Lizzo, byname of Melissa Viviane Jefferson, (born April 27, 1988, Detroit, Michigan, U.S.), American singer, rapper, and flutist whose messages of positivity and empowerment resonated with audiences and brought her global success in the early 21st century. Her music—a blend of R&B, rap, and pop—typically features catchy, uplifting lyrics about self-love, especially as it relates to body image.
Early life and education
She was born Melissa Viviane Jefferson, the youngest of three children. Her parents worked in the mortgage industry. At age 10 she moved with her family from Detroit to Houston, where she developed a passion for music. It was there that she was first exposed to freestyle rap, which would feature prominently in her later work. While in the fifth grade, Jefferson attended a Destiny’s Child concert and that experience reportedly made her determined to become a performing artist. Encouraged by her father, she began playing the flute in the sixth grade. At age 14 Jefferson formed the female rap group Cornrow Clique. It was during this time that she earned the nickname “Lizzo,” an amalgam of her byname, Lissa, and the 2001 song “Izzo (H.O.V. A.)” by JAY-Z.
After graduating from high school, Lizzo attended the University of Houston on a music scholarship. She continued to study the flute, hoping to eventually join a professional orchestra. However, she left school after her sophomore year. Her decision was motivated, in part, by the pressure to choose between rap and classical music and by her father’s failing health. After he died in 2009, the 21-year-old Lizzo struggled with depression—due, in part, to a poor body image—and a lack of purpose. For a time she lived out of her car.
Music career and solo success
Lizzo stated that her life turned around after she stopped comparing herself to others and embraced who she was. She began singing, and in 2011 she moved to Minneapolis. There she performed with various groups, including Lizzo & The Larva Ink. She also cofounded the Chalice, a female rap and R&B group that released the album We Are the Chalice (2012). In 2013 Lizzo helped form Grrrl Prty, which described itself as “a celebration of femininity and unsheathed swagger.” The group released two EPs before disbanding in 2015. During this time she also performed on Prince’s album Plectrumelectrum (2014).
As she began to garner attention for her collaborations, Lizzo also worked on solo material, which she described as “feel-good music.” Backed by an upbeat sound, her songs often feature positive—and occasionally humorous—lyrics that touch on such issues as race, body confidence, and low self-esteem. Her flute playing also featured prominently in her music, and she named the instrument Sasha, after Beyoncé’s 2008 album I Am…Sasha Fierce. In 2013 Lizzo released her debut solo album, Lizzobangers. It received largely positive reviews, and she subsequently went on tour. Her second solo album, Big Grrrl Small World, appeared two years later. Infused with gospel and R&B music, it also earned praise, and Lizzo landed a contract with Atlantic. The six-track EP The Coconut Oil (2016) was her first release on the label.
As Lizzo prepared material for her third full-length album, she drew inspiration from the question “What if Aretha Franklin made a rap album in 2019?” The answer was Cuz I Love You, which was released that year. Showcasing Lizzo’s vocal range, it featured such hits as “Juice,” “Jerome,” and “Tempo,” the latter of which was a collaboration with Missy Elliott. The album’s deluxe edition also contained the bonus track “Truth Hurts” (which was first released in 2017), and it became her first single to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song also won a Grammy Award for best pop solo performance. In addition, Cuz I Love You won the Grammy for best urban contemporary album, and “Jerome” was named best traditional R&B performance. Lizzo’s success continued with Special (2022), which became her first recording to reach number one on Billboard’s album sales chart. Its hit singles included “About Damn Time,” which also went to number one and won two Grammys, including record of the year.
Acting and other activities
Part of Lizzo’s success was attributed to her candidness about her own struggles. She was extremely active on social media, often engaging with fans as she promoted her message of empowerment. In 2020 she signed a TV deal with Amazon, and Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls debuted on the streaming service two years later. The reality series chronicles Lizzo’s search for plus-size dancers to join her tour. Also in 2022 she debuted Yitty, a line of affordable shapewear.
In addition, Lizzo dabbled in acting. In 2019 she made her film debut, lending her voice to the animated comedy UglyDolls and appearing in Hustlers. The latter was a drama about strippers starring Jennifer Lopez. The documentary Love, Lizzo appeared in 2022.