After her No. 1 single “About Damn Time” was touted among the songs of the summer, Lizzo is now staking her claim on the holiday season. The Grammy and Emmy-winning star is set to debut her intimate documentary “Love, Lizzo” on HBO Max for Thanksgiving, with a “Live in Concert” special to follow on New Year’s Eve.
When Variety caught up with the entertainer on Thanksgiving eve — just a few hours before the documentary’s midnight debut — Lizzo’s recently acquired Emmy trophy was positioned just outside of the Zoom frame.
“It’s by my bed normally,” she says, explaining. “I won the Emmy and went straight on tour, so I never got to put it on my shelf. Then this morning I did the ‘Today’ show, and they mentioned my Emmy, so I brought it over for their cameras, so that’s funny that she’s just right there.”
The award, won in September for her Amazon Prime Video reality competition series “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” is just one of the many accolades Lizzo’s been racking up lately, including Variety’s Hitmakers Record of the Year honor for the disco-tinged track “About Damn Time,” off her six-time Grammy nominated album “Special.” And now there’s her HBO Max documentary, “Love, Lizzo,” an intimate portrait of the making of the record and all the life and career moments that led up to it.
“There’s never a right time to start documenting and telling your story,” Lizzo says. “And if I had waited to film this, then I wouldn’t have captured Coachella and the VMAs, and ‘Truth Hurts’ going number one, my life during the pandemic and the Grammys, and my arena tour now. I wouldn’t have gotten all of this footage that I think is just so important to my career.”
Cameras began following the singer/songwriter, rapper and flutist in 2019 and chronicled everything that’s happened in the last three years as she’s skyrocketed to superstardom. But there’s also never-before-seen footage of Lizzo’s childhood, including videos even she didn’t know about.
“All of it was new to me. I have no baby footage or kid footage of myself,” she explains. “Then my cousin recently was like, ‘We got all this footage of you,’ so we got a bunch of it for this doc. Just being able to see myself as a kid, outside of photos, like actually moving and hearing my father’s voice, which I haven’t heard since he’s passed [Lizzo’s father Michael Jefferson died in 2009]. There’s just a lot of incredible footage that I didn’t have to share with the world, but I am.”
Directed by Doug Pray, the documentary aims to capture all facets of the entertainer’s identity, delving into her family life (Lizzo was born Melissa Viviane Jefferson); her upbringing in Detroit and then Houston, before she chased her music dream to Minneapolis; how she started playing the flute; her journey to body positivity; the ups and downs in her romantic relationships; and her activism, speaking up for women, Black people and other people of color and the LGBTQ+ communities.
It’s a raw look at Lizzo’s reality, and she admits she had some hesitation, due to the misogynistic, racist, fatphobic and otherwise negative comments she’s faced over the course of her career.
“There’s a lot of polarizing views about me,” Lizzo says knowingly. “When people have any kind of like hard stance on something, they’re opening themselves up to criticism and backlash because everybody’s middle of the road.”
She continues: “I say things that I’ve already gotten backlash for that I reiterate in this film — talking about twerking and my experience as a Black artist. I’m nervous because people have already had negative things to say about that, so I’m really opening myself up for more. But I can’t care anymore, you know? It’s just who I am, and I’m not gonna argue down with somebody about who I am.”
Watching the finished documentary for the first time, Lizzo realized just how little she’s changed over the years.
“I have a friend, Alexia, who you see a lot in the doc. I’ve known her since the third grade, and she’s always like, ‘Only thing that’s changed about you is you stand up for us a little bit more, you’re more confident, but you’re the same,’” Lizzo says. “I’ve always said it’s really nice to have her in my life, a reminder that I am who I am. And now seeing that footage, I think takes it even further.”
In essence, Lizzo’s still the same girl who’s sometimes shy and othertimes a smart aleck, but is always following her love of music. “I really haven’t changed that much, and it’s nice to actually have a visual representation of that,” she concludes. “But I’m cuter now.”
The timing of the documentary’s release, though, is heavy. In the film, Lizzo opens up about one of the toughest periods in her life: 13 years ago, shortly after her father’s sudden death, she lost her job, apartment and drive in music. It was around Thanksgiving and she was crying in the 1998 Subaru that she’d been sleeping in. What would she tell that girl today?
“This was a trauma that I wish we could have avoided because I’m still working out that trauma. Like, that has shown up in a lot of places in my life,” Lizzo begins, admitting that she still gets anxiety around the holiday.
“I was like, ‘Damn,’ that was 2009 [and I’m] still anxious. I still feel like something’s gonna get taken away from me. I’m still scared, and I think it’s unfortunate,” she explains. “But I am grateful that all these years later, I have a house. I have family, friends, people who love me, and now I have control of that situation. Where I didn’t have control, when I had a lot of fear [before], I have a lot of peace now.”
