In the last year and a half, Lizzo has played four shows in Portland. At each one I overheard the joyful sounds of new Lizzo fans being captivated and initiated.
“I love Portland and it feels really special, and it feels like a third home when I’m there, so it’s really cool to play,” Lizzo tells me over the phone. “And to experience growth there was amazing. Like, we were able to do two nights on the last tour and sold them out, so it was really special for me and my girls.”
I could talk about Lizzo’s music all day—and I have, in this very paper. Her catalog is super-solid. Onstage, the feminist rapper/singer/flautist performs tight choreography to her energizing hip-hop and uplifting soul-pop anthems. Her shows typically feature all-girl lineups, and she’s always flanked by two stellar back-up dancers (“the Big Girls”) and DJ/MC Sophia Eris. As support for Haim’s “Sister Sister Sister” tour, this venture will be similarly stacked.
“A show for us is very organic—it’s alive, and it has its own personality,” says Lizzo. “And I think this time it’s definitely going to have a different personality than the last time. You know, we’re gonna be rockin’ and rollin’, and we’re all in such a great place in our lives. And I think that it’s gonna be really celebratory because we’ve been headlining our own tours for a while, which is a gift and a curse, but it’s going to be so nice to just be able to go out every night and enjoy Haim and, like, grow with them, and form a sisterhood really every night onstage.”
Lizzo’s music has become increasingly celebratory of women, and the power of self-love and autonomy. “I am a perpetual single person, and really enjoy it,” she says. “I think that, you know, you don’t have to be in a relationship to have companionship. I don’t think that you need to subscribe to monogamy to feel complete. And I think that that is what my journey is all about: discovering that self-sufficiency, and that self-love, and letting other people know it’s okay, too.”
On her major-label debut—the relatable Coconut Oil EP, which she titled and wrote as a self-love letter to Black women—Lizzo effectively demands to be worshipped (“Worship” and “Deep”), feels herself on “Scuse Me,” drunkenly loses her “Phone,” helps a friend heal from a garbage relationship (“Good as Hell”), and replaces her pursuit of a romantic partner with dutiful self-care (“Coconut Oil”). With African beats, gospel organ, R&B, and hip-hop influences all interacting throughout its six lit tracks, Lizzo’s artistry simply won’t fit in any one box. What’s most consistent is the empowerment factor: Her songs give listeners permission to accept, embrace, and fully fall in love with themselves.
Now a body-positivity icon, Lizzo says she didn’t expect to be a role model when she first stepped onto the scene: “It was such a surprise. I had no idea that my journey would mean so much to people. I didn’t even know that my journey would emote so well,” she explains. “I was literally just trying to—I’m still trying to love myself and learn what love is and respect that process. And I think that the fact that people caught on to that and were like, ‘Oh, you’re teaching me how to love myself too while you’re out here learning’ is, like, really special.
“I’m grateful for every moment. Like, I’m not done learning. I’m still learning and that’s the key, that’s the point of it all, you know? And I think that love is the meaning of life. And if you don’t love yourself, then you’re really missing out on life. And so I hope that people who follow my music don’t just look at me and go, ‘Oh my god! Keep twerkin’! Haha! Cool!’ But I hope that they actually get to the bottom of it and realize the twerk is not just this act of sexuality that I feel like doing because it’s cool; it’s a celebration of every part of you, you know? And I hope more people get into it. ’Cause that’s the whole reason why I’m doing this music now. At first, I just needed to get some shit off my chest, but now I realize the impact that it’s having and I’m not going to stop.”
Having grown up as the baby of the family, Lizzo says she had her mother and older sister to look up to, and was surrounded by a tight-knit group of girlfriends. She also drew inspiration from seeing hip-hop legend Missy Elliott on TV, which was “major” for her. “Whether they were my peers, my parent, or someone I wrote [fantasy] about, I always just loved women so much, and I always just thought they were cool," she says. "And I think that the hardest thing for me was realizing that I’m a woman too, and I’m cool. I’m cool! I think that took a long time to get there.”
Last time she played Portland (at the Wonder Ballroom) Lizzo did something that she hadn’t at previous shows: One of her dancers hand-delivered Sasha Flute (an instrument named after Beyoncé’s alter ego) to Lizzo, who played the flute-solo intro to “Coconut Oil,” a part that I had gotten used to hearing her operatically sing live. The EP’s title track is one of her most literal odes to self-love and care, and also a shout-out to Black women’s hair and skincare techniques. Naturally, I asked Lizzo what her best self-care tip was.
“Eat something... good. I love eating, I love watching people eat, I always have. But I also realized in my journey from vegetarianism and veganism and then all the things in between, that you can’t just, like, eat comfort food. That only makes your brain happy, and not your body happy. And there’s, like, a balance between knowing what makes your brain happy and knowing what makes your body happy. And I realized that when I would prescribe with comfort food, I would be like, ‘Oh, I’m down, and I’m just gonna eat some mac and cheese!’ I was only satiating the top, the very top of myself, I wasn’t satiating the whole thing. And I realized that when you satiate your body, it goes up to your brain and makes your brain happy, too.
“When you start from your toes and fill yourself all the way up, it eventually reaches your brain and it lasts way longer. So, eating! Eating something that’s good for you and listening to your body. If your body’s like, ‘[clears throat] I really want pizza,’ then maybe it wants sustenance and carbs and fat. So, like, eat some avocado with, you know, some rice. And it’ll feel the same—eventually—as eating a pizza immediately. A long-term self-care tip is: you really can’t buy it in a store. Like, if you think about loving yourself and the things you need to do to love yourself, if one of the steps is pulling out your credit card or pulling out a wad of cash, it’s probably not going to work. Because self-love is definitely an internal destination. And I think once you find that destination, take a vacation in it.”
While she’s already had her music appear in shows like Broad City and Girls and films like Barbershop: The Next Cut, and there’s even a new Cadillac commercial blasting her track “Worship,” Lizzo’s star is only rising higher. She was selected to be a guest judge for season 10 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which kicked off on March 22. When asked how the opportunity came about, Lizzo says, “I think the people [at production company] World of Wonder were fans. BUT when I got on set they were like, ‘Ru really wanted you here. Ru is a huge fan.’ And I was like, ‘NO!’ And when I got to meet Ru, he was like, ‘You’re great, kid. I love what you’re doing,’ and I was like, “Ahhhhhh!” So I don’t remember how it happened, but I’m going to just say that RuPaul is a fan. And that’s gonna be the quote.”
Lizzo’s previous trips to Portland have included the tour crew partying at the city’s strip clubs and receiving a giant Voodoo Doughnut in the shape of her head (she shared it with fans at her live show). Her rare opening set at the Schnitz will be another one for the books.