“Just a minute—I’m having my weave melted,” explains Lizzo as I wait for her to turn on her camera for our Zoom call. When she does, she’s a vision in blue. Her hair, which is long, side-parted, wavy—fluid, even—and “laid,” as my girlfriends would say, is the colour of sugared almonds. So is her excellent eye makeup, which matches her dress, a body-con slip from her shapewear line, Yitty, in the same shade. “I see my glam squad more than I see my man,” she says wryly. The singer is sitting in her kitchen, skin glossy, the Los Angeles sun illuminating her face as if she’s sitting in front of a wall of ring lights. Not that she needs the extra help.

Within the current landscape of pop and R&B music, few artists lighten the mood as consistently as Lizzo does. In a pantheon of modern chart toppers that includes Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Cardi B, Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo and Megan Thee Stallion, to name a few, she’s the woman consistently making a case for positivity—speaking out about societal ills while inspiring her 39 million-plus-strong audience (13 million on Instagram and 26.1 million on TikTok) to look on the bright side rather than despair. She has become the face of self-acceptance goals. The woman in whom other women see themselves and whom they aspire to be like—a modern model of self-actualization. Popular writer and self proclaimed internet “meme witch” Adrienne Maree Brown called her a “healer.” And Harry Styles famously said, “She’s exactly what you want an artist to be…which is themselves.”

To hear her tell it, becoming Lizzo has been a process in which the evolution of her music has twinned with her own personal transformation, a journey filled with peaks, valleys, dramas, insecurities, heartbreak and, ultimately, victories—all in pursuit of a greater good. With her latest album, Special, which came out last summer, all of her hard-won personal growth converges into one sonic magnum opus.

“For every artist who goes mainstream, it’s like AD and BC, right? As in before and after your breakout moment,” she says. “It’s a very peaceful place for me to be now because I feel like all my projects before this were not in pursuit of fame but in pursuit of telling my story and finding my voice and then, eventually, helping people.” This sense of advocacy is a point that Lizzo returns to frequently during our time together. “If my journey was like ‘I’m making these albums until I make it big, and then what? I won three Grammys; now what? [I’m] critically acclaimed and number one; now what?’ I think I would feel a lot of pressure. Because what is that? I can tell my story and share my music and help people. And it’s great because now I can do it without having to explain who I am. I never have to go ‘Hi, my name is Lizzo’ ever again. Nah, y’all know who I am. So just enjoy the music. Enjoy the ride.”

Her anthemic single “About Damn Time” soundtracked our summer of re-emergence—the parties, the festivals, the bachelorette nights, the drunken TikTok attempts by the pool. But in Lizzo’s world, pop is not just a bop—it’s a vehicle for changing the world. Can a song do that? Times are complicated. Nevertheless, her mission is clear.


Lizzo began imagining a life as a singer when she was a young girl named Melissa Viviane Jefferson. She was born in Detroit (Taurus sun; Leo rising) smack in the middle of rush hour and moved to Houston at the age of 10. It was there that she had her first encounter with one Beyoncé Giselle Knowles. “The impact that Destiny’s Child had on me making a decision to become an artist was incredible, mostly because I felt like we were so close to it,” she says. “Everyone had their ‘I saw Beyoncé when…’ or ‘I saw Destiny’s Child at this party…’ stories. And that made it seem more accessible. Like, ‘Oh, maybe I can do this too if I work hard enough and have the right people around me.’” And then she saw the group perform. “They had an album-signing event at a Walmart, and I skipped school to go see them. I listened to them sing their gospel medley. I’ve seen Beyoncé live maybe 10 times now, and she continues to give me that feeling,” she adds, eyes wide.

Lizzo says that last June, when Beyoncé dropped her surprise single and an accompanying announcement that a new album was on the way, the news made her go numb. “That excitement never goes away,” she explains. “She doesn’t just put out music for the sake of putting out music—there’s going to be something real, you know what I mean? A teachable moment. Every time I hear her, it’s like, ‘Man, I want to make people feel this way. How can I make people feel this way too?’”

I can tell my story and share my music and help people. And it’s great because now I can do it without having to explain who I am. I never have to go ‘Hi, my name is Lizzo.’

