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Wednesday, September 16, 9:10am- 9:30am (Live Discussion of Asynchronous Panel)

Feeling Good as Hell: The Intergenerational Appeal of Lizzo’s Exuberance 

  • 100% That Bitch: Women Empowerment and Body Positivity on Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You, Liselotte Podda (Utrecht U)
  • Lizzo’s Shine and Brown Jouissance, Amber Jamilla Musser (George Washington U)
  • If My Music is Going To Have a Message: Lizzo the Teacher, Chi Chi Thalken (Scratched Vinyl)
  • Working My Femininity: Instrumentalizing Lizzo as the Voice of Popular Feminism, Alyxandra Vesey, (U of Alabama)


Panel Description


In September 2019, singer-rapper-flautist Lizzo finally scored a number-one hit with the cheeky breakup anthem, “Truth Hurts.” For some, the recognition was long overdue. By the time “Truth Hurts” topped the charts, it was a two-year-old single that bridged Coconut Oil, Lizzo’s debut EP for Atlantic, and ‘Cuz I Love You. It had also followed “Good as Hell,” another empowerment anthem that had been heavily co-opted by film trailers and Democratic presidential candidates. Charts analyst Chris Molanphy attributed the single’s success to its intergenerational appeal, claiming that “Truth Hurts” was at once “witty enough not to alienate the adults while giving their kids a pileup of meme-ready lyrics” (2019). Lizzo capitalized on this appeal by placing the song in the trailer to Netflix’s romantic comedy Someone Great and showcasing her persona an exuberant, proudly fat black woman through a series of live performances at the BET Awards, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, and the MTV VMAs. Each moment highlighted Lizzo’s spirited interaction with the crowd, whether it was Gina Rodriguez singing the first verse of “Truth Hurts” with her friends, a gaggle of interns squeezed into a studio, or pop royalty swanning about the Microsoft Theater or the Prudential Center. Such interaction reinforces Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth’s claim that affect, or the experience of emotion, “arises in the midst of in-between-ness” and “in the capacities to act and be acted upon (2010, 1).” This panel uses affect as a framework to examine Lizzo’s intergenerational resonance as a body positivity advocate, as an erotic subject, as a teacher, and as a voice of millennial struggle within an industry and society that defines and values youth culture in opposition to fat black women.

Presentation Descriptions

100% That Bitch: Women Empowerment and Body Positivity in Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You

Liselotte Podda, Utrecht University

In recent years, public rejection of normative body and beauty standards has been on the rise. The body positivity movement challenges the normalisation of thin, toned, white and straight bodies and strives representation of people of all shapes, sizes and colours. In the realm of music, Lizzo is currently one of the most prominent body-positive artists. Still, the way she empowers women and promotes a more inclusive bodily image has remained largely ignored by scholars. In this presentation, I examine how Lizzo defies normative body standards, how she transgresses heteronormative institutions like marriage and breaks stereotypes in and around her recently released album Cuz I Love You (2019). These three themes form the base of this paper through which I link Lizzo’s performances, statements from interviews and lyrics from Cuz I Love You with ideas and concepts from queer theory, fat studies and hip-hop feminism.  

I argue that Lizzo defies normative beauty standards by showing a loving attitude towards herself and her size, shape and colour through her lyrics, performances and interviews. By promoting a positive image of being single, Lizzo destabilises heteronormative standards of only being complete once you are part of a couple. Furthermore, Lizzo challenges existing stereotypes and controlling images surrounding black women that are rooted in colonial times. Through promoting self-love, undermining existing heteronormative structures and conceptions about plus-size women of colour, Lizzo provides a counter-narrative to the bodies that are overrepresented in media and commercials of major industries. Ultimately, this paper contributes to the discourse on challenging normativity in society at large and stresses the influence of women artists like Lizzo within this context.

Lizzo’s Shine and Brown Jouissance

Amber Jamilla Musser, George Washington University

Lizzo is a performer of self-love. This talk will focus on how this is enacted by looking at how “Juice” theorizes “shine,” which she connects to something within herself, something connected to pleasure. Even as the source is ambiguous, the idea that juice and shine might offer a record of pleasure—pleasure that is firmly constituted in and of the flesh—shows us a form of self-possession. This self is not outside of objectification, but its embellishment and insistence on the trace of excitement speaks to the centrality of pleasure and theorizations of self-love. Within the register of black queer pleasure, this concept of self-love finds an echo in Audre Lorde’s theory of the erotic. Lorde describes the erotic as “a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings” and as “an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered (1984, 54-55)."

