Lizzo takes off her long, bright-red wig. Now wearing nothing but her underwear, the rapper fluffs out her short, natural hair with her fingertips. She's one of the many participants in StyleLikeU's YouTube series, a positive body-image project featuring women from a variety of careers being interviewed as they undress in front of the camera. At one point in the video, the off-camera interviewer asks the former Melissa Jefferson about her favorite part of her body. For a while, Lizzo struggles to think of an answer. Eventually—with a laugh that sounds half uncomfortable, half relieved—she responds, "I love my skin."
"I feel like doing this is a good way to kind of break through," she says in the video, "and kind of seals the last chapter in learning to love and just loving."
Since the release of her sophomore album, Big Grrrl Small World, in December 2015, and dropping the feel-good hit of last summer, "Good as Hell," critics and fans have held up Lizzo as a paragon of positive self-esteem. But groggy and yawning in her L.A. home after a busy week, Lizzo says thinking of her music as inspirational is new to her.
"No one comes up to me and tells me about how Lizzobangers has changed their lives," she says, referring to her 2013 debut. "I just remember being, like, very aware that I wasn't that artist that did that for people."
It's only been recently that Lizzo has had to evaluate her identity as a solo musician at all. She played flute from a young age, and started her rap career in Minneapolis performing in group scenarios. With Lizzobangers, she allowed herself to "vent," rapping fast as fuck over aggro beats. But if her first album was Lizzo showing herself to the world, then Big Grrrl Small World is Lizzo looking in the mirror.
"[Lizzobangers] was such a conversation between me and someone else," she says, "and Big Grrrl Small World was a conversation between me and myself."
You can hear Lizzo's internal dialogue on songs like "Ride," where she sings about "feelin' hella breakable" over a shimmering funk beat. Big Grrrl is the rare album that preaches self-love without shying away from personal insecurities. It's also rare in the musical sense, propelled more by soulful basslines and fuzzy electric guitars than the digitized beats favored in much mainstream hip-hop today. Combined with the fact that Lizzo sings just as much as she raps, it gives the album a pervasive sense of old-school glamour.
Lizzo's true breakthrough, though, came last spring, with the ultra-catchy pop anthem "Good as Hell," her debut single for Atlantic that was eventually included on her Coconut Oil EP and the soundtrack for the third Barbershop movie. As the chorus makes clear, the intent is to leave listeners "feelin' good as hell," while offering up such pieces of advice as, "If he don't love you anymore/Just walk your fine ass out the door." She promises to expect more of that inspirational optimism in the future.
"Especially after Prince passed away," Lizzo says, "the world was just looking so bleak, I was like, 'All right, I'm dedicating myself to making positive music.'"
Since the release of "Good as Hell," several career opportunities have opened for Lizzo. She got a gig hosting the MTV Video Music Awards pre-show, and performed on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee the night after the presidential election. But the biggest change has been how she sees herself as an artist.
"Every day I get messages about what 'Good as Hell' has done for them," Lizzo says. "That moment I always talked about, where I was like, 'I'm not that kind of artist,' I became that kind of artist before my own eyes."
SEE IT: Lizzo plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with Dizzy Fae, on Sunday, Jan. 29. 9 pm. $15 advance, $17 day of show. 21+.