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Lizzo on the major label jump: 'When you get me, you get what you see'

Lizzo

Lizzo

Last month, breakout Twin Cities music star Lizzo released a video for her latest single, "Good as Hell." The sunny, Ricky Reed-produced romp from the Barbershop: The Next Cut soundtrack is the rapper/singer's first release since signing with mega-label Atlantic Records in March.

It's just the latest in a series of success stories for the tireless, 28-year-old artist born Melissa Jefferson. In 2016 alone she's appeared The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, made the major label jump, and performed at Prince's memorial concert as a last-minute addition.

We caught up with Lizzo to talk about her exploding profile, working with a major label, her new cartoon venture, and why Minnesota still feels like home. Catch her Saturday at Rock the Garden for the last show ever from her Grrrl Prty crew.    

City Pages: You've had a busy and successful year. Has it been a particularly emotional experience for you?

Lizzo: There’s been a lot of personal, emotional situations. There’s been a lot of ups and a lot of downs. I’ve lost some really important people in my life. I’ve been exhausted, I’ve been heartbroken, and then on the flip side of it I’ve been super, super blessed and happy and excited.

I’ve been making some of my favorite music I’ve ever made, and I’ve been working with people who I feel like are my musical soulmates. I’ve been prepping for festival season, which is a whole other monster in and of itself. The highs and lows and the balance have been the theme.

CP: You’re always so busy. How do you stay so focused and grounded? Is it just simply by burying yourself in the work?

L: I don’t bury myself but I definitely keep my head down. I don’t stop to smell the roses too often lately. There’s a designated rose garden I stop in. If I get caught up in it all, I won’t be able to move forward. I also have this thing about the word "busy." I feel like the word busy is often abused or misused. Everyone I know works hard.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t work as hard as I do. But the people who choose to feel like they’re busy … it’s more of a matter of time management problems. I try to manage my time well. So, even though I have a lot going on, I never feel "busy." I like to keep my plate full, but I don’t take on more than I can handle. The key to that is learning how to say no to things. 

CP: Was it scary signing with a major label?

L: When I was getting courted, I definitely didn’t want to be on a major label. I put [2015's Big Grrrl Small World] on a my own label because I felt like the record belonged there. When I’m thinking about the third record I’m working on, I thought, "This is going to belong to Atlantic."

But after going to the building and before even signing, before even thinking about signing, it was when I was meeting everyone, from the head of the label to marketing to the digital team. Being able to meet everyone and put a face to a name and play my music for them and watching their physical reaction was really big for me. I needed people to know I existed there. I didn’t want to just be a name and a single. I think everyone at Atlantic understands that.

Luckily, I’m with [Ricky Reed's Atlantic subsidiary] Nice Life. I’m getting major label resources but maintaining independence with Nice Life. It was scary before I met everyone. But, as soon as I met everyone, I realized these people are here just to make sure my message gets to the people that need to hear it.

CP: Was creative control a huge concern before signing to a major label?

L: No. I’m not a developing artist. I’m not an artist they have to give a story to or paint a picture. When you get me, you get what you see. I think they knew that and that attracted them even more.

I think a lot of times it’s scary because people like to assume The Man or the mainstream won’t let you speak your mind. And to a certain extent that happens, but I haven’t experienced that. I feel like my art is really being respected.

CP: Have you gotten feedback from fans about the empowerment message emphasized on "My Skin"?

L: People really connect with it. I feel like people will always connect to a song like “My Skin” because when I wrote it, I meant it. People connect with “Ain’t I,” too.

It’s funny because Entertainment Weekly, they included it in their magazine and were like, "If you love ‘Formation’ you’ll love these tracks." So, that was so crazy. I felt honored to be compared in any way to Beyoncé.

But above that, the message in my music isn’t just self-love. I’m also speaking for human rights, speaking to women who look like me, for women who look like me. There’s all sorts of nuance in the message. And I really thought that was cool that they got it. 

CP: What’s next for Lizzo besides a new album?

L: I’m working on playing more shows after this new record. I think when you send music off you get a little restless. It’s like the baby’s cooking and you just want it to come out. I have something in the works that is music-related but on a different platform. I’m excited about it, but I don’t know if I can talk about it right now.

I got other things that are less about music but involved with television and a little bit more about culture. I’m also on a new show on Adult Swim [Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio]. I’m really excited about being a cartoon, so that won’t be the last time I do that. So, I’m just exploring what it means to be me.

CP: You’ve been spending a lot of time in L.A. but you said you still have a place in Minneapolis. Do you see yourself staying here?

L: Most people who base themselves somewhere, and especially someone who’s as successful as Prince, have lived in other places. Like, I’ve lived in L.A., New York, I’ve stayed in Paris.

But, out of all the places I’d lived in, Minneapolis is the one where I’d want to settle down. I want to own property here. There’s just something in the air here, something about how the summers feel amazing. There’s just something in the air here and I really do feel comfortable and safe in Minnesota.

I do, right now, plan on owning property and land here. And spending a lot of time here still. But I don’t want to limit myself from the possibilities of, you know, finding my husband in France or something [laughs].

Rock the Garden

With: Flaming Lips, Chance the Rapper, Poliça, M. Ward, Hippo Campus, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, GRRRL PRTY, Plague Vendor.

When: 2:30 p.m. Sat., June 18.

Where: Boom Island Park, 724 Sibley St. NE, Minneapolis.

Tickets: Sold out; more info here