In relation to the concept of Brown Jouissance, this version of self-love and the erotic emphasizes the production of selfhood in relation to the social, which brings objectification, race, and gender into the mix. To emphasize the Other in theorizing jouissance, then, is to think with the pornotrope and emphasize the simultaneous projections of racialization and gendering that occur through its particular modes of objectification. This is signaled by the adjective “brown” which stands for jouissance that comes through racialization. Brown jouissance, I argue, occurs in the moments when Thing, Other, and object converge to form selfhood. Thinking about Lizzo’s version of shine in relation to brown jouissance allows us to see how she mobilizes particular forms of blackness into this version of self-love and pleasure. Shine and juice are inextricable from black femininity.

If My Music is Going To Have a Message: Lizzo the Teacher

Chi Chi Thalken, Scratched Vinyl

In March of 2019, Lizzo took the stage at Stubb’s in Austin during SXSW.  After finishing her single, “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo took a moment to address the crowd of roughly 1800 people. “I want you to know something,” she said. “When I say, ‘Why men great ‘til they gotta be great,’ I’m not talking about a man. I’m talking about the patriarchy!” In this moment full of festival attendees and music industry insiders, Lizzo took the opportunity to give everyone a basic education and make sure they were all on the same page.  It was a short moment, but it was clear and impactful.

As Lizzo’s popularity has grown, she’s been asked to wear many different hats–singer, flautist, rapper, dancer, actress, self-help guru, role model, fashion icon…and the list goes on. One particular role that Lizzo has gravitated towards is that of the teacher. Whether it be at concerts or appearances on television programs or appearances at her alma mater, the University of Houston, Lizzo has consistently been asked to serve as a teacher. She’s asked to educate others on everything from the technical aspects of the flute to twerking techniques to how the music industry works to lessons about body image and feminism and racism. Fortunately, Lizzo’s background prepared her for this moment, having had some key teachers and mentors along the way, including her high school band director, Manny Gonzalez, and artists like Sammus and Lazerbeak, who helped her early in her career. As she’s taken those lessons and grown as a performer, I argue that one of her most important roles has been educating her audiences. She does this by mixing the obvious elements of singing, rapping, dancing, and otherwise entertaining, but then taking these moments to make sure that the important lessons aren’t lost.

Working My Femininity: Instrumentalizing Lizzo as the Voice of Popular Feminism

Alyxandra Vesey, University of Alabama

At the end of Full Frontal’s 2016 presidential election post-mortem, host Samantha Bee instructed her audience to “push on through together” before ceding the floor to Lizzo. Her medley of “Lift Evr’y Voice and Sing” and “Good As Hell,” entitled “Lizzo, Save Us” on Full Frontal’s YouTube channel, showcased her resilience as a thick black woman resisting the white heteropatriarchal order symbolized by the Trump administration. Like many of her peers, Lizzo broke into mainstream consciousness through meme-able performances and licensing agreements. After a run of late-night appearances to support her second album, Lizzo and Caroline Smith’s “Let ‘Em Say” was placed in a Broad City episode. The sync helped her secure an opening slot on Sleater-Kinney’s 2015 tour and book the Full Frontal gig.

But Lizzo’s success raises questions about who the “us” is that Full Frontal tasked her with saving. Producer Lazerbeak recently posited that Lizzo’s emergence from Minneapolis’s indie scene in the early 2010s separated her from the city’s black communities (Marsh, 2019). Furthermore, many of Lizzo’s songs are placed in programs, films, and campaigns about millennial white women’s anxieties or diverse communities’ commodifiable differences. How does this affect Lizzo’s ability to build a fanbase in an era of late capitalism shaped by gentrification, streaming, and popular feminism, a term Sarah Banet-Weiser uses to describe contemporary forces positioning women’s equality within “an economy of visibility” that consents “to the universality of whiteness, to dominant economics formations, [and] to a trajectory of capitalist ‘success’” (2019, 10, 16)? Thus, this presentation analyzes how television appearances, licensing, and workout playlists commodify Lizzo’s voice as an instrument of women’s empowerment, as well as her ambivalence toward her own instrumentalization.