed Trump would be president, my music has saved me — from all the injustice, all of the things I've tried to deal with, being a black woman and being marginalized — and I think it's just going to save me again. And I'm glad.”
Lizzo plays the Echoplex with Dizzy Fae on Friday, Jan. 20. Tickets and more info.