This weekend she’s making her motion-picture debut in theaters around the world, co-starring with J. Lo in “Hustlers.” Two weeks ago she landed atop the Billboard singles chart. The week before that was the butt-balloon performance that blew up the web.
So it has gone for Lizzo throughout 2019. Even before she dropped her album “Cuz I Love You” in April, it seemed like the rapper/singer/dancer/flutist and now actress has been everywhere.
The Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone and others declared her April performances at the Coachella festival “breakout” gigs. Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Kimmel and even “The Today Show” crew were visibly wowed by her appearances on their sets. Magazines ranging from Essence and Elle to Teen Vogue to several LGBTQ publications have put her on her cover.
The internet has absolutely devoured her. Among the very high-profile fans she has racked up online are Beyoncé and Jay-Z (who went viral watching her perform backstage in Philadelphia last month) and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (both of whom tweeted their fandom).
Back in the quaint old Twin Cities, where she lived and launched her music career from 2011 to ’17, she has certainly given her longtime fans and former peers in the local music scene plenty to think and talk about.
“Every 12 hours, it’s something new,” said Dessa, a former peer and forebear in Twin Cities hip-hop who stays up on the “Where’s Lizzo?” game with help from longtime crewmate Lazerbeak, co-producer of Lizzo’s first album, 2013’s “Lizzobangers.”
“We’re always texting each other: ‘Can you believe this?’ ‘Oh, wow, did you see what she did now?!’ ”
As she returns to Minneapolis for two instantly sold-out shows at the 8,300-capacity Armory on Oct. 9 and 11 — tickets are currently jacked up to $200-plus on resale sites — Lizzo’s presence is still strongly felt by those who used to work with and around her in Minnesota.
While she’s shaking up the entire music industry with her deal-with-it approach to issues of gender, body image, race, sexuality and sexual orientation, she is also changing attitudes and ethos back in Minnesota in more subtle ways.
According to her former cohorts here, Lizzo’s success has added a new level of appreciation for the long-simmering Twin Cities hip-hop scene, while raising the already high empowerment level among local women musicians.
“She’s done so many collaborations and projects with Minnesota artists that I think she’s learned from us, as well as taught so many of us,” said Shannon Blowtorch, the DJ/producer who backed the megastar in the high-energy dance-rap quintet Grrrl Prty.
Another of Lizzo’s former beatmakers, Stefon “Bionik” Taylor — who produced four tracks on her second album, the 2015 release “Big Grrrl, Small World” — thinks she has made a lasting impression on Twin Cities musicians “by showing them how to embrace their individuality.”
“She has also re-established Minneapolis’ reputation as an influencer of music on a larger scale,” he added.
Sean “Twinkie Jiggles” McPherson, bassist in the pioneering hip-hop group Heiruspecs and co-host of 89.3 the Current’s Wednesday-night hip-hop show “The Message,” has been eyeing her success from both the standpoint of a local musician and a member of the local media.
As far as musicians go, McPherson said her “larger than life, wildly confident” persona cuts against the grain in a good way against Minnesota players being more reserved and “sheepish about deserving the spotlight.” He also believes she took away the stigma of edgy local rappers who hesitate to enlist the poppy hooks and production heard in some of her best-loved songs, such as “Juice” and “Good as Hell.”
“By running around bar for bar with the best dense-wordplay emcees in town, including Sean Anonymous, Manchita and P.O.S., she can also roll out the carpet for anyone who can rap their ass off still making powerful pop songs,” he said.
As for the media perspective, McPherson applauded the support shown to Lizzo by both print and broadcast media when she lived here; she graced the Star Tribune’s arts cover and City Pages’ front multiple times, and has been a flagship artist on the Current since about 2013, and at Go 95.3 in more recent years. But he believes that, overall, “Minnesota does a poor job of celebrating the incredible output of black artists from our state.”
“Her meteoric rise to success will further encourage the media people in the Twin Cities to celebrate and amplify black voices,” he said.
At this point, most of Lizzo’s former compatriots understand that Minnesota is largely in her rearview mirror. However, they still see many signs of her roots.
For starters, Blowtorch noted that she has literally brought Minnesota friends along for the ride. Among them: Sophia Eris, the DJ and backup singer who has her own solo career in the works, and Quinn Wilson, the dancer and filmmaker who has directed most of her eye-popping, smile-inducing music videos, including the viral clips for “Juice” and “Boys.”
All the doors she’s blowing open in the industry will be to the benefit of Minnesota artists staying put, too. Blowtorch pointed to the fact that “Truth Hurts” made Lizzo one of only six African-American women to land atop the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart this decade — a meager number, really.
“That right there needs to change, and I think she’s in the process of making that happen. She’s been doing this for a while, but now that she’s gotten the kind of exposure she has, it’s only going to keep growing. She’ll be changing culture for sure as she continues to speak her truth.”
Bionik pointed to one of the standout tracks he worked on from the “Big Grrrl” album, “My Skin,” as proof Lizzo was stepping up as a positive change-maker even while still based here. He said, “She represents much-needed ideas and images that have been suppressed in the entertainment industry since the beginning: powerful women of color loving themselves, and succeeding.”
Her influence is already reaching out well beyond the music business. No doubt more Hollywood roles will be coming her way after this stint in “Hustlers.” Her music has already been featured in a lot of TV commercials, from a Cadillac ad to spots for Cape Line sparkling cocktails and even a feel-good (as hell) HealthPartners ad.
You can hear Lizzo’s tunes popping up in sports stadiums and broadcasts, too — and not just the Minnesota Vikings, who got a shoutout in “Truth Hurts” that made some (apparently bored) Packers fans boycott the song.
“It is incredible to see the money and the brands lining up to get a piece of a woman who isn’t afraid to say that black lives matter, to fight for LGBTQ rights and more,” raved McPherson. “She is a huge star, but without the middle-of-the-road, don’t-rock-the-boatness that we have expected from our major-label stars.”
And as far as most folks outside Minnesota are concerned, Lizzo has only just begun.
“I’ve never been this close to firepower,” Dessa marveled. “It’s a career that’s just going straight up.”