Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio
Lizzo's Road To 'Special': How Beyoncé, Prince & Self-Love Helped Find Her Destiny As Pop's Confidence Queen
With her fourth album, 'Special,' the three-time GRAMMY winner pursues the art of making flawless songs — while continuing to make music that inspires.
Lizzo's fourth album, Special, is the follow-up to 2019's GRAMMY-winning album Cuz I Love You. Arriving July 15, the album is buoyed by the No. 1 hit "About Damn Time," a disco-inspired anthem that's on the level of the artist who has inspired her most. (Beyoncé's seventh studio album, 'Renaissance,' is due July 29.)
Born in Detroit, Lizzo — whose birth name is Melissa Jefferson — moved to Bey's hometown of Houston when she was 10. As Lizzo began developing her skills as a flutist, Beyoncé was just getting started in Destiny's Child — and the inspiration began.
"When I first saw Destiny's Child, I was in the fifth grade, and it made me want to sing and make music," Lizzo told Interview in 2014. At the same time, Lizzo was hearing freestyles on the radio that also sparked something within her. "All of these influences and these styles started to blend together," she added.
Over the next several years, she eventually got involved in Houston's indie scene. After joining a prog-rock band at 19, Lizzo knew she had found her path. "That's when I began to say, 'Okay, this is something that I could take seriously.'"
A self-confessed band geek from her tween years into college, Lizzo's musical path was a balancing act between her love of flute and love for singing. But as she got older, she realized that she was being pulled in two different directions in music.
"It was hard," she told CBS News in 2019. "I left college. I basically had to choose between flute or this other lifestyle that I was chasing, where I was up super-late with my friends, goin' to parties, tryin' to rap at shows, and then waking up early, gettin' to the band hall, rehearsing, being on the field, taking math class, which was torture.
"I was juggling a lot of lifestyles," she continued. "And simultaneously, in my personal life, my family was being, you know, torn apart. So, I didn't really have that type of support at that time in my life. And my father had started getting sick. And my mom moved away, because she needed to make money to support my dad and what he was going through and support her children."
Within a matter of years, Lizzo's future became perhaps more uncertain than ever: She dropped out of college, her dad passed away, and she quit the rock band she'd joined. "Twenty-one was the worst year of my life," she revealed to Teen Vogue in 2018. "I was addicted to the gym, I didn't eat and I was sleeping in a dusty car, all for music. I thought my life was over."
But through all of the hardships, one constant remained: Beyoncé.
"When I dropped out of college and I was really depressed, I listened to [Beyoncé's 2006 album] B'Day on repeat and I would just sing B'Day all the time," Lizzo said during her episode of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden in June. "And I was like, 'I'm going to be a singer, I'm going to be a singer.'
"The way she makes people feel is how I want to make people feel with music," Lizzo added. "She has been my North Star." (Beyoncé even inspired the name of Lizzo's beloved flute: Sasha Floot, an homage to Bey's 2008 album, I Am… Sasha Fierce, and the alter ego it introduced.)
In 2011, Lizzo moved to Minneapolis in hopes of a fresh start. She soon met Sophia Eris, who has since become one of her best friends, main collaborators, and Lizzo's touring DJ. The pair, along with Claire de Lune, formed The Chalice, a pop-rap trio inspired by — you guessed it — Destiny's Child. The lyrics of songs like "Push It" also payed homage to acts like Salt N Pepa and TLC, and teased the genre-melding stylings Lizzo would eventually take on in her own material.
The music scene in Minneapolis sparked Lizzo's creativity and helped change her mindset from wanting to give up to actively pursuing solo success. Her first album, a rap collection called Lizzobangers, came out on the Minneapolis-based indie label Totally Gross National Product in 2013; Virgin Records released it again in 2014. On the album, Eris appears with Lizzo on "Batches and Cookies" — which is also the first song Lizzo ever wrote — and songs such as "Faded" and "Bus Passes and Happy Meals" helped establish her own sonic lane.
After catching wind of her talent, Prince invited Lizzo and Eris to work on the song that became "Boytrouble" on his 2014 album with 3rdEyeGirl, Plectrumelectrum. Her rap verse and Prince-esque screams on "Boytrouble" contain all the early indications of the bad-b energy that rules her later songs. "99 problems, but these boys not one," she rhymes on the track.
