Terry Gross, Host:
All of a sudden, I can breathe easily. “I’m Terry Gross.” Lizzo is the next artist in our archival series of interviews with musicians. Her new album, titled “Special,” came out in the beginning of the year. With her debut offering, “About Damn Time,” she achieved her second consecutive No. 1 single.
LIZZO: Increase the volume, as the song goes. We ask that you please dim the lights. I have a good feeling about this. OK. OK. Alright, then. And about time, too. Listen to that song louder. Let us rejoice. I have a good sense that everything is going to work out. OK. OK. Okay, then. A damn good time has come
GROSS: Lizzo was a very unknown musician for quite some time before she suddenly became a household name around the time of our conversation in 2019. About two years after its debut, in 2019, her song “Truth Hurts” topped the Billboard charts. She has received eight Grammy nominations and won three. According to Lizzo, she’s a mature woman. Her dancers in the background are all mature women. Earlier this year, she hosted “Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls,” a reality TV series on Amazon Prime Video in which women auditioned to be her dancers.
Lizzo pursued a career as a classical flute player when she was in university. She still uses her flute, even if hip hop and pop ultimately won out. Prince was a fan, and she and 3rdeyegirl contributed a song to his 2014 album, “Plectrumelectrum.” In 2019, shortly after the release of Lizzo’s album “Cuz I Love You,” we had a phone conversation. We kicked things off with the album’s lead single, “Juice.”
LIZZO: Don’t tell me I’m not cute, mirror, mirror on the wall. Oh, sweetie. Everything I own is covered in Louis, right down to my underwear drawers, and LV, right down to my soles. Oh, sweetie. I must have resembled ragu with all the sauce that was dripping off of me. Sweetie, oh sweetie. Shining like a crystal, that’s awesome; so are you, sweetie. How I operate. When I shine, everyone shines. Yes, I am the ultimate achievement. It’s not my fault; I had no choice in the matter. That was all you needed to know, and now you do.
Similar to a fine Chardonnay, I improve with age. To let you in on a secret. I heard you claim that I’m not the worst. You liar, you. It’s not my fault that I’m out here having fun by myself (singing). There’s no way around blaming the Goose. You can’t fault me; it was the juice, baby. I didn’t ask to be the centre of attention, but here I am. I am the living proof of this statement. My juice must be to fault. (Vocalizing). Toss the blame on my beverage. Put the blame on my juice, please. (Vocalizing). Just juice me for it. Put the blame on my juice, please. Sweetie, oh sweetie.
GROSS: Hello, Lizzo, and thanks for coming by FRESH AIR. Your newest record is fantastic. That you so much for coming. I’d like to comment on the quality of your album’s production. It’s great, and various people contributed to its creation. You never change up there. Still, you have to admit that the album as a whole has a consistent vibe despite the fact that each song was produced by a different person. Can you elaborate on the production process and your role in determining the final sound for each song?
LIZZO: I have a formal education in music theory and performing, as some of you may be aware. Therefore, I have what you would call a “innate ear,” as well as a highly trained one, for pitch, harmony, dissonance, and melody. So, for me, it’s this physical sensation. When I feel the rhythm and start to vibrate at the right frequency, I know I’ve found the track I want to be on, much like a tuning fork. Thanks to my education and experience, I feel more confident communicating with producers and can even hold my own with engineers. We’re all nerds at heart, and it shows in how much we enjoy ourselves. My DNA is in there, and I’m recognised as a producer on a number of the tracks because I was there.
GROSS: That’s cool that you’re a flutist. Also, I’ll start by mentioning that you’ve played the flute in many media, including television and video. Also, many individuals assumed someone else had dubbed the dialogue. She obviously can’t play like that. In other words, she is not a traditionalist.
LIZZO: I don’t know why people think that. That’s racist (laughter).
GROSS: Yes. You have some very funny videos answering that.
GROSS: But tell us how you started to play the flute. Like, this is – what? – fifth or sixth grade? Did you choose the instrument?
GROSS: Or did a teacher say you get to play flute and this other person gets to play trombone?
LIZZO: Indeed, a decision was made on their part. I was the one picked to play the flute. In the fifth grade, I had a vivid memory of sitting in band. Moreover, there was a lady who was exceptionally skilled on the flute; her name was Ms. Johnson (ph). And I believe she was just a college student looking to boost her GPA. He said, “Who do you want in your flute class?” as if Mr. Browdon (ph) were a recruiter.
Whom would you like to see play the flute? Oh, and she chose me! Why I was the one she chose is a mystery to me. She told me afterwards that I merely had a good embouchure, so that might be it. Your lips (the flute’s embouchure) gave me a good impression. However, I’m not sure. So, I was appreciative because I had always wished to learn the flute. It was the most amazing instrument I’d ever seen. And yet, really, who could have known? Clarinet is the instrument of choice for all the hip chicks anyway.
GROSS: When did you first start bringing your own flute to performances?
LIZZO: I’ll be honest and state that when I first started performing, I did so while playing the flute in a rock band. I played the flute. We also received a Houston Press Award nomination, and I was named a finalist in the category of “Best Alternative Instrument” for playing the flute. Also, I’d grab that kid and start playing, which would send the adults into a tizzy.
I suppose there was more to it, though; it just made more sense to air it out in a progressive rock outfit. I didn’t start featuring the flute in my rap music until much later, at least in my solo work. And I think it was like – something that I did – like, for example, my first tape ever, “Lizzobangers,” all of the flute on that album, which – there are a lot of flute samples – I replayed because we couldn’t clear the flute. Therefore, I had to play the flute again for those pieces. I’ve always included flute in my recordings, but no one ever suspected it was me until recently.
— Fresh Air! (@freshairlounge) October 9, 2015
GROSS: So how serious were you about a career as a flutist? Flautist? Flautist.
LIZZO: I was – you know, what’s crazy? I always say flautist, and then, one day, someone’s like, it’s a flutist. I’m like, shut up.
GROSS: Lizzo’s 2019 album “Cuz I Love You” is when I recorded our conversation. Her new album, titled “Special,” came out in the beginning of the year.
LIZZO: (Rapping) A mature woman finally meets the outside world. What a wacky situation, to have one’s fantasies become one’s life’s work. I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I hoped this would help. Right now, all I want is the opportunity to buy a Ford for my kids. God has blessed me with an impressive family tree. Woo, mom, you’re rocking a second-generation look.
Consider God. Sister, be strong and keep your cool. To keep things calm, Southwest will take over. What can I say? Keep it in mind. You are a Black masterpiece, and I say this with all due respect. My goodness, they should make more brothers like you. Just use some of that ‘Black girl magic,’ will we? The cherry on top of our necessary actions. I woke up (song) in this, in this, in my skin.
GROSS: Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, and Susan Nyakundi produce and edit our interviews and reviews, respectively. Ms. Molly Seavy-Nesper is in charge of producing digital content for us. The show is directed by Roberta Shorrock. It’s me, Terry Gross.
LIZZO: (Singing) How am I supposed to love somebody else when I don’t love me? This is something I’ll have to get used to, ooh…
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