Lizzo spreads body positivity and love at her unifying Vancouver debut

Lizzo with Sophia Eris and Dizzy Fae at Alexander Gastown, January 27, 2017

Photo courtesy of Timbre Concerts
Photo courtesy of Timbre Concerts

“Welcome to the Coconut Oil Tour. I’m your self-care guidance counselor Lizzo.”

This is how Detroit-born, Houston-raised, Minneapolis-based singer/rapper Melissa Jefferson, aka Lizzo, introduced herself to last Friday night’s packed crowd at Alexander Gastown. But an introduction was anything but necessary. Since she debuted with her album Lizzobangers in 2013, she has signed with Atlantic Records, been hosting MTV’s Wonderland, co-hosted last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, opened for Sleater-Kinney on their comeback tour, collaborated with Prince (on “BoyTrouble”, from his 2014 album Plectrumelectrum), had a breakout hit on the Barbershop 3 soundtrack, and appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.

First opener Dizzy Fae sang and rapped over moody electronic beats and electric drum pads, often backtracked by a chorus of her own voice. Long-time Lizzo collaborator DJ Sophia Eris followed, splicing together classic and contemporary hip hop tracks while dancing up on her decks before spending the second half of her set spitting cuts from her self-titled solo debut.

Eris stayed behind the decks as Lizzo followed two dancers onto the stage. (Two other women filled out the crew, although they stationed themselves behind pillars that blocked my view.) Lizzo started off hot blowing through the swinging pop hit “Worship”, the bombastic “Phone”, and the banging “Batches & Cookies” before getting serious with “Humanize”. “We need to see each other for more than the surface,” she rallied. “We need to humanize each other more than ever now.”

Her positive messages kept coming and coming. She prefaced “Coconut Oil” by reflecting on growing up in Houston where she was bullied, made to hate herself, broke, and homeless. But she informed the crowd that next Thursday, February 2, she’s set to perform in Houston for the very first time – at the Super Bowl. A classic “you can triumph too” story – and an even more classic, redemptive “fuck you.”

Lizzo is ever willing to share details of her personal life in order to empower others. Before grooving into “En Love”, she revealed: “You know, I just fell in love with someone. She’s a bad bitch, and her name is Lizzo.” But she doesn’t express self-love egotistically. Rather, she advocates the importance of “filling a space that no one else can,” of “lov[ing] yourself first like no one else can.”

Lizzo’s most impassioned message came towards the end of her set. “There’s a song that I HAVE to do,” she said referring to “My Skin”. “We all woke up in it. It doesn’t matter how stretched out it is or how old it is…. It’s the one thing we have in common, and I think we forgot that sometimes.” She burned with rage as she indicted “rampant xenophobia,” poverty, and the suppression of women’s and queer rights. “In honour of the Women’s March, and the scientists who are going to march for climate change, I wanna have our own march in here tonight! Can we do that, Vancouver?” Like everything else that came out of her mouth, the audience was all for it.

I never like predicting, but even her fierce championing of unity, love, and body positivity aside, Lizzo is clearly a star in the making. Her humour-injected hip hop is fun and anthemic with choruses made for singing along to. “What the hell these Louis Vuittons for? Where the hell my phone? How’m I supposed to get home?” the crowd sang during “Phone”. Lizzo was full of calls to action too, yelling “SING IT!!” and instructing everyone to take out their phone to take a photo for her tour diary.

In these increasingly divided times, the world needs more voices like Lizzo’s. When crowds like the one at Alexander Gastown hang onto her every spoken, sung, and rapped word, they raise a little hope for an otherwise despairing future.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu