Lizzo's Performances Are Influenced By Some Very Unexpected Places
From hip-hop to retro-funk and rock to pop, some of the influences on Lizzo's versatile performances are as unexpected as which genre-defying curveball she'll throw audiences next. "I can do anything, you know?" Lizzo said in Billboard's Sept. 21 Grammy Preview issue cover story. "You want a polished, choreographed performance? I can give you that. You want a wild rock'n'roll show? I can give you that. You want to feel like you're in church? I can give you that."
Lizzo has, indeed, put on performances that check all those boxes, for years. As she explained to Billboard, her evolution "has been more about refining who I am versus creating it.” In her early aughts, she learned to slightly dial back her reliance on one of her more surprising performance-style influences: Texas prog-rock band the Mars Volta. In 2009, the group won a Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy for their song, "Wax Simulacra" and are known for their high-energy concerts.)
“I was always pretty wild, and it was just like, 'OK, this is not a Mars Volta show,'" the singer added to Billboard. "[Frontman] Cedric [Bixler-Zavala] would just go crazy, and I wanted to be like him. But at a certain point, it's like, 'B*tch, you not him. You got to find you.'"
Part of finding her own onstage presence involved incorporating her Big Grrrls dance crew, something she told the San Francisco Chronicle in May 2017 gave her energetic performances more choreography and made them "more beautifully chaotic." (In the same interview, Lizzo also noted that she learned everything she knows from Freddie Mercury, Tina Turner, and, again, Bixler-Zavala.)
While the Big Grrrls backup dancers are often by her side, Lizzo's 2019 MTV VMAs performance of a "Truth Hurts" and "Good As Hell" medley particularly exemplified both the singer's versatility, as well as how using an all-female crew of dancers in every shape and size made for a performance in line with her own unique brand. In one meme-worthy moment, the dancers (clad in cloud leotards), leaned on each other in a row with Lizzo at the center in a sunshine yellow leotard of her own.
Plus, the performance hearkened back to Lizzo's high school singing group, the Cornrow Clique. In her Billboard interview, she described a show at a black history pep rally in the school gym, where she and her fellow members sang a medley, complete with costume changes. “It was very lit," she recalled to Billboard. "It was like a VMAs-worthy performance. It had drama.”
Then there are her aforementioned church influences. "I was raised on gospel," the Michigan-born artist told the Huffington Post in Dec. 2017. "I remember hip-hop and rock music were secular, so basically for my first ten years living in Detroit, I was on gospel." It came as little surprise, then, that when Lizzo performed "Juice" at the 2019 MTV Movie and TV Awards in June, she paid homage to 1993's Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Aside from the direct references to the film (including a sample of “Joyful, Joyful"), Lizzo donned a church choir robe and began her performance by showcasing her soulful voice in a stripped-down version of her hit.
Finally, Lizzo has frequently incorporated her flute (AKA Sasha Flute) into many live shows. The one that launched a thousand memes, though, was Lizzo's 2019 BET Awards performance in June. The musician — who played the piccolo in her high school marching band and studied classical flute at the University of Houston — delivered a flute solo during her "Truth Hurts" rendition — while twerking in a wedding dress, nonetheless. (Even Rihanna gave her a standing ovation mid-performance.)
For Lizzo, it all seems to be part of her quest to win over as many concertgoers as possible. "I’ve always had to turn haters into congratulators," she also told Billboard. "That's the thing with my songs and my live shows: I've never lost that mentality of 'I have to win you over,' and I'm never going to, because I didn’t learn that way. I have muscle memory in this."
As Lizzo's star rapidly continues to rise, she certainly continues incorporating many different influences and has no shortage of fans and supporters — converts or not.