On a small stage in midtown Manhattan Lizzo was busting a move on a Thursday night. The hero of the Minneapolis scene, who once recorded with Prince and has her first major label full length coming out in the indeterminate future, performed her brand of body positive rap and soul before a crowd of excited fans and icy music industry people. Her dexterous vocal range, capable of flexing into a calm and possessed boom-bap over a beat or bearing incredible amounts of soul with minimal accompaniment, suggests a career that could have her competing in the charts or becoming the next Amy Winehouse.
But Lizzo’s wants very much to do both. Last night, she opened flanked by two dancers twerking prodigiously in the intimate 450-capacity, giving a VMA-worthy performance inches away from the assortment of upheald drinks in front of her. Midway through “Phone,” a highlight from Coconut Oil, her first release on Atlantic, she demanded the attention of the crowd’s phones before turning around herself, “Photograph my ass,” she said. Later, she stopped a soul ballad to talk about growing up and coming to the realization that “My ass is fat, so what?” Her short-cut dress was lighting-white and spandex tight, complete with fishnets. Fashion was essential to how she understood her body, the modeling work she did with Lane Bryant, one of the concert’s sponsors, was legitimately transformative, she told the audience in a voice fluctuating wildly between the brash and the intimate.
Lizzo’s capacity to do these things, be both body positive and brand positive, demonstrates why she’s been catnip for the industry and critics alike for years. Way back in 2014 Billboard put her on the top of a Who’s the Next Nicki Minaj?-list and Katherine St. Asaph, writing for Pitchfork, called her ”an already minted star” a year later. But will these notable cosigns translate to the millions of streams needed by anyone inside the label machine? The arduous divide between singing and rapping has been coming down since Drake took the 808s & Heartbreak -formula to chartopping highs and, as Carrie Battan put it a few weeks ago, Ty Dolla $ign’s been basically minting Luther Vandross-R&B into straight cash for the last few years. Lizzo wants to be next and she damn well should be. But we’ll have to wait on that Atlantic debut to find out.