"I felt like I kinda transcended from being just a vocalist into an artist," Lizzo said in a 2017 interview with Fuse about working with Prince. "That was a huge confirmation in what I was doing for me and my mama. It's surreal."
"And I got paid! My first big check ever. Thank you, Prince, for my laptop," she told NPR in 2019. (Prince later offered to produce an album for her, but he passed away in 2016 before a project could materialize.)
While confidence has never been lost on Lizzo's music, her trademark body-positivity anthems started taking shape on her 2015 self-released sophomore album, Big Grrrl Small World, with tracks like "My Skin" and "Humanize." After meeting producer Ricky Reed, she was signed to his label Nice Life Recordings, which had a deal with Atlantic Records. They released her Coconut Oil EP in 2016 and continued that important work of promoting self-love and esteem.
"I thought I needed to run and find somebody to love," she sings on the title track. "But all I needed was some coconut oil."
The following single, "Truth Hurts," was released in September 2017, but it would be three years before the release of Lizzo's next album. She'd later reveal that her mental health was tested during this time.
"The day I released 'Truth Hurts' was probably one of the darkest days I've had ever in my career," she shared with PEOPLE in 2019. "I remember thinking, 'If I quit music now, nobody would notice. This is my best song ever, and nobody cares.' I was like, 'F— it, I'm done.' And a lot of people rallied; my producer, my publicist and my family, they were like, 'Just keep going because this is the darkest before the dawn.'"
A 2019 re-release of "Truth Hurts" on the deluxe edition of Lizzo's third album, Cuz I Love You, was prompted by its popularity on TikTok and inclusion in a Netflix movie called Someone Great. Within six months, Lizzo went from obscurity to center stage: "Truth Hurts" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019.
The following year, the song won a GRAMMY for Best Pop Solo Performance. Lizzo — the most nominated act at the 2020 GRAMMYs, with eight nods — also took home the GRAMMY for Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best Traditional R&B Performance for "Jerome," and was nominated for Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year for "Truth Hurts," Best New Artist, and Best R&B Performance for "Exactly How I Feel."
"Now the song that made me want to quit is the song that everyone's falling in love with me for, which is such a testament to journeys: Your darkest day turns into your brightest triumph," she told PEOPLE in the 2019 interview.
Cuz I Love You (Deluxe Edition) also includes the lead single, "Juice," "Water Me" (which was also originally released in 2017) and "Tempo," a collaboration with Missy Elliott. Lizzo's confidence grew as people embraced her and her music, and she started promoting body positivity in her everyday life on a higher level. In 2022, she debuted her own shapewear line called Yitty and released Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, an Emmy-nominated reality show on Amazon Prime that highlighted her process of selecting plus-sized dancers to perform with her on the road.
With three GRAMMYs and a slew of hits, Cuz I Love You became a tough album to follow. Even Lizzo herself has said that a song has to be perfect in order to be released.
"You're finally able to listen to this album I've been working on for three years, and I know it's been a long time, and it's about damn time I put it out," she says in "A Very Special Message from Lizzo," a post-song interlude that closes out Special. "But you have to know that I took my time for me, but I also took my time for you. I wrote almost 170 songs for this album to find these perfect 12 songs to bring to you because I felt like this was what not only I needed to hear, but you needed to hear and the whole world needs to hear."
Some of the cuts that made the 12-song Special tracklist were written over and over and over — including "About Damn Time." She revealed in an April interview with Big Boy's Neighborhood for Los Angeles' Real 92.3 that she wrote about "75 versions" of the song in the pursuit of making it flawless.
"There's ingredients to a perfect song," she told Big Boy. "The lyrics, the way the chorus lifts and makes you feel, the production sonics, the length of the song, what I am talking about in this exact moment and how it affects people in 2022. Not 2020, not 2021 — how it affects people right now."
She shared some of the many questions she asked herself while creating Special to see if songs were worthy of making the album. As Lizzo has alluded, fans can keep those questions in mind while listening to the album.
"Is it timeless? Is it going to be able to be sung forever? How do I sound on it, how do certain words sound coming out of my mouth? Can you make it an Instagram caption?" Lizzo posed to Big Boy. "There are so many things to the songs that have to make them perfect. It may not be the most viral number one song in the world but it's a good perfect f song, like a perfect sandwich."
