The 'Special' singer shared her thoughts on common criticisms she faces in an intimate conversation with 'Vanity Fair.'
In a new cover story for Vanity Fair, the "About Damn Time" singer addressed the oft-repeated judgment that her music is somehow geared toward white listeners, noting that it's "such a critical conversation when it comes to Black artists."
"When Black people see a lot of white people in the audience, they think, 'Well this isn't for me, this is for them.' The thing is, when a Black artist reaches a certain level of popularity, it's going to be a predominantly white crowd," she explains. "I was so startled when I watched [YouTube clips of gospel great] Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was an innovator of rock and roll. She was like 'I'm going to take gospel and shred guitar,' and when they turned the camera around, it was a completely white audience."
The singer pointed out several other Black icons who similarly played to predominantly white audiences including Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé and modern rappers.
"I am not making music for white people. I am a Black woman, I am making music from my Black experience, for me to heal myself [from] the experience we call life," she says, adding that it's a bonus when her music helps other Black people. "Because we are the most marginalized and neglected people in this country. We need self-love and self-love anthems more than anybody. So am I making music for that girl right there who looks like me, who grew up in a city where she was underappreciated and picked on and made to feel unbeautiful? Yes. It blows my mind when people say I'm not making music from a Black perspective--how could I not do that as a Black artist?"
But Lizzo also shared that when she connected with other Black women who were inspired by her music, that criticism lost its hold on her. She said that she was able to authentically connect with more people who appreciated her music as it became mainstream and saw her as she sees herself: "Not 'that girl, she's always happy, it's not real,' but instead, 'She's really good and her music is good, believe her.' That is what I'm moving into now, and it's a beautiful place to be. I finally feel I can relax and have a cocktail."
The singer also addressed the backlash she received for including the ableist slur sp*z in the lyrics of her song, "Grrrls," in June.
Initial reviews of the song were warm and receptive of the track's uplifting lyrics and vibe, but shortly after its release, fans took to social media to call out the singer for her use of the word "sp*z" in the song's opening verse, calling it a derogatory term.
Lizzo responded to the backlash in a post shared to Instagram, noting that she not only changed the lyric, but that she "never" wants to promote derogatory language in her music.
"It's been brought to my attention that there is a harmful word in my song 'GRRRLS.' Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language. As a fat black woman in America, I've had hurtful words used against me so I understand the power words can have (whether intentionally or in my case, unintentionally.)," the "Good as Hell" singer stated on Instagram before revealing that a new version of "Grrrls" has been released.
She continued, "I'm proud to say there's a new version of 'GRRRLS' with a lyric change. This is a result of me listening and taking action. As an influential artist I'm dedicated to being a part of the change I've been waiting to see in the world. Xoxo, Lizzo."
To Vanity Fair, the singer reiterated that she never knew the term to be ableist, as it was seen as more derogatory in Great Britain and Australia more than by many Americans until recently.
"The music I make is in the business of feeling good and being authentic to me," she explains "Using a slur is unauthentic to me, but I did not know it was a slur. It's a word I've heard a lot, especially in rap songs, and with my Black friends and in my Black circles: It means to go off, turn up. I used [it as a] verb, not as a noun or adjective. I used it in the way that it's used in the Black community."
The backlash garnered backlash itself as social media users noted that the conversation was being led by white disabled people rather than Black disabled advocates who might better understand the context and nuance needed to handle the issues diplomatically. Especially when it was pointed out that white entertainers who have used similar slurs rarely face the same response.
Still, Lizzo has no regrets with changing the lyrics of her song, even though some disapproved of the move. "Language changes generationally; Nina Simone said you cannot be an artist and not reflect the times," she states. "So, am I not being an artist and reflecting the times and learning, listening to people, and making a conscious change in the way we treat language, and help people in the way we treat people in the future?"