After her No. 1 single “About Damn Time” was touted among the songs of the summer, Lizzo is now staking her claim to the holiday season. The Grammy and Emmy-winning star will debut her intimate documentary “Love, Lizzo” on HBO Max for Thanksgiving, followed by a “Live in Concert” special on New Years.
when Variety met the entertainer on the eve of Thanksgiving — just hours before the documentary’s midnight debut — Lizzo’s recently acquired Emmy trophy was positioned just outside the frame of Zoom.
“It’s usually next to my bed,” she says, explaining. “I won the Emmy and went straight on tour, so I never got to put it on the shelf. Then I did the “Today” show this morning and they mentioned my Emmy, so I brought it up for their cameras, so it’s funny that it’s right there.
The award, won in September for her Amazon Prime Video reality competition series “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” is just one of many accolades Lizzo has amassed recently, including Of variety Hitmakers Record of the Year for the disco-tinged track “About Damn Time,” off his six-time Grammy nominated album “Special.” And now there’s her HBO Max documentary, “Love, Lizzo,” an intimate portrait of the making of the record and all the life and career moments that led up to it.
“There’s never the right time to start documenting and telling your story,” says Lizzo. “And if I had waited to film this, I wouldn’t have captured Coachella and the VMAs, and ‘Truth Hurts’ at #1, my life during the pandemic and the Grammys, and my arena tour now. I wasn’t going to get all this footage that I think is so important to my career.
Cameras began following the singer-songwriter, rapper, and flautist in 2019 and chronicled everything that transpired over the past three years as she skyrocketed to superstardom. But there is also never-before-seen footage from Lizzo’s childhood, including videos she I did not know.
“Everything was new to me. I don’t have footage of kids or footage of myself,” she explains. “Then my cousin recently said, ‘We’ve got all this footage of you,’ so we have a lot of it for this doc. Just being able to see me as a kid, outside of photos, like moving around and hearing my father’s voice, which I haven’t heard since he died [Lizzo’s father Michael Jefferson died in 2009]. There’s just a lot of amazing footage that I didn’t have to share with the world, but it is.
Directed by Doug Pray, the documentary aims to capture all facets of the actress’s identity, delving into her family life (Lizzo was born Melissa Viviane Jefferson); her education in Detroit and then Houston, before pursuing her musical dream in Minneapolis; how she started playing the flute; her journey to body positivity; her ups and downs in her romantic relationships; and her activism, speaking out on behalf of women, black and other people of color, and the LGBTQ+ communities.
It’s a gritty look at reality for Lizzo, and she admits she’s had some hesitation, due to the misogynistic, racist, fatphobic, and otherwise negative comments she’s faced throughout her career.
“There are a lot of polarizing opinions about me,” Lizzo says knowingly. “When people have a kind of tough stance on something, they’re opening themselves up to criticism and backlash because everyone is halfway there.”
She continues: “I say things that I’ve already received backlash for and that I reiterate in this film, talking about twerking and my experience as a black performer. I’m nervous because people have already had bad things to say about it, so I’m really opening myself up to more. But I don’t care anymore, you know? It’s just who I am, and I’m not going to argue with anyone about who I am.
Watching the finished documentary for the first time, Lizzo realized how little she has changed over the years.
“I have a friend, Alexia, who you often see in the documentary. I’ve known her since the third grade, and she always says, ‘The only thing that’s changed about you is that you stand up for us a little more, you’re more confident, but you’re the same,'” says Lizzo. . “I have always said its really nice to have her in my life, a reminder that i am who i am.And now seeing that footage, i think it goes even further.
In essence, Lizzo is still the same girl who is sometimes shy and other times smart, but always follows her love of music. “I haven’t really changed that much, and it’s nice to have a visual representation of that,” she concludes. “But I’m cuter now.”
The timing of the documentary’s release, however, is heavy. In the film, Lizzo talks about one of the most difficult periods of his life: 13 years ago, shortly after the sudden death of his father, he lost his job, his apartment and his music guide. He was around Thanksgiving crying in the 1998 Subaru he’d slept in. What would he say to that girl today?
“This was a trauma that I wish I could have avoided because I’m still working through that trauma. Like, he’s been showing up in a lot of places in my life,” Lizzo begins, admitting that he still has anxiety around the holidays.
“I was like, ‘Damn’, it was 2009 [and I’m] still anxious. I still feel that something will be taken away from me. I’m still scared and I think it’s bad luck,” she explains. “But I’m grateful that all these years later, I have a home. I have family, friends, people who love me, and now I’m in control of that situation. Where I wasn’t in control when I was very scared [before]now i have a lot of peace.
