How big is Lizzo right now?
So big that after her attention-grabbing performance at the MTV VMA awards last week in which she performed in front of an enormous inflatable behind, she had not one but four songs in the Top 20 on iTunes.
So big that the hottest song by the singer-rapper-flautist at the moment — “Truth Hurts,” a celebration of self-worth and the single life whose video ends with Lizzo at the altar marrying herself — is actually two years old. It’s a hit now because her current album, Cuz I Love You, is not enough to satisfy fans. People want more Lizzo!
So big that though the artist born Melissa Jefferson is not actually a giant block letter headliner on the poster for this weekend’s Made in America — those show closers are Cardi B on Saturday and Travis Scott on Sunday — she’s clearly the buzziest of any of the 40-plus acts on the bill.
Before being added to Sunday’s MIA schedule, Lizzo was already slotted to play the Met Philadelphia on Sept. 18. (Earlier this year, she sold out the TLA.)
It’s rare to see an act play a festival so close to her own headlining show, but that Met date is already sold out, too. So why not have her swoop in and anoint Made in America with a little Lizzo “Juice,” too?
Lizzo’s joining the bill also solidifies the most positive story line going into the eighth year of the Jay-Z-founded fest: In 2019, the MIA lineup boasts a stronger representation of black women in hip-hop than it ever has.
Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion — who also will play Sunday — has a new duet with Nicki Minaj, whose title meshes with the meme she’s been identified with since earlier this year: It’s called “Hot Girl Summer.”
The #HotGirlSummer hashtag has been diluted and co-opted — Wendy’s lemonade claims to be the official drink of Hot Girl Summer — but in Megan Thee Stallion’s initial conception, it’s about something substantial: standing up for your individuality rather than adhering to idealized standards of beauty or conforming to conventional norms.
As the fiery rapper, who is also a Texas Southern University undergrad pursuing a degree in health administration, put it in an interview with the Root, Hot Girl Summer is “for women — and men — having a good time, hyping up your friends, doing you and not giving a damn about what anybody has to say about it.”
In other words, being much like the Houston rhymer herself, as well as Lizzo and other formidable female emcees on the MIA bill.
Those include Cardi B, whose route to Made in America headlining-level stature has been unorthodox. She was a celebrity before she was a rapper, starting out as both a stripper — she plays one in the new movie Hustlers, which happens to co-star Lizzo and comes out Sept. 13 — on VH1′s Love & Hip-Hop New York before she full turned her attention to music.
Naysayers doubted her skills even as her 2017 breakout hit “Bodak Yellow” became song of that summer, but she shushed any doubters with her impressive Invasion of Privacy full-length debut last year. Now she’s such a cultural force that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has come courting, seeking her blessing.
The bill also has wildly creative Philadelphia rapper Tierra Whack, who has spent 2019 building on the momentum from last year, when she garnered attention for her unorthodox 15 songs and 15 videos in 15 minutes debut Whack World, and the mini-horror movie ingenuity of her “Mumbo Jumbo” video, which earned a Grammy nomination.
The presence of those four acts on MIA — as well as other standouts not on the bill, such as the fierce young rapper Rico Nasty, and returning-from-hiatus Missy Elliott — demonstrates a deep talent pool of women making their voices heard in hip-hop in 2019.
The music industry has often been guilty of insisting upon highlighting only one hot female rapper at a time, or promoting Cardi v. Nicki-style feuds, as if the hip-hop world wasn’t big enough for two talented spitfires.
The fact that this year’s festival lineup actually reflects the breadth of current talent is good news for MIA, and for Jay-Z, who could use a little positive PR after getting slammed for his “we’ve moved past kneeling” comments regarding protesting former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. (Last year the rapper many consider the GOAT was a hero for keeping MIA on the Parkway. This year he’s a goat.)
It’s taken a while for MIA to get its act together in a gender-balanced way. It still boggles the mind to recall that in 2014, Canadian one-woman band Grimes was the one female-fronted act on either of two main stages.
Some amazing women have played over the years, including Janelle Monae, twice. And Made in America has had its share of big-time female headliners, including Cardi, who made her MIA debut in 2017. Rihanna in 2016 was terrific. Nicki Minaj last year was strangely flat. And, oh yeah, Beyoncé has played the festival a couple times.
in many ways, it’s been Beyoncé who has been the female face of Made in America. In addition to her two star turns as the chief Saturday night attraction, Mrs. Carter has often been seen around the grounds accompanying her husband, and festival goers have often found time to sing “Happy Birthday” to her. (She turns 38 on Wednesday.)
That contrast with Beyoncé is partly what make Lizzo’s presence at MIA this year so striking. Queen Bey is a legit empowerment heroine, but she’s worshiped for maintaining an awe-inspiring standard of perfection. “I woke up like this,” she announces, defiantly, in “Flawless.”
Lizzo, on other hand, is all about celebrating what might have traditionally been considered flaws, and through her boundless energy and enthusiasm, celebrating them as strength in such anthems as “Good as Hell.”
She’s big, of course, in terms of her popularity, but also size. Her 2015 debut album was called Big Grrrl Small World, and she’s surrounded herself with a team of plus-sized dancers and opened up a public discussion about body image in the entertainment world simply by being herself.
Along the way, the songwriter, who was born in Detroit, grew up in Houston, and found her artistic voice in Minneapolis, has been a sort of all-American self-esteem machine, earning the ardent adoration of everyone from Rihanna (who sent her a profane compliment after her MTV performance) to Christina Halladay of the Philadelphia punk band Sheer Mag (who called her “so inspiring” in these pages last week).
Has there ever been a pop star quite like Lizzo? I can’t think of one. Of course, there have been plus-sized singing stars, often big-voiced powerhouses such as Adele and Etta James, and going back generations, Big Mama Thornton and Kate Smith.
But if those woman were unapologetic about their size, they weren’t overt or aggressive about their sexuality. That was left to skinnier girls. They didn’t show up on a stage set bearing an enormous inflatable butt, (probably pretend to) chug from a bejeweled bottle of Tequila, turn their back to the crowd and twerk while playing a flute solo. The only one who can be counted on for that kind of life-affirming entertainment experience at Made in America — or anywhere — is Lizzo.