One need only scroll through fan videos tagged #Lizzo on Instagram and TikTok—and they are manifold—to see that she’s already doing it. “I don’t think people are listening. I don’t think people get it,” she says when I ask her about how she perceives her fame. Throughout our chat, this dichotomy—a paradoxical mix of fierce confidence and a seeming lack of belief in the power she wields—keeps coming up. It’s clear that she knows her worth, but there are moments when she seems to wonder if people truly appreciate just how much she’s worth. Her influence is enormous, with TikToks featuring her songs generating more than 4.9 billion views. And her brand now extends to fashion—thanks to her body-inclusive shapewear—and television, with her popular Prime Video series, Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, in which she searches for backup dancers with curvier, more relatable bodies. Both projects have been widely celebrated for challenging narrow, age-old beauty standards—ideals that influenced Lizzo’s own self-confidence growing up and her desire to lift up other marginalized women now.

When she was starting out as a young singer and rapper, she found her comfort zone performing in girl groups (one called The Chalice and another called Grrrl Prty) rather than as a solo act because she felt awkward about her weight. “I think it was more of, like, an insecurity,” she says. “Nearly every star I saw onstage was thinner and light-skinned. They didn’t look like me. Sure, there were women like Missy Elliott and Queen Latifah. But they were exceptions to the rule. I always felt like even if the song is great, people wouldn’t want to hear it coming from me. So I thought, ‘If I have other people onstage too, that will take the focus off me a little bit.’”


For young Melissa, a pop star made her think, “Man, I wish I looked like that.” She says she admired Rihanna’s style so much that she was inspired to get her first weave. “I know people want to look like me now,” she says. “But I’m talking about what it was like in my formative years. I wasn’t really set up to believe that I was desirable. To me, being a pop star—part of it is that people either want to be you or be with you. And I didn’t feel like I had any of the qualities [I needed for that to be a reality].”

So, she decided to change that. “And I did,” she says simply. Lizzo credits the people around her with being the making of her. “In doing the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ method, I began attracting a lot of people who thought I was beautiful,” she says. One of them was her best friend, whom she met when she moved to Minneapolis to pursue her singing career. “She’s always been like, ‘You look good; you look beautiful.’ In the past, a lot of people were my friends because they knew that having me around would make them feel better about themselves. But she genuinely thought I was beautiful and helped me believe it and verbalize it out loud.”

Suddenly, Lizzo wasn’t faking it anymore. “I was like, ‘Oh, no, my [beauty] is real,’” she continues. “And I think that’s an important thing. You start attracting people who see you the way you see yourself. Anyone around you is going to notice how you view yourself.”

At the moment, the person around her is her mother, Shari Johnson-Jefferson, who walks into the room while we’re talking. Lizzo’s father, Michael Jefferson, died in 2009. In a special cameo appearance last June, Johnson-Jefferson introduced her daughter for the singer’s first time hosting Saturday Night Live. “We’re very close,” says Lizzo. “But I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like.”

I don’t need to go on the internet to feel better about stuff anymore. I have a therapist. I have best friends. I have an amazing team around me who I can talk to. I got love.

There’s also a new man in the picture, actor Myke Wright, and Lizzo appeared to make the relationship Instagram official when she posted a photo of them together on the pink carpet for the premiere of Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. The slide-show post also included a sweet photo of her hand, gloved in hot pink (because, hello, it’s Lizzo), holding his. Did I mention the hand had a ring on it? It set her comments alight with engagement rumours. When I ask her about the relationship, though, she deftly swerves. “It’s a bromance,” she says with a laugh.

Lizzo admits that she’s come a long way in her relationship with social media but adds that being part of a generation that grew up before Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (she’s 34) helped. “I think I have a very healthy relationship with the digital world,” she says. “I was born before it was everywhere, before it was an official news source and before it was an obligation or a necessity in your career. I grew up right before it [became a way for kids] to harass you in school and cyberbully you in class. I just missed that.”

In August 2021, she made headlines when she took to Instagram Live, responding tearfully to racist and fat-phobic comments she’d received after dropping the single “Rumors,” a collaboration with Cardi B: “I’m putting so much loving energy into the world…and sometimes I feel like the world don’t love me back,” she says, wiping her eyes. “It doesn’t matter how much positive energy you put into the world—you’re still going to have people who have something mean to say about you.”

Today, her views are much more pragmatic. “I don’t need social media; social media needs me. Social media literally needs people to function. I don’t need to go on the internet to feel better about stuff anymore. I have a therapist. I have best friends. I have an amazing team around me who I can talk to. I got love.”

She describes her current approach to social media much like she does her mission with music: “There are millions of people going through what I’m going through who don’t have an outlet, who don’t have a support system, who don’t have the financial freedom to access certain things [that will make them] feel better. I don’t want people to have to suffer like I do. If I can give somebody a cheat code or if I can give somebody the recipe so they can make their own sauce, I’m gonna do it.”