Special is Lizzo with a wide-open heart, ready to give love to the world. No matter how perfect the finished product ended up, 'Special' stays true to the goal she's had from the beginning: Giving people the confidence Beyoncé gave her. But with or without Bey's influence, Lizzo's purpose has been driven by love — and now, she's made a full album about it.
"I think love is the heart of this album," she told Zane Lowe in a July interview for Apple Music. "I think everything I've been doing prior to Special was in pursuit of love. Cuz I Love You was almost this autobiographical album about who i want to be… and now Special is a celebration of who I am right now. It's very present, and I think that's the only place love can really exist — in the present."
She elaborates on Special's love-driven inspiration in "A Very Special Message from Lizzo," adding that the songs are what "the whole world needs to hear." As she closes it out with a heartfelt thank you, Lizzo adds one more uplifting message: "If you don't take nothin' away from this album, I want you to know, you're special, and I'm so glad you're still with us."
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Photo: Daniel C. Sims/Getty Images
Solange To Play Benefit Show For Hurricane Harvey Relief
GRAMMY winner adds her name to the list of artists who are helping to raise millions in relief efforts for victims
GRAMMY winner Solange has announced she will be performing a benefit show to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The performance, called Orion's Rise, will be held at Boston's Orpheum Theatre on Sept. 8.
"I'm committed to partnering with organizations on the ground in Houston and making contributions to uplift the city that raised me with so much love," said Solange, a Houston native.
This announcement comes on the heels of other artists pledging their support, including Solange's sister, Beyoncé. But they are certainly not the only ones.
Comedian Kevin Hart pledged $50,000 to relief efforts, and the fund he organized has earned nearly $2 million in additional financial support, with contributions from artists such as the Chainsmokers. All funds will go to the American Red Cross.
The Kardashians and Jenners, Nicki Minaj, and DJ Khaled have also announced they will make donations. Jennifer Lopez and her partner Alex Rodriguez joined in the fundraising efforts, pledging $25,000 each to the Red Cross.
In addition, GRAMMY winner Jack Antonoff is matching donations up to $10,000 for the Montrose Center in Houston, an LGBT community center. Chris Brown will donate $100,000 directly to "the people," and T.I. will donate $25,000 to relief efforts.
"GRAMMY Effect" Spikes Sales
"GRAMMY Effect" Spikes Sales
The 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards drove a 3.3 percent increase in album sales compared to last week, according to a Billboard report. The 2010 GRAMMY Nominees album jumped to No. 5 with sales of 71,000 units, a 55 percent increase. Top GRAMMY winner Beyoncé's I Am…Sasha Fierce rose to No. 14 with sales of 32,000 copies, a 101 percent increase. Other GRAMMY performers experiencing sales increases include Pink (up 234 percent), Dave Matthews Band (up 114 percent), the Zac Brown Band (up 82 percent), the Black Eyed Peas (up 76 percent), Taylor Swift (up 58 percent), and Lady Gaga (up 17 percent). Lady Antebellum, who also performed on the telecast, remained at No. 1 for the second consecutive week. (2/10)
Grainge Promoted To UMG CEO
Universal Music Group International Chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge has been promoted to CEO of Universal Music Group, effective Jan. 1, 2011. He will succeed Doug Morris and report to Jean-Bernard Lévy, chairman of the management board of Vivendi. Grainge will relocate from London to New York to serve as co-CEO of UMG in tandem with Morris for six months starting July 1. Morris, who has served as UMG chairman and CEO since 1995, will remain as company chairman. (2/10)
Stars Align On Capitol Hill
Music at presidential inaugurations provides entertainment and unifying moments of patriotism
(On Jan. 21 President Barack Obama will be inaugurated into his second term as president of the United States with a celebration in Washington, D.C., featuring performances by GRAMMY winners Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Brad Paisley, Usher, and Stevie Wonder, among others. This feature is taken from the fall 2012 issue of GRAMMY magazine and offers a brief history of notable musical performances at past presidential inaugurations.)
