“HAVE U EVER SEEN A BITCH PLAY FLUTE THEN HIT THE SHOOT?” It was a reasonable question. It was also a relevant question because it accompanied footage of the woman who posed it doing just that: first busting out an accomplished flute solo and then breaking into 2018’s biggest viral dance craze with her backup dancers. What a glorious sight it was to behold. Here, behold it:
HAVE U EVER SEEN A BITCH PLAY FLUTE THEN HIT THE SHOOT? pic.twitter.com/aVy3E6kIVF
— |L I Z Z O| (@lizzo) October 20, 2018
The person responsible for this uncommon feat is Lizzo, aka Melissa Jefferson, who has spent the past half decade working her way to something like pop stardom. The 30-year-old pop polyglot may not yet have the chart triumphs to back up her stature as a burgeoning sensation, but rhapsodic responses at SXSW and Coachella, a full-scale TV talk-show blitz, and a recent Playboy spread suggest plenty of people have fallen under her spell.
It’s easy to see why; as whirlwind entertainers go, Lizzo is the full package. Besides her skills as a dancer and flautist, she can rap with authority, as heard on her Missy Elliott collab “Tempo.” She can belt out a big, brassy gospel-soul stomper, as demonstrated on the title track from her upcoming LP Cuz I Love You. And for proof she can sashay her way through a timeless funk-soul party track with pizzazz, look no further than “Juice,” her biggest and best song to date.
“Juice” is the kind of retro crowd-pleaser Bruno Mars made his name on, a monstrously catchy tune with a groove built to fill dance floors at weddings until the end of time. Bursting with joyous swagger, Lizzo offers a detailed breakdown of her own manifold awesomeness, starting with “Mirror, mirror on the wall/ Don’t say it, ’cause I know I’m cute.” Her boasts never come off as especially arrogant thanks to a contagious inclusiveness that suggests you, too, could have juice if you only let yourself have it: “If I’m shiny, everybody gonna shine.” Truthfully, though, not many people are shining like Lizzo right now.
It’s crazy to think that not so long ago this same artist released her debut on the same Minneapolis indie label that brought you Poliça and Marijuana Deathsquads. Throughout stints in her native Houston and later Detroit, Lizzo had been part of various group projects such as the Cornrow Clique, Grrrl Prty, and Ellypseas. Upon moving to the Twin Cities in 2011 she continued launching ensembles including a rap-R&B girl group called the Challice, while making waves across the music scene. Eventually Lizzo linked up with Totally Gross National Product, the label founded by Poliça bandmates Drew Christopherson and Ryan Olson (also of Gayngs and Marijuana Deathsquads), and began working on solo material. Olson and Doomtree’s Lazerbeak produced her 2013 debut Lizzobangers, a noisy boom-bap collection that zeroed in on her prowess as an MC.
Lizzobangers was good, but it didn’t prepare the world for Big Grrrl Small World, her tour de force 2015 sophomore LP. For that one, she teamed with producers including Lazerbeak, Bionik, and BJ Burton, who’d later play a key role on deconstructed rock epics like Bon Iver’s 22, A Million and Low’s Double Negative. Despite her continued entrenchment in that Upper Midwest experimental indie scene, Lizzo’s second album was decidedly poppier, rooted in rap but expanding well beyond it to show off her multifaceted skill set. Slyly quoting from “Super Freak,” “Crack Music,” and “International Player’s Anthem” while toggling between snarling bars and impassioned crooning, she was developing her own musical language in real time. “You tell me that I am too ambitious,” she intoned, “but I break the molds and you just watch the stones roll.”
Then came a deal with Atlantic and a partnership with a very different collaborator, Ricky Reed, whose brightly colored productions have fueled hits for the likes of Jason Derulo, Twenty One Pilots, Halsey, and Meghan Trainor. Reed’s work errs on the side of cartoonish hip-hop soul pastiche, but when paired with Lizzo’s boundless charisma, the results were far from corny. Starting with 2016’s Coconut Oil EP and its calling card “Good As Hell,” Lizzo and Reed began kicking out exuberant empowerment anthems preaching independence and self-acceptance for women, big black women like Lizzo in particular. Throughout 2017 and 2018 the singles kept coming — “Water Me,” “Truth Hurts,” “Fitness,” “Boys” — each one building her audience while building on her iconography with quotable lyrics and outrageous music videos.
