Devonté Hynes kicks off his latest Blood Orange album, Freetown Sound, with Atlanta writer Ashlee Haze's poem “For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliott Poem)." In it, Haze speaks of the virtues of representation, empowerment artists like Missy Elliott, and learning to love the person you grow up to be. For Haze, Elliott and her work were a watershed moment; her career shows it's possible to be black, female, and incredibly successful. Today, artists like Lizzo are picking up the torch Elliott carried (and continues to carry) for the better part of nearly three decades.
As fate would have it, I've been following Lizzo around for almost the entire year. From SXSW to Made In America to this past weekend's Meadows festival, where Lizzo performed, I've somehow been there every time. Let me tell you that she does not disappoint, ever. If you're ever lucky enough to catch her cover ANOHNI's "Drone Bomb Me" live, you'll know Lizzo is the real deal. She's got the pipes, the energy, and the presence to command any room she walks in. But don't call her a diva—not just yet.
"I couldn't call myself a diva," she tells me this weekend after yet another extraordinary set at The Meadows. "I don't think that I'm a diva yet. I think that there's going to be a moment where I get out of my head and stop feeling like I need to be doing something all the time, then I'll be okay with that title." Lizzo's humbleness is, in fact, humbling. She's not shy about wearing her confidence, or sometimes lack thereof, on her sleeve. "That's the beauty in what I do," she says, reflecting on her day's set where she was upfront with the crowd about her not-so-good day prior. "I had to tell the crowd I wasn't feeling myself, but I got to sing to them, and they sang my words back; we got to share this special moment and inspire one another."
There's no other reason to make and perform music if you're not doing it for the human connection, in Lizzo's eyes. "I would like to think that everything that's happening now is a step forward, that my existence wouldn't be possible if it weren't for Missy Elliott, that I can be that to someone, too." When Lizzo says she is her inspiration on her latest single, "Water Me," she's not doing so out of cockiness. She's doing it as a mantra, as a way of reminding herself of her capabilities and holding herself accountable. "That's why I make this music—so I can live my best fucking life."
So where does she find it in herself to rise to her own occasion? As she puts it, "[her] divine feminity." Lizzo says, "Confidence, I think, is something that you're born with. I can feel it, you know? I really, really can." All the ways in which Lizzo has been marginalized and demeaned, whether it be because of race, her size, her sex, are fuel for her confidence. "I draw strength from my bigness and being able to wear my legs out, my body out, showing my body, showing my mind, and showing my talent simultaneously. There's strength in nudity. There's strength in vulnerability."
Nude is, after all, a shade; you put it on and take it off. Nakedness is more uncomfortable, vulnerable in a not-so-empowering way. "When you're naked, that's like when you're uncomfortable and nude," she says. "Nude is when you're confident and naked." It's the latter that Lizzo has embedded throughout her latest EP, Coconut Oil; it's what she'll continue preaching, too, because diva-hood is rooted confidence.
"When I first started," she says, "I would run from side to side of the stage to get everyone's attention—to be like, Are you listening to me? Do you feel me? Do you care?" Now, she doesn't do that as often. If a crowd singing her lyrics back along with her isn't any indication they care, I don't know what is. That doesn't stop Lizzo from raising her own bar, though. "One day, when I stand still and perform a song and everyone's paying attention and I feel confident, then I'll be a diva."
That one day is coming real soon. With a little more tender, loving watering, Lizzo will be the diva we not only need but deserve.