The Women to Watch series was created to honor and celebrate the women who have made incredible contributions in their industries. These trailblazing innovators continue to inspire women all over the world. This month, we’re shining the spotlight on Melissa Jefferson, better known as Lizzo.
Lizzo is a 4-time Grammy Award winner with over 5 billion global streams and a platinum major label album. Beyond making music, she is spreading a message of inclusivity and body positivity. This can be seen in, not only her music, but in her affordable shapewear brand, Yitty, and her Amazon Prime Series chronicling the search for plus-size dancers to join her tour.
Lizzo’s Early Beginnings
Lizzo was born in Detroit, Michigan before moving to Houston, Texas when she was nine. A lover of music at a young age, she trained in classical music starting at 12 years old through high school. Her current stage name was even created during this time when she was in a group called Cornrow Clique with her friends. The name is a variant of “Lissa,” a reference to Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).”
After high school, she attended the University of Houston to continue her studies in classical music, with a focus on flutes. However, after the passing of her father, she dropped out of college to pursue music at 21 years old.
Becoming a Breakout Star
Lizzo spent time in a rock band after leaving college. But when they broke up, she left Texas to take a spot in a new band in Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, she was not too sure about staying in Minneapolis. It was not until she performed a show at the Varsity that she was convinced she should stay. “I don’t know if you live here, but you need to be here. And, we need to see people like you here,” said one of the fans at her show.
“That was the most love I had seen from any show in one person.” said Lizzo. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” continued Lizzo about being in Minneapolis. “It changed my life.”
During her time in Minneapolis, she performed in several music groups, including the soul-pop duo Lizzo & the Larva Ink, the all-female rap group the Chalice, and the hip-hop group Grrrl Prty. She even collaborated and received a co-sign from Prince. Aside from working on these collaborations, she also released two solo studio albums: “Lizzobangers” and “Big Grrrl Small World.”
In 2016, Lizzo signed with Atlantic Records and released “Coconut Oil,” her major label EP. The EP featured “Good As Hell,” a single for the 2016 film, “Barbershop: The Next Cut.” “Coconut Oil” was critically acclaimed and peaked at No. 4 on the Top R&B Albums Billboard chart.
Once Lizzo realized she had a platform, she used it to more fully promote body positivity, self-love, and diversity. This commitment can be seen in her lyrics, her backup dancers being all plus-sized women, and her participation in campaigns, such as ModCloth’s Say It Louder.
Success Feels Good as Hell
In 2019, Lizzo released “Juice,” the lead single from her third studio album (and major label debut), “Cuz I Love You.” The album debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 and peaked at No. 4 on the chart.
Following the album’s release, Lizzo’s 2017 standalone single “Truth Hurts” became a viral hit on TikTok, which gave Lizzo her No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. She became the third female rapper to top the Hot 100 without a featured artist, along with the first solo Black female R&B singer to claim the top spot since Rihanna in 2012 with “Diamonds.”
The buzz around Lizzo culminated in her opening the 62nd Grammy Awards in 2020 with a medley of “Cuz I Love You” and “Truth Hurts.” She would go on to win three awards that night, including Best Pop Solo Performance for “Truth Hurts.”
Following her Grammy wins, Lizzo signed a production deal with Amazon Studios. Her first project was “Lizzo Watch Out For the Big Grrrls,” an unscripted reality show, released in 2022. The show follows Lizzo as she searches for her next BIG GRRRL dancers for her 2022 tour.
In August 2021, Lizzo returned to music with her standalone single “Rumors” featuring Cardi B with the promise of a “new era.” In March 2022, Lizzo made good on that promise and released “About Damn Time,” the lead single from her fourth album, “Special.” After a slow start, “About Damn Time” quickly rose to the top of the Billboard 100 and became her second number-one hit since “Truth Hurts.”
“Special” was released in July 2022 and debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200 charts. The record was the highest charting album by a female artist in 2022 until it was surpassed by Beyonce’s “Renaissance.” Recently, Lizzo received her fourth Grammy for Record of the Year at the 2023 Grammys for “About Damn Time.”
Lizzo Loves You
While she was stacking up accolades, Lizzo used her platform to give back. In 2020, Lizzo created lizzolovesyou.com following the death of George Floyd to provide resources and information to support Black communities. In 2022, Lizzo pledged to donate $500,000 of the proceeds from the “Special” tour to Planned Parenthood following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Yet Lizzo’s generosity does not stop there. She continues to go out of her way to give, even stopping by the Food Bank Victoria warehouse in Australia to back hampers in 2020 for fire-affected regions.
To continue her goal of spreading body positivity, Lizzo also launched Yitty. Yitty uses primarily recycled fabrics to create shapewear that is designed to universally fit all body types from XS to 6X.
“I was tired of seeing this sad, restrictive shapewear that literally no one wanted to wear,” said Lizzo. “I had an epiphany like, ‘Who can actually do something about this?’ I decided to take on the challenge of breaking norms and allowing women to feel unapologetically good about themselves again.”
More Women To Watch
Lizzo has been a major representative of the body positivity movement, all while making songs that we can’t get out of our heads.
Read up on our other Women to Watch, including actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and director Greta Gerwig.
Plus, check out Hope Smith — devoted mother, wife, former model, and Founder and CEO of luxury skincare brand MUTHA.™ Hope works alongside numerous organizations for the betterment of women, infants, and children worldwide. She has made giving back to the community a core focus of her life and is passionately committed to supporting the most vulnerable among us. Learn more about her current efforts on her Instagram and Twitter.