The pump was primed for Cuz I Love You, which finally flows freely into the world tomorrow. Though fans of Lizzo’s early work may balk at her new album’s lack of the art-damaged boombox jams, the joy in these songs is contagious. Occasionally, so is the pain. In a business that often robs artists of their distinct charms by squeezing them into trend-conscious templates, Cuz I Love You lets Lizzo be herself in fabulous, deceptively complex fashion. For a major-label leap from an undeniable talent, it’s close to a best-case scenario.
The nude pose on the cover sets the tone: Here is Lizzo laid bare, presented without shame. The body-positivity that has been a cornerstone of her discography continues to course through Cuz I Love You, particularly on “Tempo,” where she returns to her rap roots to brag about her size alongside fellow “thick bitch” Missy Elliott over Neptunes-style pop-and-fizz from Reed and half of veteran R&B production duo Pop & Oak. “Slow songs, they for skinny hoes,” goes the chorus. “Can’t move all of this here to one of those.”
“Tempo” is one of many songs designed to trigger a chorus of “YAS!” On “Juice,” she again turns her size into a plus: “No I’m not a snack at all/ Baby, I’m the whole damn meal!” The women’s independence anthem “Like A Girl” is a piano-powered pop-rap track, Lizzo breathing new life into the usual rhetoric about paying her own bills by also bragging about making it rain at famed Atlanta strip club Magic City. Just as pointedly, R&B-infused banger “Soulmate” mirrors Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” message about learning to love yourself without depending on other people’s approval. One track later Lizzo lives out that advice by dismissing an unsuitable suitor on the soulful power ballad “Jerome,” instructing him to “take your ass home and come back when you’re grown.” As explained on “Better In Color,” she’s more interested in Big Dick Energy than poor Jerome’s heart-eyed emojis.
Being proud of who you are, handling your business, refusing to settle: These are powerful messages, even more so when delivered via bright, bold pop songs expertly tailored for Lizzo’s particular brand of sass. But her music’s brash sloganeering would feel overly target-marketed if it wasn’t accented by songs that acknowledge life’s struggles. No one can be invulnerable all the time, not even an apparent superhero like Lizzo.
She admits as much on the album-opening title track, where she’s caught off guard by a romance that slices straight through her jaded self-protections: “I thought that I didn’t care/ I thought I was love-impaired/ But baby, baby, I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” On the sweltering saunter “Cry Baby,” she cops to bawling out of control sometimes: “I don’t need to apologize/ This big girl’s gotta cry.” The towering gospel-pop blowout “Heaven Help Me” finds her struggling to cut ties with a toxic lover: “I need to get you out of my life! Can I get an amen?” The Lizzo of Cuz I Love You is a larger-than-life personality, but she’s not a caricature.
The album saves perhaps its most radical statement for the end, with Lizzo lounging at home in her underwear, beckoning her crush to come over and make love. “Lingerie” is not just a masterful R&B slow jam, it’s a reminder of the power of context. Here is a big black woman presenting herself as an object of lust — not as a punchline, like in so many bad movies, but genuinely, convinced of her own worthiness. It’s the sound of progress for society at large, but also for Lizzo herself. Stylistically, it’s been quite a journey from Lizzobangers to “Lingerie,” and Cuz I Love You suggests the road ahead might be even more entertaining.
Khalid lands his first #1 album on the Billboard 200 this week. According to Billboard, the young El Paso singer’s sophomore effort Free Spirit tallied 202,000 equivalent album units — the fourth biggest start for an album this year behind Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, and Backstreet Boys — and 85,000 in pure sales. As classified by Billboard, it’s the first R&B album to hit #1 since the Weeknd’s My Dear Melancholy, EP around Coachella time last year.
Khalid collaborator Eilish slides to #2, followed by the late Nipsey Hussle at #3, Ariana Grande at #4, and Juice WRLD at #5. Sara Bareilles lands a #6 debut for Amidst The Chaos with 35,000 units/29,000 sales. After Post Malone at #7 come Brooks & Dunn at #8. The duo’s newly debuting Reboot, on which they rework their classics with help from a cast of modern country stars, tallied 31,000 units/21,000 sales — their first visit to the top 10 since releasing a greatest hits album 10 years ago. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Drake round out the top 10.
Over on the Hot 100, Lil Nas X’s viral smash “Old Town Road” holds down #1 for a second straight week. This is the first frame in which the Billy Ray Cyrus remix is factored into the song’s chart standing, and because that remix largely drove sales and streaming of “Old Town Road” last week, the song has become the first #1 hit of Cyrus’ career — almost six years after his daughter Miley reached the summit with “Wrecking Ball.” (Believe it or not, “Achy Breaky Heart” only made it to #4.)
