Lizzo, born Melissa Viviane Jefferson, Minneapolis vocalist, has been an underground sensation for years. Lizzo grew up deep in the Pentecostal church, so it seemed natural to title one of her songs “Worship.” She performed in indie hip-hop groups before releasing her debut album, “Lizzobangers,” in 2013, followed by another indie release and several EPs. But she’s courting mainstream success with her latest album, “Cuz I Love You,” released Friday on Atlantic, a showstopping Coachella run and an ever-expanding catalogue of songs that speak perfectly to everything from a Netflix rom-com to a line of sparkling cocktails.
Lizzo’s songs feel like instant song-of-the-summer contenders. Her confidence is contagious. “If I’m shinin’, everybody gonna shine,” she declares on “Juice,” the joyful lead single on “Cuz I Love You.” In “Tempo,” a club banger featuring Missy Elliott, Lizzo asserts that slow songs aren’t worthy of her curves. “Can’t move all of this here to one of those,” she purrs.
Melissa Viviane Jefferson lyrics are often playful, but that doesn’t mean she lacks musical chops. She’s been playing the flute since she was 10 and has worked the classical instrument into her music and stage presence. She’s a band geek at heart, having played in marching bands from middle school to the University of Houston, where she majored in classical flute performance. “Juice” delightfully gave way to a parody of “Anchorman’s” legendary jazz flute scene.
In a recent interview with Elle, the magazine’s October cover star shares that the day she released her now No. 1 Billboard single “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo almost quit the music industry altogether.
“I just felt like I was throwing music into the world and not even making a splash,” she tells Elle. “A tree was falling in the forest and not making a sound, you know? I was crying in my room all day.”
She texted her producer to admit how demoralized she felt by her career as a solo artist and the music industry in general, believing that if she stopped making music, no one would care. In response, her producer came to her apartment to give the artist a pep talk. Lizzo recalls her producer consoling her: Even if her music didn’t feel important to the world, it was important to the two of them.
“I just made the decision to keep going as an artist,” the rapper, singer and classically-trained flutist continues. “And I’m so grateful I did, but it was by the skin of my teeth.”
Lizzo’s decision to keep pursuing music that day in 2017 would pay dividends just two years later.
Melissa Viviane Jefferson Biography and Profile
Melissa Jefferson, African-American songwriter, singer, rapper and classically trained flautist, was born April 27, 1988. Through her music and social media, on which she has over 2.5 million followers, she advocates body positivity, self-love and diversity, drawing industry attention from the likes of Marc Jacobs , who dressed her for the Met Gala 2019. Lizzo’s interest in music began while in junior high school, where she joined her school’s marching band playing the flute. Aged 14, she formed her first rap group, the Cornrow Clique, with two classmates. This was when she got her nickname, Lizzo.
“Prince was the first person to really make me feel validated as an artist when I heard that track,” Lizzo tells NPR of being featured on the song “Boy Trouble” for Prince’s 2014 album “Plectrumelectrum.” “And I got paid! My first big check ever. Thank you, Prince, for my laptop.”
Her genre-defying sound is as infectious as it is joyous, often featuring messages of self love, empowerment, inclusivity and body positivity. The social-media savvy star has been open with fans about dealing with depression and learning to be both vulnerable and communicative about her feelings. In June, she wrote in an Instagram post about feeling depressed and having no one to turn to for support; she immediately found that support in the form of fan messages.
“I learned in the last 24 hours that being emotionally honest can save your life,” Lizzo wrote in an Instagram post. “Reaching out may be hard, but as soon as I did it, I was immediately covered in love.”
She attended the University of Houston on a music scholarship but dropped out in 2005. Three years later, she joined the band Ellypseas, playing the flute. In 2010, the band retired and her father passed away, so she returned to Denver for 10 months to be with her mother. Next, Lizzo moved to a suburb of Minneapolis where her career kicked off. She formed two bands: the Chalice, which made pop with some rap; and Grrrl Prty, with Sophia Eris of the Chalice.
During this time, Lizzo was working on solo material and her debut album, Lizzobangers, was released in 2013. Her second album in 2015, Big Grrrl Small World, resulted in a record deal with Atlantic. She moved to LA and soon became the opening act for artists like Florence + the Machine and Haim, and played the flute for other artists, with a fan-made video of her playing flute in Kendrick Lamar’s “Big Shot” becoming an internet sensation.
When Melissa Viviane Jefferson began performing, first in her hometown of Houston and then in Minneapolis, she’d enlist collaborators to take the spotlight off herself. “I believed in myself in rock bands, R&B groups and rap duos,” she says. “But I never believed in myself as a solo artist. I didn’t think anyone wanted to look at me or hear what I had to say.”
