In the beginning of 2019, Lizzo was beginning to gain some momentum in the pop space. Coconut Oil, an EP released in late 2016 was the first major label project from Melissa Jefferson, a Detroit-based rapper, singer, and flutist who had the voice of a diva and the personality to match. Full of swaggering self-love, soulful pop mashups, and surprisingly relatable mishaps, the crowning gem of the EP was a tinkling ballad, “Good As Hell,” and a B-side called “Truth Hurts.” Even for those who aren’t familiar with Lizzo’s meteoric rise over the course of last year, that song title is probably enough to snap it all into focus.
For whatever reason, it took several years for Lizzo to blow up, but after gaining momentum on that EP, her major-label, full-length debut, Cuz I Love You — which went on to win a Grammy this year — put her on the map as a full-fledged pop star in just a few months. By mid-2019, “Truth Hurts” rose to become the No. 1 song in the country, and stayed there for so many weeks it began to set records. Anyone who didn’t know who Lizzo was at the start of the year had quickly forgotten that had ever been the case — except Lizzo.
She routinely reminded her audiences on social media, at award shows, and from her ever-growing stages, that before her fortunes changed, her lows had reached desperate situations like living in her car, feeling completely dejected, and struggling with mental health — including depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety. It’s those experiences that seem to have stuck with Melissa Jefferson, even as she became one of the most famous women in the world. It’s likely those early experiences and struggles of her own are also what has spurred her to always give back to whatever communities she’s a part of — even when she’s halfway around the world.
Which is why, though she was getting booked at some of the most prestigious festivals in the world at the time — like Coachella and Austin City Limits — Lizzo agreed to perform at a Nashville benefit concert last year, supporting organizations that work to provide resources for mental health and prevent suicide. To Write Love On Her Arms hosted their annual Live. Life. Love: Concert For Suicide Prevention in November of 2019, and Lizzo was the biggest star to be involved by a long shot.
That night, from the stage, Lizzo delivered the message that many in that crowd probably needed to hear: that she’s an unequivocal supporter of anyone dealing with depression, and that she herself has managed to come out on the other side, a survivor who has battled that same demon. “I don’t know if you need to hear this message but we need you… I am so glad you’re still here,” she said. “I know what it feels like to be unhappy, I know what it feels like to be depressed, and I also know what it feels like to survive it… If you know anyone who is dealing with emotional or mental illness — please play them my music — and be there, be a support system.”
To Write Love On Her Arms said that they think Lizzo’s honesty about her experiences is definitely impacting her fans and the community at large. “When someone in the spotlight uses their platform to speak about something such as mental health, they’re undeniably impacting the lives of so many,” To Write Love On Her Arms wrote via email. “They’re giving permission to those struggling to speak up and ask for help, to use their voice and story as a way to spread hope. Lizzo’s honesty has the power to inspire others to be courageous with their journeys.”
The third annual Live. Life. Love: Concert For Suicide Prevention was a partnership between TWLOHA and 107.5 the River, a Nashville radio station that covers the Top 40 format. Obviously, Lizzo had broken into that space in a big way last year which made her an ideal booking for the event. And whether it’s a regional charity event or a massive stage like that Grammys or the VMAs, Lizzo’s ability to touch the lives of other people dealing with mental health struggles increases as her reach does — and proves that being a famous musician or a celebrity doesn’t solve every problem.
“As artists become more and more well known, their reach and influence expand,” To Write Love On Her Arms said. “When that influence can impact something positive and hopeful, there’s no denying its importance — no matter if it’s a local or global event. We also love it when those in the spotlight openly share the very human struggles they’re facing. It shows people that mental health does not discriminate; we’re all impacted by similar challenges.”
Along with her work in the states focused on mental health, earlier this year Lizzo continued her mindfulness with communities across the globe when she volunteered at Foodbank Victoria in Australia during the wildfire relief efforts in January. Dave McNamara, CEO of Foodbank Victoria, said that Lizzo’s team reached out to their organization directly to see how she could help, and decided coming by the facility in person would be the most effective.
“Lizzo was in Melbourne headlining the FOMO Festival and her team reached out to us directly to see how she could get involved and support our bushfire food relief efforts,” he explained over email. “Being in Australia at the height of the bushfire crisis, she — like so many big-hearted people in our community — clearly felt compelled to help.”
But if Lizzo’s visit was unexpected, it was also an incredible morale boost for the Foodbank staff, many of whom were personally dealing with impact from the bushfires in some way. “You should have seen the looks on people’s faces when she came into our warehouse and the number of hugs that were given out,” McNamara said. “She was really generous with her time and support, which was great for our staff and some of the 800 volunteers who’d all been working tirelessly to sort and pack the community food donations that came in so we could get emergency food and water into bushfire-affected communities.”
McNamara and his team are quick to thank anyone that helped support their community during such a time of crisis, but they were also surprised that an American pop star would come work alongside them. “To have Lizzo come in with her team, say hi to the volunteers and share some love while she packed emergency food relief hampers was an unexpected bonus amongst all the kindness we saw during our emergency food relief response,” McNamara wrote.
“Stars like Lizzo have really connected people with the reality of the bushfire crisis – the loss of life, decimation of our wildlife, displacement of whole communities, and the long road to recovery ahead,” he continued. “It’s rare to find a Victorian family who hasn’t been impacted in one way or another by the bushfires, but it’s genuinely heart-warming to see not just the local community, but the global community, come together during such a difficult time.”
While it’s certainly not possible for every star to make public appearances and help out at food banks, or perform at every charity event they’re asked to headline, seeing the way Lizzo is mindful to continually give back to people who are still struggling — whether it be due to natural disasters like the bushfires in Australia, or the invisible grip of depression and mental illness — is an excellent reminder that building community doesn’t stop just because you reach the top.
For Lizzo, the sky might be the limit when it comes to her influence in music and culture, but her constant commitment to helping those around her is just as valuable as any of her record-breaking hits. And she’s one of the rare pop stars who can tie her music right back into her with work with and for fans; if Lizzo is talking about her mental health struggles, from the stage no less, maybe one young fan feels more comfortable talking about their battle, too.
“Music moves and connects people, it gives them the space to honor their emotions and the opportunity to connect with those around them who are feeling the same things,” To Write Love On Her Arms noted. “It’s not only a great way to bring people together to raise awareness, but also to remind those struggling that they are not alone. It also helps eliminate the stigma. If we’re asking people to talk about mental health, let’s make it okay to talk about it anywhere, including a concert.”
To Write Love on Her Arms is constantly adding new events to their calendar, be sure to check and see if they’re heading to a city near you soon. Foodbank is Victoria’s oldest and largest food relief organisation, commemorating our 90th anniversary this year. Learn more about their work here.