Lizzo Explained How Genres Were ‘Created Almost Like Code Words’ To Perpetuate Racism

Lizzo is loved for her effervescence. The Grammy and Emmy winner embodies unabashed confidence and hard-earned self-worth. Her recently wrapped first leg of The Special Tour took her across North America, spreading joy everywhere she went — from playing James Madison’s flute to bringing out Cardi B, Missy Elliott, and SZA. But just because the Yitty founder makes dominance look effortless doesn’t mean it is.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly hooked around the premiere of Love, Lizzo, her HBO Max documentary, Lizzo was asked about “people saying that you and your music weren’t Black enough” and whether the gross criticism is a symptom of pop stigmatization. Lizzo’s nuanced response laid out how all genres perpetuate deeply embedded racism, including a well-executed guacamole analogy:

“Absolutely. Well, genre’s racist inherently. I think if people did any research they would see that there was race music and then there was pop music. And race music was their way of segregating Black artists from being mainstream, because they didn’t want their kids listening to music created by Black and brown people because they said it was demonic and yada, yada, yada. So then there were these genres created almost like code words: R&B, and then of course eventually hip-hop and rap was born from that. I think when you think about pop, you think about MTV in the ’80s talking about ‘We can’t play rap music’ or ‘We can’t put this person on our platform because we’re thinking about what people in the middle of America think’ — and we all know what that’s code for.

“So yes, because of that — fast-forward to 2022 — we have this well-oiled pop machine, but remember that it has a racist origin. And I think the coolest thing I’ve seen is rap and hip-hop artists become pop. Now pop music is really rap in its DNA — rap is running the game, and I think that’s so cool. But we forget that in the late ’80s and the early ’90s, there were these massive pop diva records that were sang by Black women like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey. And I’m giving that same energy. I’m giving that same energy with a little bit of rap, and I think that people just have to get used to me. I think anything that’s new, people are going to criticize and feel like it’s not for them. But once you know what it is — just like I’ve got a friend who don’t like avocado but she likes guacamole; it don’t make no sense — but once you get used to something, it might be for you. So for people who don’t like pop music or don’t like Black artists that make pop music, they may eventually like me. I might be guacamole to them. You just gotta get used to me because I’m making good sh*t. You missing out.”

Lizzo previously revealed that people claiming she made music for white people particularly bothered her as the November cover star for Vanity Fair:

“That is probably the biggest criticism I’ve received, and it is 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. 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. Tina Turner, when she played arenas — white audience. This has happened to so many Black artists: Diana Ross, Whitney, Beyoncé.… Rap artists now, those audiences are overwhelmingly white. 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. If I can help other people, hell yeah. 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?”

Lizzo will continue spreading her powerful messages next year on her recently announced Special 2our, a second North American leg added on top of her previously scheduled 2023 European and UK dates.

Special is nominated for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2023 Grammys. “About Damn Time,” its lead single that hit No. 1, is up for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. With EW, Lizzo also discussed loving music beyond the external validation represented by the Grammys, having her identity stolen, being inspired by Harry Styles, and more. Read the full interview here.

Love, Lizzo premiered on HBO Max on Thanksgiving (November 24). Watch the trailer above.

Lizzo is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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