“Even my ‘off’ is pretty ‘on,’” laughs Lizzo , the wildly popular, Grammy-winning, exuberant singer-songwriter, as we sit down at the dining room table in her Hollywood Hills home to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter’ s Awards Chatter podcast. The 34-year-old superstar has been described by the Los Angeles Times as “an artist who has defied most of the modern rules of pop stardom in her unexpected ascent to the top of the charts,” known for making music which TIME has called “relentlessly positive and impossibly catchy: bangers that synthesize pop, rap and R&B, with hooks so sharp it feels like they’ve been in your brain forever. Her lyrics are funny, bawdy and vulnerable: reminders to dump whatever idiot is holding you back and become your own biggest fan.”
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Lizzo has been on the music scene for years, but she’s only been famous since 2019, when her third album, Cuz I Love You — led by the singles “ Truth Hurts ,” “Good as Hell” and “Juice” — took the world by storm, prompting TIME to name her that year’s Entertainer of the Year, and ultimately bringing her a field-leading eight Grammy nominations and three Grammy statuettes in 2020. Now, ahead of the July 15 release of her fourth album, Special , Lizzo — a self-described “big girl” who preaches body positivity and self-empowerment in everything she does — is basking in the afterglow of a Critics Choice Award for Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls , the Amazon reality competition show that she hosts, on which she seeks big girl dancers to accompany her at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
The Amazon Prime show, which is now in serious contention for an Emmy nomination, “was inherently selfish,” its host admits. “I needed dancers!” However, she continues, “I’m realizing, post-show, I needed them just as much as they needed me.” The show is unlike most other reality competition series in that — spoiler alert — none of the contestants are dismissively degraded or dispatched. “I’ve experienced what these women have experienced, and the last thing that I wanted to do was create a culture that promoted the bullying and the degradation that the dance industry already does to [women like them],” she explains. “Why would I do that? Why would I add to the fray? It’s revolutionary to do the opposite , which is to be kind and to embrace people for who they are and to create an environment for them to flourish — to give them opportunities.”
Over the course of this podcast episode, Lizzo reflects on the role that music played in her life as a child, and how her trademark flute first entered the picture; her darkest periods, like when she was so depressed that she stopped talking to anyone for a long stretch of time, and her brightest, like when Prince took her under his wing; how she learned to love herself, and why she feels it’s important to help others to do the same, not least on Watch Out for the Big Grrrls ; and more. You can listen to the episode (above) or read excerpts of it (below).
On dropping out of college, where she was pursuing classical music training, during her sophomore year to pursue a career as a singer …
“I was very disappointed and embarrassed when I dropped out of college. I was so embarrassed, I was so ashamed, that I stopped speaking, because I didn’t know what to say. I had nothing to say. I was so angry, and I didn’t want to say mean things to people — they didn’t deserve it — so I just kept it to myself and I was like, literally silent, like, I didn’t speak to people even in the same room, I didn’t say ‘hello,’ I didn’t say ‘goodbye,’ people asked me questions and my mouth was, like, glued shut for months. I remember being like, ‘OK, cool. I’m gonna just pursue music in a different way. Maybe not flute, but singing, rapping, whatever.’ It was very delusional. But I went back to Houston — because I was with my family in Denver for a little bit — and at that time, my dad had already had his first stroke, so he was already sick and he couldn’t work anymore. And I think instead of confronting what was happening with my family and my personal life, I was just, like, roughin’ it. I was so driven to make something happen, so that once I made that thing happen I could take it back and fix my family and fix my personal life… I was very irresponsible, I think. It was the irresponsibility that got me out of where I was living — I couldn’t afford to live where I was living anymore. When my father passed away, I didn’t want to work anymore… I was, like, so catatonic, and I didn’t want to do anything. I was, like, really over life as it was. I was like, ‘I know this isn’t what life is supposed to be like. Maybe life shouldn’t be.’ Those kinds of thoughts. I had been brought down to the bare minimum of existence: You don’t got no car, you don’t got no apartment no more, you don’t go no money, you don’t got no daddy, you don’t got no job, you are sleeping in the car, you’re sleeping in the band studio, you’re sleeping on your drummer’s floor, you’re eating dinner at people’s houses when they say, ‘Hey, you can come and have dinner with us tonight.’ That’s where I was at. I actually didn’t even process what it felt like to be there. So yeah, I feel like the rest of my life has been dedicated to healing that period… I’m so incredibly grateful for the life I’ve experienced because it has prepared me in insurmountable ways for the life that I have now. This shit is a breeze! This is a cakewalk, honey!”
Finding her purpose around the time she wrote her 2015 song “My Skin” …
“There was an interview I did around that time when they asked me my favorite thing about myself. I was like, ‘My personality,’ and they were like, ‘Oh, that’s not what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about physically .’ And I couldn’t think of anything. And when I finally decided, ‘Oh, my skin is my favorite thing about myself,’ I started crying in the interview — which is so embarrassing now to think about — but it hit a very tender nerve in my self-discovery. I was like, ‘Wow, I love my skin .’ And in the same time period, there was a police murder like a block from my house in Minneapolis of a young unarmed Black man, and I was like, ‘The thing that I love about myself the most is the thing that I’m hated for the most in this country.’ And it was just, like, blowing my mind. I was like, I need to articulate this in the best way that I can, and it was through music. And the way that I felt after writing a song like that is the point. I think that writing music selfishly is great, and I know how to do that, but I’ve real…