Being elected the leader of the free world is a pretty good reason to strike up the band. Ever since George Washington first danced a celebratory minuet after his inauguration in 1789, music has played an ever-increasing role in the gala events surrounding presidential inaugurations.
In 1801 Thomas Jefferson had the U.S. Marines band play him along as he made his way from the Capitol to the White House after taking the oath of office. James and Dolley Madison threw the first official inaugural ball in 1809. Jumping to the 20th century, in 1977 Jimmy Carter invited such music luminaries as John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his inaugural ball and allowed rock and roll — or at least the Southern rock variety — to become a part of his inauguration backdrop when he invited the Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band to share a concert bill with Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians. (Lombardo's group was something of an inauguration ball house band, having played for seven presidents.)
Today, inaugurations are presented as both massive public live events and televised productions, complete with a concert featuring a roster of star talent. The musical performances at inaugurations not only provide entertainment, they also help set the tone for a new presidency and bring the country together in a unifying moment of patriotism over partisanship.
"It wasn't about one side or the other. We just had this overwhelming feeling of being proud to be American," recalls Ronnie Dunn, formerly of the GRAMMY-winning duo Brooks & Dunn. He and then-partner Kix Brooks performed their hit "Only In America" at a concert as part of George W. Bush's first inauguration in 2001.
"Right away you could feel it was an emotionally charged crowd, and when you're standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking across to the Washington Monument, you can't help but tear up a little," says Brooks. "I remember there was this chaos during the big encore when all the musicians and all the presidential VIPs were onstage together. I turned around and there's Colin Powell shaking my hand. It turned into one of the wildest photo ops ever because all the music people and all the political people were pulling their cameras out to take pictures of each other."
One of the most memorable unions of political and musical star power at an inaugural gala occurred in 1993, when a reunited Fleetwood Mac performed "Don't Stop," a hit from their GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, for President-elect Bill Clinton. Clinton had used "Don't Stop" as the theme song to his presidential campaign, but the payoff live performance almost didn't happen.
"At that point we were as broken up as we'd ever been," says Stevie Nicks. "When our management received the request for us to play, they said, 'No.' I heard about that and thought to myself, 'I don't want to be 90, looking back and trying to remember why my group couldn't play the president's favorite song for him.' I told management to let me handle it."
Nicks successfully coaxed her bandmates into a one-night, one-song reunion, a performance she remembers as truly exceptional.
"For one thing we'd never seen security like that," she says. "The Secret Service makes rock and roll security feel like a bunch of grade school hall monitors. But the performance felt really important. It felt like we were a part of history, and that the song itself was becoming a piece of American history. It was a fantastic night in all of our lives, and I'm really glad the band was able to come together for that one."
The Beach Boys played Ronald Reagan's second inauguration after a somewhat confused relationship with the White House. The band had headlined a series of Fourth of July concerts at the National Mall until 1983, when U.S. Secretary of the Interior James Watt accused the group of attracting "the wrong element" and booked Wayne Newton in their place. Watt later apologized, and the Beach Boys were reinstated and invited to play Reagan's inaugural gala in 1985.
"What I remember most about that night is that I got to meet Elizabeth Taylor," says Jerry Schilling, the band's then-manager. "But I also remember being extremely proud of the group. Things had been hard for Brian [Wilson], and the group wasn't always getting along. But they stood there together in front of the president and sang perfect five-part a capella harmony on 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring.' It was a big moment — we all felt that. It wasn't just another gig. The guys were truly honored to be there and they brought it when it mattered."
A new musical standard for inaugural events may have been established in 2009 when Barack Obama's presidency was kicked off with the "We Are One" concert. The patriotic spectacular featured a who's who of performers ranging from Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and U2 to Usher, Sheryl Crow and will.i.am. An all-star lineup usually adds an all-star production element, but this particular concert was unique.
"Dealing with top artists, there's usually a lot of negotiating," says Don Mischer, one of the concert's producers, whose list of credits also includes Super Bowl halftime shows and Olympics ceremonies. "Who needs a private jet? How much does their 'glam squad' cost? What kind of security do they need? Putting together 'We Are One,' we said to every artist, 'This is a historical moment we'd love for you to be a part of, but you have to pay your own way and take care of your own security.' Right away, people like Beyoncé and Bono and Springsteen and Stevie Wonder all said, 'Yes.' They wanted to be there. There was a true camaraderie right from the start, and it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences any of us have ever had."
