The Minneapolis-bred rapper, singer, and flutist Lizzo is proud to do things “Like a Girl.” The breezy empowerment anthem appears on her new album, Cuz I Love You, with a pre-chorus that sounds as though it were written solely to soundtrack the plush pink changing rooms of the Wing: “Sugar, spice, and I’m nice / Show me what you’re made of / Crazy, sexy, cool, baby / With or without makeup.”
“Like a Girl,” like some of Lizzo’s most popular songs to date, is a tad mawkish but nonetheless feel-good. So it’s not wholly surprising that the perennially positive singer sounded a bit defensive about the feminist-adjacent missive during a recent interview with The Cut, when she expounded on its meaning: After being told the track, and its premise, sounded rather commercial, Lizzo quickly justified the song’s concept by suggesting that her goal was to take ostensibly basic concepts—including the brand-dominated territory of “women’s empowerment”—and broaden them to include previously excluded groups. “I’m trying to be inclusive,” the artist said. “Could this song be in a Dove commercial? Yes, but it won’t. They aren’t thinking about everybody.”
Lizzo’s infectious music does often sound like it’s made with everybody in mind. It’s meticulously universal, the kind of art that’s said to push boundaries both because of its content and by virtue of who is making it. It feels good to root for Lizzo—not just because of her undeniable talent, but also because of what and whom she represents. Lizzo is, after all, a fat black woman; she shirks easy categorization along numerous lines, including sexual orientation. Her music is celebratory. It’s defiant and boundary-pushing by necessity. It’s also fun: Listening to Lizzo can feel like taking a SoulCycle class without all the requisite shame.
There has never been a woman like Lizzo at her level of pop stardom—and her road to fame has come with no shortage of slights, often rooted in or amplified by overlapping forms of discrimination. She has utilized her expanding platform to address racism, sexism, and fatphobia in her music and media appearances alike. It’s endeared her to a legion of fans, many of whom feel like misfits in their own ways. Lizzo has managed to harness the isolation she’s felt at various points in her life and produce work that marries social critique with self-affirmation, all buoyed by bounce-heavy production. This savvy has also primed her for commercial co-option. In that same interview with The Cut, Lizzo bristled at the way she’s been crowned a queen, an Icon™ of the sometimes-fraught Body Positivity movement:
“It’s not a label I wanted to put on myself. It’s just my existence. All these fucking hashtags to convince people that the way you look is fine. Isn’t that fucking crazy? I say I love myself, and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so brave. She’s so political.’ For what? … Even when body positivity is over, it’s not like I’m going to be a thin white woman. I’m going to be black and fat. That’s just hopping on a trend and expecting people to blindly love themselves. That’s fake love. I’m trying to figure out how to actually live it.”
This emphasis on her realness and authenticity has characterized much of the press Lizzo has received in recent months. Cuz I Love You reached the No. 1 spot on the iTunes chart over the weekend, ahead of even Beyoncé’s Homecoming live album. For many listeners, her ascent has been a welcome sign that artists—particularly women, musicians of color, and fat people—may not need to sacrifice their essential selves to find loyal audiences or success. In an entertainment landscape that often forces people to choose between valuing underrepresented communities and producing commercially viable work, Lizzo seemed to be doing both. And winning.