With that peace has also come great success. On Wednesday afternoon, HBO Max announced her “Live in Concert” special. It serves as a coda of sorts to the revealing documentary, filmed during the most recent stops on her “Special” arena tour at the Kia Forum in Inglewood, Calif.
HBO’s cameras rolled during the sold-out Friday and Saturday night sets, as Lizzo, her band the Lizzbians and the Little Bigs, and her dancers the Big Grrrls were joined onstage by her collaborators Cardi B (“Rumors”), SZA (“Special”) and Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott (who shocked Lizzo by popping onstage while she performed their banger “Tempo”). The cameos lit social media on fire, with Lizzo sharing her thanks to the special guests online.
“I am a fan of Cardi B … but as much as I fan over her as an artist, who she is as a person is unmatched,” Lizzo tweeted after the show, captioning another photo showing her hugging Elliott with “Being on stage w you is a dream but knowing you is unfathomable! My absolute icon!” Lizzo dubbed the duet with SZA as “Sizzo Supremacy,” teasing that the duo had “something special coming your way soon.”
Beyond the love and mutual adoration, the posts were a preview of what fans can expect when they tune in.
“I’m excited because I don’t play when it comes to being a live performer,” Lizzo says of the concert special. “I think when people realize the mic is on, the choreo was choreographing, the looks is looking, the Big Grrls is on point, the band is on point, Sophia Eris [Lizzo’s longtime friend and DJ] and me are on point, people are really gonna realize, ‘Oh this is serious!’”
It’s not that she feels the needs to prove herself at this point – she did sell out an arena tour, after all — but she takes pride in “showing people the level I’m operating on.”
“Let me stop talking about myself for a minute,” Lizzo chuckles, before pivoting her focus to the fans who couldn’t get tickets or an emergency kept them from attending the show.
“I think people are really going to enjoy seeing the concert,” she adds. “A lot of people don’t have anything to do on New Year’s Eve, so now they can pop a bottle of champagne or apple juice and they can watch the Lizzo show and it’s a great show.”
Billed as a “spectacular show filled with lots of love, positivity and incredible music,” Lizzo opens her concert by asking the audience an important question: “When was the last time you said something kind about yourself?”
It’s a query she hopes sparks something in the audience that lasts longer than her set list.
“There’s part of them that feels joy, that feels confident, that feels love. That part comes out of them at my shows,” Lizzo explains. “And then just like how the excitement of a show is fleeting, so can that feeling be fleeting. This feeling that they have, I want them to take this home with you, and I want them to protect it, because it’s important. You need it out there [in the world].”
By focusing on that simple question, and her own mantra — “I love you. You’re beautiful. And you can do anything” — Lizzo hopes that fans can “offset the amount of negativity we’re ingesting on a daily basis — a lot of negative news, a lot of negative comments, a lot of negative thoughts we already had, a lot of negative programming where we don’t see ourselves valued, or as beautiful, in media.”
It’s unfortunate that we are the ones that have to do that work, but it’s important. “I really want to create a space where people feel safe, and I really want to protect people. I think everyone deserves to be protected at all costs.”
That’s part of why she makes such an effort to ensure that her fans feel seen at her shows, calling for the house lights to come up so she can call them out in the crowd.
“I can see everybody in there, and I think if people knew that, they would feel more connected with me,” she explains. “The people who got pit tickets and are squished up against the fence, they can look at me and be like, ‘Ah, she looked at me.’ I want to give that same feeling to the people who think they’re in the nosebleeds, who are way up at the top of the arena, I can see you too!”
In essence, she wants them to experience what she felt during the Mrs. Carter tour when she knows Beyoncé spotted her in the crowd doing “Single Ladies” choreography. (Lizzo’s seen Beyoncé 10 or 11 times in concert, but this one was memorable).
And with “Live in Concert,” everyone at home can feel that way. Directed by Sam Wrench and produced by Kevin Beisler, the special is executive produced by Lizzo (via her Lizzobangers production company) and Done+Dusted’s Ian Stewart, Leah Lane and Hamish Hamilton. After producing an Emmy-winning reality series, documentary and concert special, what will Lizzobangers do next?
“Damn… I don’t even think about it like that to be honest,” Lizzo replies, mulling the question over for a minute before settling on an answer.
“Lizzobangers Productions is me taking a stance and ownership in my career, so anything I do because of that production company, I’m an owner,” she concludes, teasing, “Who knows where it’s gonna go? Like Lizzobangers production could make diapers one day, you just never know, and I think that’s the beauty of what we do over here.”
If the successes of the last few years (which also includes the launch of Yitty Lizzo’s shapewear collab with Fabletics) have been any kind of proof, the sky’s the limit.