That’s changed as Lizzo has won fans with a string of supercatchy, genre-swerving pop singles. She can serve up Instagram-caption-worthy self-love (“Good as Hell”) as easily as she does fast-rapping twerk anthems (“Fitness,” “Tempo”). She’s also shown a savvy mastery of meme culture: In October, a fan-made video of her playing flute section of Kendrick Lamar’s “Big Shot” before hitting the popular shoot dance at one of her shows became internet gold. New fans flocked to her social media for more flute-and-shoot content, along with clips of Lizzo twerking in a Sailor Moon costume or saying “Bye, bitch!” while being driven away on a cart. “Social media is a fantasy,” she says. “ I do it the way that I do because it makes me laugh.”
She credits her decision to start going to therapy last summer with having a much bigger impact on her life than social media. “That was really scary,” she says. “But going on that journey of being vulnerable with someone who I didn’t know, and then learning how to be vulnerable with people that I do know, gave me the courage to be vulnerable as a vocalist.” She mentions the new LP’s title track, where she sings like the words are being ripped from the bottom of her lungs: “I was so afraid of sounding like that for so long. It’s a raw part of me that I didn’t allow myself to celebrate.”
Vulnerability was the catalyst needed to record the album in the first place. Every song on Cuz I Love You is inspired by events from the same summer she started going to therapy; Lizzo says she needed to learn how to love herself unconditionally, even when she wasn’t at her best. The resulting product is her most honest work yet. It’s a set of self-esteem-boosting anthems from a person who has learned that high self-esteem is about more than what you present to others.
“These songs are soaked into those actual scenarios, versus me being like ‘This is what you do: You walk your fine ass out the door,’ which is an ideal scenario,” she says, quoting a popular lyric from “Good as Hell.”
“I’m jumping straight into a scenario [now] on certain songs where I’m literally sitting in a car with someone crying and I’m like, ‘Pull this car over, I need to get this off my chest,’” she continues. “Or when I’m literally sending a text to a fuckboy [saying] ‘Take yo’ ass home. Stop texting me.’ There’s literal specifics here. You’re in the scene of a movie: my movie, my life.”
Lizzo likes to see her life through the lens of a documentary film, imagining how she or someone else might talk about a given moment on camera. That thought process echoes advice she got from her first co-sign, Prince, when they worked together just a few years before his death: Be eternal.
“When I have to make decisions, I always choose honesty and I always stay true to myself, because I know at the end of the day that is what’s going to remain,” she says. “That is what’s going to be the legend: That I was true to myself and that I honored every person by staying truthful to them.”
Lizzo’s myth-making begins on the stage: She’s a powerhouse singer, a fast rapper and an excellent dancer whose charisma makes any performance irresistibly joyful. For years, her concerts helped win fans, and now, for the first time, she feels like she’s releasing a body of work that can live up to her shows.
“Short anecdote,” she says. “For years, people would come up to me and be like, ‘You know, your albums are good, but I always tell my friends they gotta see you live ’cause it’s way better.’ I feel like now is the first time nobody can say that shit to me.”
While she has always felt free and uninhibited on the stage, in the past Lizzo found herself being a perfectionist to a fault in the studio. She credits X Ambassadors’ Sam Harris, who worked with her on the track “Cuz I Love You,” with helping her realize she didn’t need to be scared of what she was recording.
“I was like, ‘I’m afraid of my voice. I’m afraid of people thinking that I’m one thing,’” she says, recalling her concern that she would be pigeonholed as a soul singer for belting the way she did. “I had to just lose that fear, because the more people get to know me, the more they’ll realize I have many, many, many levels to me.”
Lizzo’s not shy about flaunting her prowess as a classically trained flautist. In an interview with The Cut earlier this year, Lizzo revealed “the flute chose her,” in sixth grade band— and she’s been playing it ever since. Now, Lizzo’s flute-playing has become her signature— at live shows, she’s famous for twerking and playing the flute at the same time, a practice she calls “ho and flute.”
Flute is consistently incorporated into Lizzo’s recorded music as well as her performances. Starting with her 2015 album “Big GRRRL Small World,” and featured more recently on her latest album “Cuz I Love You,” Lizzo nearly always includes a flute solo on a track or two. And her flute — named Sasha Flute, a reference to Beyoncé’s “Sasha Fierce” album — even has its own Instagram account.
In 2019, she played at music festivals Coachella and Glastonbury, launched her third album Cuz I Love You and attended her first Met Gala as a guest of Marc Jacobs, alongside model Kate Moss and singer Rita Ora. Lizzo has featured in magazines such as Allure, The Rolling Stones and American Elle.
Making a positive impact among her fan base is core to what drives the artist. She tells Elle that even if a follow-up album to “Cuz I Love You” doesn’t see the same critical acclaim, she’ll still be grateful for the experience so long as she can still spread her message to those who need to hear it: “I’ve been touring for a long time — why would that stop? I’m gonna continue to do that forever.”
Regardless of what kinds of stages she’ll take following a successful year, Lizzo plans to continue putting her art and authentic self in the center. As she tells Rolling Stone: “When you’re an artist, your career isn’t defined by trends or age. That’s the biggest lesson I learned from Prince: Perpetuate positivity, and also art is forever. Be eternal.”