(Lainey: this post was written by our newest contributor, Melayna Williams. Melayna has written for Maclean’s and Vice and is the co-host of the Black Tea podcast. We are so happy to welcome Melayna to the team. We are still setting up her profile on the site but you can reach Mel on Twitter @melaynawilliams and on Instagram @theonlymelly.)
Here’s Lizzo at the Met Gala on Monday night. As we know, Anna Wintour approves the guest list, and she invites celebrities that are not only famous, but currently relevant. Lizzo, the singer, outspoken fierce femme, flautist, and most recently animated voice actor, is enjoying an explosive ascent, whether you discovered her recently or when she dropped her first album 6 years ago. She was gorgeous and on theme in a feathery show stopping Marc Jacobs outfit with pink hair and an intense headpiece. She even wore the amazing cape to the airport the next day.
Beyond being an incredibly musically gifted artist, Lizzo receives praise for her image and political statements. After all, her very personhood challenges the idea that only certain Black women can make it in her genre: light-skinned or ambiguous looking, thin, palatable and marketed as exotic. Lizzo also makes no apologies, and her music catalogue holds the same standard. In the past few months, we have seen her leap over accomplishments and smash records, including beating Beyoncé’s Homecoming on itunes.
It’s not just that we don’t get to see women like Lizzo in the public eye, that’s true, but she’s exactly the kind of celebrity you want to see explode – and have a platform. She’s using it to live out loud as a queer Black woman with a message that actually amounts to women empowerment, not merely the popularized alluding to it. She is acutely aware of her power and the importance of us seeing her as a celebrity but also a symbol of the kind of representation we need. It’s clear in everything from her outfits to her dancers she is touring with.
Because she does not look or act like a Black mainstream artist, the media has done that thing where they “yas queen” her to death, painting her as a queen of rebellion, or what every plus-size Black woman loves to hear (eyeroll emoji): she’s real, authentic and brave. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how projection plays a role in the shaping of Black women’s images, positive or not. And if the media was filled with queer Black women of size, journalists, or ones who had the lens to objectively speak about them without sounding like a woke Twitter professor, would probably still recognize Lizzo for her immense talent, and not emphasize her other qualities as much. Because we all strive to be the most authentic, or that’s at least what our therapists tell us, it sounds like a compliment. Since many people’s only reference to unadulterated praise to a Black female celebrity is Beyoncé (and Rihanna too), the media doesn’t always do the most authentic job praising Black women. Luckily, it turns out, authenticity is pretty dead-on as the genuine foundation of Lizzo’s career and personality.
You can hear authenticity blaring through mega anthems like “Tempo”, featuring the amazing Missy Elliott. If there’s one track on her recent album Cuz I Love You that makes clear this isn’t Lizzo’s first album, it’s this. It’s not that Lizzo is asking to be seen as a beautiful sexual being with desires and experience, she’s telling us she is. We are so over the fiction that plus-sized women aren’t loved, lusted after or lovable, and Lizzo skips over the bullsh-t. And hearing her with a legend like Missy sounds natural and fun. Then she became all of us when she tweeted of the collaboration: “You made this chubby, weird, black girl believe that ANYTHING was possible. And now we have a BANGER together- till this day you continue to inspire me to make my dreams come true. Now go f-ck it up to the #TEMPO and STREAM OUR SONG!!!! Love You @MissyElliott.”
Earlier this year Lizzo told Exclaim that:
“Women are pursued for relationships, big women deal with f-ckboys, big women are beautiful and loving creatures, and it's just not talked about, because it's not the story that mainstream media chooses to tell. I'm not creating a fantasy — if it's shocking, it's because that story isn't told and that's often because big women aren't even involved to tell their [own] stories. I just happen to be here in the room, I have a platform and I'm telling the story. I'm not going to shy away from it, I'm not embarrassed, this is who I am."
We stan a refreshingly honest celebrity.