While Washington's minuet may have simply been a matter of dancing, Mischer says music has become as powerful a symbol of America as any other part of Inauguration Day.
"When you bring the music and the significance of an event like this together, it really reflects the strength of our cultural diversity and the strength of our country," he says. "In fact, at times when we seem to be going through confrontational political campaigns, I wish we would listen to the music a little more."
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)
Wild At The GRAMMYs: It's Miller Time
David Wild has written for the GRAMMY Awards since 2001. He is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, a blogger for Huffington Post and an Emmy-nominated TV writer. Wild's most recent book, He Is…I Say: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Neil Diamond, is now in paperback. Follow him on Twitter.
The GRAMMY Awards broadcast is the biggest show on earth — or at least the biggest show on television. At least that's the way it looks from my admittedly subjective and sweaty point of view in the GRAMMY trenches.
Think about it for just a moment: There are more moving parts on the GRAMMY show than any other television event that I can think of. See, most of the big TV events are based around actors walking out on a stage in a theater and speaking, and then showing film or video clips. Other shows may feature a number of performances, but no show features more performances than the GRAMMYs. And in search of great GRAMMY moments, performers tend to push things to the limit on the GRAMMY stage, and sometimes slightly over the limit too.
Capturing all of those moving parts on camera in an artful and appropriate way is largely the job of the person in the truck calling all the shots for the camera operators attempting to cover all the musical action — namely, the director.
For the last 29 years, my friend Walter C. Miller has directed the GRAMMY Awards television show. That's not a typo — that's a fact: 29 years. That means every great GRAMMY moment most of us remember, we remember the way Walter wanted us to remember it. I've personally been there and witnessed him take every performance seriously, from Eminem and Elton John, to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and Prince and Beyoncé. "You get to be a part of a lot of musical history on the GRAMMYs," Walter told me recently. His historic track record is remarkable for any business, but much more so in an entertainment industry where survival is more often measured in intervals of 15 minutes than 30 years.
When GRAMMY Co-Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich first brought me in to help write the GRAMMY show a decade ago, he introduced me to Walter, who immediately insulted me in some witty yet somehow warm way. Being a lifelong Don Rickles fan, I liked the guy immediately. He is super sharp with a long lifetime of stories and a singular ability to tell them with fresh wit and the sting of truth. Just between us, Walter reminded me of my father. I remember seeing another director friend after meeting Walter and asking if he knew who Walter was. "Yes, David, Walter Miller basically invented live television,” he told me.
Having Walter on the GRAMMY team has meant the world to all of us lucky enough to work with him.
"I've learned so much from Walter," says Ken Ehrlich. "Wally had been and continues to be like a brother and a father to me. It's been like Butch and Sundance, and we're always ready to yell 'St' and jump off the mountain together."
"In his 30 years with the GRAMMY Awards, Walter Miller has not only created the look for our show, but for all other music award shows too," says GRAMMY Co-Executive Producer John Cossette. "He created the template for everyone else to follow."
In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to find myself down in Nashville working as the writer for the Country Music Association Awards, another very big and distinguished show Walter executive produced and asked me to write after we first met at the GRAMMY Awards. One Sunday afternoon, the two of us had a few hours off in Music City, and decided to go see the new George Clooney movie Good Night And Good Luck. As we left the movie theater, I stupidly said something to Walter like, "Wow, can you imagine being in TV then." Walter looked at me, and said, "David, I was."
And so he was.
This year, Walter decided it was time for him to step back from directing the show, and he's been consulting on the show instead. Another legendary TV director, Louis J. Horvitz will be in the truck calling all those camera shots, and I have no doubt he'll do a great job. "Walter is the king of live television event directors," Louis told me the other day. "He's one of the founders of the whole form."
This year, Walter is also quite rightly receiving the Recording Academy's prestigious Trustees Award. He's earned it, because every time you look at the GRAMMYs for these past 30 years, you could rest assured that the great Walter C. Miller was there.
Walter C. Miller is still here, and thank God for that — and for him. The King lives. Long Live The King.
(Click here to read Wild's other GRAMMY blog installments.)