Songs for Screens: Lizzo Explains How Synchs Paved the Way for Her Breakthrough

If there was an artist who owned South by Southwest this year, it was Lizzo. As a longtime cult favorite of the Minneapolis and indie R&B scenes, the singer has spent years training for the mainstream breakthrough she’s poised to enjoy with her major-label debut album, “Cuz I Love You,” due next Friday (April 19) via Atlantic. The singer’s buoyant blend of pop, R&B, funk, hip-hop and jazz flute has struck a chord with a wide range of audiences this year, checking off an early Song of the Summer contender with Missy Elliott collab “Tempo,” making buzzy performances on “The Ellen Show” and “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” as well as a viral “Anchorman” parody this year.

But Lizzo’s support from the synch community helped introduce her music to the masses. Since 2016, her songs have been steadily woven into pop culture through a series of high-profile synchs for major brands as well as film & TV placements. This includes national spots for AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Cadillac, and the newly rebranded WW (f.k.a. Weight Watchers); the season 3 opener of “Broad City” and episodes of Showtime’s “Shameless” and Freeform’s “The Bold Type” as well as key scenes and end credits in “Girls Trip,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Blockers.”

For Lizzo, the first sign that a licensing strategy might be paying off came when she heard her song “Good as Hell” in 2016’s “Barbershop: The Next Cut.” “[That] was one of the most exciting synchs because that was my first song to be featured in a massive film,” she says. “The exposure from that synch opened me up to an entire audience of people who may not have heard my music before and connected me further to the culture. It paved the way for additional film and TV partnerships for me and helped continue to build my fan base.”

And beginning this week, the momentum continues. MillerCoors’ newly launched sparkling cocktail brand Cape Line has debuted its first TV commercial, featuring Lizzo’s lead “Cuz I Love You” single “Juice.” The campaign will run for a year and include a mix of highly-rated prime-time, cable and digital media across 15-second and 30-second formats.

“When we signed her three years ago, we just immediately fell for her: her style, her out-of-the-box personality. She’s her own person and she never lets anyone forget that,” says Brad Rains, Atlantic’s senior VP of brand partnerships and licensing. “Now the great thing is that Lizzo is getting hers: Lizzo is breaking, and this is gonna be an insane year for her. It already has been.”

That unique description bears a similar outline to the brief that MillerCoors and its ad agency Energy BBDO had for Cape Line’s first ad campaign — targeting mostly female consumers who share Lizzo’s spirit for “being yourself and loving yourself and being authentic,” says Daniel Kuypers, the agency’s senior VP and executive director of music.

Striking such a specific cord sent Kuypers into an exhaustive music search through upwards of 1,500 tracks from different artists before he ultimately landed on “Juice.” “We were looking for music that could be so closely tied to the brand — something that could be a character in the spot,” he says. “If it was a little less loose or in the background, maybe we’d listen to music more for a vibe. But we were going for the full package; the message and the artist all had to deliver. And when we heard ‘Juice,’ all these things formed the whole picture that we were looking for.”

The fact that the Atlantic marketing machine was getting ready to go big on Lizzo during the same timeframe as the campaign launch helped make it a no-brainer or Kuypers. Not only does “Cuz I Love You” release the week after the spots start airing, Lizzo performs the first of two Coachella sets this weekend, while “Juice” begins a big radio push to multiple formats this month. “We wanted something from an artist at a point where they were launching a bigger body of work and doing impactful things culturally,” he says.

It also helps, Kuypers adds, that “there isn’t a person in my office who isn’t in love with Lizzo. The idea of working with music you love, going down to the people at MillerCoors, is such a special moment in our day to days. And to be involved in someone’s career makes these fast and hasty days turn into good days. Yeah, we’re marketing and trying to reach people and sell products, but we’re also looking to make work that connects with people.”

Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by music experiential agency MAC Presents, based in NYC. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV.

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