With that peace also came great success. On Wednesday afternoon, HBO Max announced its “Live in Concert” special. It serves as a kind of coda to the revealing documentary, filmed during the most recent stops of his “Special” arena tour at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, California.
HBO cameras ran out to sellout Friday and Saturday night sets, as Lizzo, her band, the Lizzbians and the Little Bigs, and her dancers, the Big Grrrls, were joined on stage by her collaborators Cardi B (“Rumours”), SZA (“Special”) and Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott (who shocked Lizzo by leaping on stage while performing their banger “Tempo”). The cameos ignited social media, with Lizzo sharing her thanks with special guests online.
“I’m a fan of Cardi B…but as much as I admire her as an artist, who she is as a person is like no other,” Lizzo tweeted after the showCaptions another photo showing her hugging Elliott with “Being on stage w you is a dream but knowing you is unfathomable! My absolute icon!” Lizzo dubbed the duet with SZA such as “Sizzo Supremacy”, teasing that the duo had “something special coming soon”.
Beyond the love and adoration for each other, the posts were a preview of what fans can expect when they tune in.
“I’m excited because I don’t play when it comes to being a live performer,” Lizzo says of the concert special. “I think when people realize the mic is on, the choreography was choreographing, the look is watching, the Big Grrls are on point, the band is on point, Sophia Eris [Lizzo’s longtime friend and DJ] and I’m on the verge, people are really going to realize, ‘Oh, this is serious!’”
It’s not that she feels the need to prove herself at this point — she’s sold out an arena tour, after all — but she takes pride in “showing people the level I’m operating at.”
“Let me stop talking about me for a minute,” Lizzo chuckles, before turning her attention to fans who either couldn’t get tickets or an emergency prevented them from attending the show.
“I think people will really enjoy seeing the concert,” he adds. “A lot of people have nothing to do on New Year’s Eve so now they can pop a bottle of champagne or apple juice and they can watch Lizzo’s show and it’s a great show.”
Billed as a “spectacular show filled with so much love, positivity, and incredible music,” Lizzo opens her concert by asking the audience one important question: “When was the last time you said something kind about yourself?”
It’s a question he hopes will elicit something in the audience that lasts longer than his set list.
“There’s a part of them that feels joy, that feels confident, that feels love. That part comes out of them at my shows,” Lizzo explains. “And then, just like the excitement of a show is fleeting, so that feeling can be fleeting. This feeling that they have, I want them to take it home and I want that they protect it, because it’s important. You need it out there [in the world].”
Focusing on that simple question and her own mantra: “I love you. You are beautiful. And you can do anything” — Lizzo hopes fans can “make up for the amount of negativity we ingest on a daily basis — a lot of negative news, a lot of negative comments, a lot of negative thoughts we’ve already had, a lot of negative programming where we don’t see ourselves as appreciated, or beautiful, in the media.
It’s a shame we have to do that job, but it’s important. “I really want to create a space where people feel safe and I really want to keep people safe. I think everyone deserves to be protected at all costs.”
That’s part of why he makes such an effort to make sure his fans feel seen at his shows, requesting that the house lights be turned on so he can call them out in a crowd.
“I can see everyone in there, and I think if people knew that, they’d feel more connected to me,” she explains. “People who got pit tickets and are pressed against the fence, they can look at me and say, ‘Ah, he looked at me.’ I want to give the same feeling to people who think they are in the nosebleed, that I am on top of the arena, I can see you too!
Essentially, she wants them to feel what she felt on Ms. Carter’s tour when she learns that Beyoncé saw her in the crowd choreographing “Single Ladies.” (Lizzo has seen Beyoncé 10 or 11 times in concert, but this one was memorable).
And with “Live in Concert”, everyone at home can feel that way. Directed by Sam Wrench and produced by Kevin Beisler, the special is executive produced by Lizzo (via her Lizzobangers production company) and Ian Stewart, Leah Lane and Hamish Hamilton of Done+Dusted. After producing an Emmy-winning reality TV, documentary and concert special, what will the Lizzobangers do next?
“Damn…I don’t even think about it that way to be honest,” Lizzo replies, mulling the question over for a minute before deciding on an answer.
“Lizzobangers Productions is me taking a position and ownership in my career, so whatever I do because of that production company, I own it,” she concludes, teasing, “Who knows where this is going to go? For example, Lizzobangers manufacturing may one day make diapers, you never know, and I think that’s the beauty of what we do here.
If the successes of the past few years (which also includes the launch of Yitty Lizzo’s collaboration with Fabletics) have been proof, there’s no limit.