Stream it or skip it?

As a documentary, Love, Lizzo (HBO Max) will fill in the biographical details for anyone not already familiar with the road to fame for the Detroit-born, Houston-trained rapper, singer, songwriter and flautist who is currently celebrating another hit in Special, his fourth Billboard studio album, released earlier this year. But with Lizzo herself, To like director Doug Pray (HBO’s The defiant, levitating mass) finds new ways of telling this story that are elliptical, immersive, non-traditional, and ultimately inspiring.


The essential: Born Melissa Viviane Jefferson in Detroit in 1988, Lizzo – her professional name is derived from a childhood nickname – sang with her mother in church, studied the flute from an early age, moved to Houston with her parents and two siblings, endured bullying in middle school during his body type and interests (so-called flute, Sailor Moon fanfiction), and ultimately centered her creativity and herself around the power of music and performance. Love, Lizzo includes looks at the artist’s writing and recording sessions for Special, especially the title track and « About Damn Time ». But it’s even cooler to see footage of Lizzo’s very first live performance as a rapper, the assortment of family videos here, and the singer and rapper’s emotional talk sessions with her dancers where they share their experiences with body shame and its triumphant reverse, complete and total positivity.

« Like a lot of people, I grew up learning to hate my body, » Lizzo says in voiceover, « and it worked. You’re so disgusted with your skin, your flesh, your muscles, your bones and the way they’re designed… you want to cut off parts of your body. It’s confessional moments like this that put into perspective what comes later in Love, as Lizzo stabilizes her writing voice with « My Skin » of 2015 big grrrl small world and comes to understand the hard work she has to put in to achieve her dreams of musical success. « Because nobody cheated on me. Nobody was trying to sign a fat black girl who rapped and played the flute. It took a decade or more. She broke down, got lost, lost her father and slept in his car. But she chased the music. And today there are Grammys, Emmys, sold-out concerts in Radio City, and an encouraging voice for anyone who tries to say that Lizzo or anyone who might look like him either can’t have him or won’t.

Love, Lizzo
Picture: HBO Max

What movies will this remind you of? Lizzo has really stepped up her media presence on the small screen lately. She won an Emmy for Lizzo watch out for big grrrls, his more positive and less catty competition reality show from earlier this year which found the entertainer looking for new backup dancing talent. And Love, LizzoThe appearance of on HBO Max is an introduction to the film Lizzo: Live Concertwhose streamer will air on New Year’s Eve.

Performance to watch: The star of Love, Lizzo is most telling when it comes to its relationship to self-worth. « And then one day I was like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna be in this body forever. I’m gonna be that bitch forever. So either you live your life not liking it or you live your life not liking it trying to love her.

Memorable dialogue: Part of Lizzo’s mission statement is to be there and fight back when and where her name and public persona become something of a shorthand for bashing. « Someone calls a girl, ‘OK, Lizzo,’ because she’s tall and she’s black and she’s doing something that they don’t think tall black women should be doing, like dancing and I can only turn Lizzo into a compliment by being the best version of myself.

Sex and skin: Nothing too crazy here beyond some photoshoot glimpses for Lizzo’s memorable Because I love you scrapbook art.

Our opinion : Lizzo was already a polymath, becoming a rapper in high school before attending the University of Houston on a flute scholarship, then channeling her creativity into singing and songwriting, which, as everyone knows by now, led to his successful career as an artist without genre or limit. But that was all before she hosted and produced the Emmy-winning film. Watch out for the big Grrrls, a reality show built around dance and body positivity, played James Madison’s famous 1813 crystal flute, won Time’s « Entertainer of the Year, » and delivered a bold and thought-provoking TED Talk on the black history of twerking. But it’s precisely because Lizzo is there for so many things that Love, Lizzo is such an eye-opening documentary, and doesn’t have to stick to one track as it tells the story of woman born Melissa Jefferson. Neither did Lizzo: In one of the doc’s lighter moments, she even discovered she was practicing her driving skills alongside manager Kevin Beisler.

The non-traditional elliptical format is ideal for Love, Lizzo, but there would be more than enough material to work with in any style, since the star herself is so compelling and refreshingly unassuming. While the writing and recording sessions for his album Special have their moments, To like shines brightest when Lizzo talks openly about being bullied as a child, her relationship with her late father, and her desire to inspire personality in others, and wants to use her platform to give validating exposure to women who look like him. Or, as Lizzo herself puts it, to see « big girls as protagonists, as talent, and not just as the punchline of a joke. »

Our call: SPREAD IT. For new and old fans, Love, Lizzo features both biographical boilerplate, professional references, personal manifestos and proud calls for body positivity from the Grammy-winning singer, flautist and rapper.

Johnny Loftus is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicagoland. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glenganges


Back to top button