At the moment, her feed has also become a very effective shop window for Yitty, which she hopes will help the fashion industry become a more welcoming space for women of size. She says she has had too many experiences of being on-set for fashion shoots and “bursting out of the samples.” With Yitty, she hopes to normalize a system in which clothes are designed with bigger bodies in mind rather than size-6 garments being scaled up. I share with her my own frustration with producing shoots featuring curvier models—because sample sizes are criminally small, we have to use custom-made clothing that readers will most likely not be able to find in shops. “I’ve had a lot of shoots where people have made outfits from scratch for me,” she says. “And I’m not mad at it. Thank you. But what about the millions of people who are my size or bigger and can’t get access to chic and glamorous clothing? I don’t want to be the token big girl for the fashion world. I want to open the door. I want this for everybody.”

She decided to start with shapewear because it’s the most triggering. (It’s also booming, with a wave of women-led labels—from Kim Kardashian’s Skims to the feminist-leaning Heist—creating undergarments for all shapes and sizes.) For Lizzo, the decision was bigger than business. It was personal. “More than any piece of clothing, shapewear can make people feel [a certain] way about their body, and most of the time, it’s bad,” she says. “I want to revolutionize shapewear. I want to change how people think when they hear the word ‘snatched.’ I don’t want people to ever have to deal with a girdle again in their lives.

It’s hard to talk about Lizzo’s music without talking about her commitment to advocacy. And I can understand why she’s so vocal about it. Pop music can easily be appreciated on a superficial level—a cute beat to shake your booty to. But Lizzo’s light, catchy, feel-good hooks are deceptive. There’s a radical, zeitgeisty undercurrent running through her happy lyrics. She says she reached a turning point with her music in 2015 when she wrote “My Skin” after a young Black man was shot and killed by police a block away from her house in Minneapolis. “People were out there in the streets, protesting and gathering and organizing and speaking out for this man,” she says. “And it inspired me—like, ‘Wow, I want to write a song to help people who are experiencing this feeling.’ Because it had a message, I felt like it should be heard by millions of people, you know? So I think I had a moment when I was very happy being an indie artist; but after I wrote ‘My Skin,’ I was like, ‘Oh, music can actually help people.’ If I can be that person, then why run away from that purpose?”

I wasn’t really set up to believe that I was desirable. To me, being a pop star—part of it is that people either want to be you or be with you.

Lizzo recorded her new album, Special, in her house in L.A. during lockdown, whittling down its final lineup of tracks from the hundreds she wrote. “I have so many songs at this point—some are my favourites,” she says. “But I’m not putting them on the album if they don’t serve the greater purpose. And I think the greater purpose is ‘What do I need to say right now that can help people forever?’”

She was thinking about social justice (“The rights of Black people are what I’ve been focused on since the beginning”), climate change and the growing population of people struggling with mental-health issues. “It seems like we are hit with traumatic events every week,” says Lizzo. “And one doesn’t outrank the other. They’re all equally tragic, equally terrifying, equally traumatic.” Following the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, she announced that she was making donations to Planned Parenthood and a series of abortion funds. “I feel like the human brain is only capable of fixating on one thing at a time,” she says. “So even on a biological level, thinking about everything we need to fix makes my head hurt. And it’s gotten to the point where there are so many things wrong. Why don’t we talk about just starting over?”


Sitting in her house in 2020, she found solace in making music, an experience she also felt conflicted about. “It was hard for me to find meaning in being an entertainer while people were dying at a high rate,” she says. “I had to remember that when we came out of lockdown, people would be coming out of a depression and that the end of lockdown would not signify the end of their mental-health struggles. So I wanted to make music that people could use as a soundtrack [that would help them] survive. That was the driver for this album.” The music is undeniably upbeat and dance-challenge-friendly. But the lyrics have a depth and honesty that seem to draw on years of therapy. “All these incredible songs are giving people the language to express themselves and have a release after everything they’ve experienced,” she says. She wants her music to not only pull you out of a bad mood but also give you a playlist to protest to.

“I spent years being ashamed,” says Lizzo. “It took a lot of work for me to feel worthy of being in this place—to feel worthy of being a force to be reckoned with.” And now that she’s there, she’s determined to bring a whole world of women with her. It’s about damn time.


Find the full story in the February-March 2023 issue of ELLE Canada — out on newsstands and on Apple News+ February 13. You can also subscribe for the latest in fashion, beauty and culture.