Additionally, “Old Town Road” shatters the record for most streams in a week, previously set by Drake’s “In My Feelings” last July. Here’s an updated list of the 10 biggest streaming weeks according to Billboard:
143 million, “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, April 20, 2019
116.2 million, “In My Feelings,” Drake, July 28, 2018
106.2 million, “In My Feelings,” Drake, Aug. 4, 2018
103.1 million, “Harlem Shake,” Baauer, March 2, 2013
101.7 million, “God’s Plan,” Drake, March 3, 2018
97.6 million, “Harlem Shake,” Baauer, March 9, 2013
95.4 million, “In My Feelings,” Drake, Aug. 11, 2018
93.8 million, “Thank U, Next,” Ariana Grande, Dec. 15, 2018
92.8 million, “God’s Plan,” Drake, March 10, 2018
92.7 million, “In My Feelings,” Drake, Aug. 18, 2018
“Old Town Road” also had the biggest sales week for an individual track in a year, its 124,000 downloads falling just short of the 127,000 for Drake’s “God’s Plan” in its debut week. And it’s gaining on the airplay charts, including on country stations! We may be riding down “Old Town Road” for quite some time.
Post Malone has the #2 and #3 hits of the week, with the Swae Lee collab “Sunflower” at #2 and “Wow.” at #3. Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” Halsey’s “Without Me,” Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker,” and Cardi B and Bruno Mars’ “Please Me” account for 4-5-6-7. Reaching a new #8 peak is Khalid’s “Better,” his fourth top 10 hit and first without other credited artists. And the last two hits in the top 10 are J. Cole’s “Middle Child” and Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier.”
Beyoncé – “Before I Let Go” (Maze & Frankie Beverly Cover)
This Beyoncé character might really be on to something.
BTS – “Boy With Luv” (Feat. Halsey)
I’ve always been a sucker for fizzy, funky, bass-powered pop songs like this one, so I have no complaint beyond wishing Halsey was more of a presence here. I didn’t even make out her voice distinct from the chorus of BTS dudes until the final minute.
Madonna & Maluma – “Medellín”
Nobody is expecting Madonna to make killer singles anymore, therefore nobody has to be disappointed that this is only OK. That said, her vocal on the second verse is lovely, and I enjoy the whispered counting at the end.
Mark Ronson – “Late Night Feelings” (Feat. Lykke Li)
This is pretty boring until the beat drops and you remember Ronson’s the guy who made “Uptown Funk!” Much to my delight, the beat drops many times.
Maren Morris – “Kingdom Of One”
What does a Maren Morris Game Of Thrones song sound like? Apparently slower, gloomier, and in a minor key.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Taylor Swift launched a mysterious countdown to 4/26. [Taylor Swift]
- Swift also appears on the Time cover for this year’s TIME 100 List. Shawn Mendes wrote about Swift for the issue, while Beyoncé wrote about Michelle Obama [Time]
- Here’s the tracklist for Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album Dedicated. (Track one, “Julien,” is out tonight.) [Idolator]
- Kacey Musgraves brought out 90-year-old Instagram star Baddie Winkle at Coachella. [Twitter]
- DJ Snake brought out Selena Gomez, Cardi B, and Ozuna at Coachella for “Taki Taki.” [Twitter]
- Katy Perry joined Zedd at Coachella. [Twitter]
- Khalid brought out Benny Blanco, Halsey, Billie Eilish, Normani, and Marshmello at Coachella. [Desert Sun]
- Meanwhile, Eilish’s Coachella set started 30 minutes late and she forgot some lyrics. She also brought out Vince Staples but his mic was muted the entire time. [Variety]
- Lil Dicky’s “Earth” video, out tonight, promises cameos by everyone. [YouTube]
- The final two episodes of SNL this season will have Jonas Brothers and DJ Khaled as musical guests. [Twitter]
- Keith Urban shared an “Old Town Road” cover. [Twitter]
- Zayn shared a video for “Stand Still.” [YouTube]
- Pink announced a coloring book. [Twitter]
- Bebe Rexha revealed that she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. [Instagram]
- James Bay and Julia Michaels did “Peer Pressure” on Ellen. [Ellen]
- Rita Ora teased her Kygo collaboration from the Detective Pikachu soundtrack, out tomorrow. [Twitter]
- Dua Lipa traveled with UNICEF to meet young refugees in Lebanon. [Unicef]
- Kanye West designed these weird sinks. [Jezebel]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME