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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Love, Lizzo’ on HBO Max, A Statement On The Artist’s Past, Present, And Pro-Twerking Future

Decider logo: MainLogo Decider 11/30/2022 Johnny Loftus

As a documentary, Love, Lizzo (HBO Max) will fill in the biographical details for anyone not already familiar with the road to fame traveled by the Detroit-born, Houston-educated rapper, singer, songwriter, and flutist who’s currently celebrating another success in Special, her Billboard charting fourth studio album issued earlier this year. But together with Lizzo herself, Love director Doug Pray (HBO’s The Defiant Ones, Levitated Mass) finds new modes of telling that story that are elliptical, immersive, non-traditional, and ultimately inspiring.


The Gist: Born Melissa Viviane Jefferson in Detroit in 1988, Lizzo – her professional name is derived from a childhood nickname – sang with her mom in church, studied flute from an early age, moved to Houston with her parents and two siblings, endured middle school bullying for her body type and interests (said flute, Sailor Moon fanfiction), and eventually centered herself and her creativity around the power of music and performance. Love, Lizzo does include look-ins on the artist’s writing and recording sessions for Special, in particular the title track and “About Damn Time.” But it’s even cooler to see footage of Lizzo’s first-ever live performance as a rapper, the assortment of family home videos here, and the singer and rapper’s emotional talk sessions with her dancers where they share their experiences with body shaming and its triumphant flipside, complete and utter positivity. 

“Like a lot of people, I grew up learning how to hate my body,” Lizzo says in voiceover, “and it worked. You’re just so disgusted with your skin and your flesh and your muscle and your bones and the way that they’re designed…you wanna cut parts of your body off.” It’s confessional moments like this that put into perspective what comes later in Love, as Lizzo steadies her songwriting voice with “My Skin” off of 2015’s Big Grrrl Small World and comes to understand the hard work she must do to manifest her dreams of musical success. “Because nobody was fucking with me. Nobody was trying to sign a fat Black girl that rapped and played the flute.” It took a decade or more. She broke down, lost her way, lost her dad, and slept in her car. But she chased the music. And today there are Grammys, Emmys, sold out gigs at Radio City, and a heartening voice for anyone out here trying to say that Lizzo or anyone who might look like her can’t have it or won’t make it.

© Provided by Decider Photo: HBO Max

What Movies Will It Remind You Of? Lizzo has really been ramping up her small screen media presence of late. She netted an Emmy for Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, her more positive, less catty competition reality show from earlier this year that found the artist searching for fresh backup dancer talent. And Love, Lizzo’s appearance on HBO Max is a primer for the film Lizzo: Live in Concert, which the streamer will premiere on New Year’s Eve night.

Performance Worth Watching: The star of Love, Lizzo is at her most revealing whenever it comes to her relationship with her own self-worth. “And then one day I was like ‘Yo, I’m gonna be in this body forever. I’m gonna be this bitch forever. So, you either live your life not liking her, or you live your life trying to love her.”  

Memorable Dialogue: Part of Lizzo’s mission statement is to be present and fight back whenever and wherever her name and public persona become a kind of shorthand for denigration. “Someone calls a girl, ‘OK, Lizzo,’ because she’s big and she’s Black and she’s doing something that they don’t think big Black women should be doing, like dancing and being confident. I can only turn Lizzo into a compliment by being the best version of myself.”

Sex and Skin: Nothing too crazy here beyond a few peeks at the photo shoot for Lizzo’s memorable Cuz I Love You album art.

Our Take: Lizzo was already a polymath, becoming a rapper in high school before attending the University of Houston on a flute scholarship and then channeling her creativity into singing and songwriting, which as everyone knows by now has led to her successful career as a artist without genre or limit. But all of that was before she hosted and executive produced the Emmy-winning Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, a reality show built around dancing and body positivity, famously played James Madison’s 1813 crystal flute, won Time’s “Entertainer of the Year” award, and delivered a bold and empowering TED talk on the Black history of twerking. But it’s precisely because Lizzo is here for so many things that Love, Lizzo is such a revealing documentary, and doesn’t have to stay in any single lane as it tells the woman born Melissa Jefferson’s story. Neither does Lizzo: in one of the doc’s lighter moments, she’s even found to be practicing her driving skills alongside manager Kevin Beisler.

The elliptical, non-traditional format is a great fit for Love, Lizzo, but there would be more than enough material to work with in any style, since the star herself is so compelling and refreshingly free of pretense. While the writing and recording sessions for her album Special have their moments, Love shines most when Lizzo speaks openly about being bullied as a kid, her relationship with her late father, and her drive to inspire personhood in others, and wish to use her platform to give validating exposure to women who look like her. Or as Lizzo herself puts it, to see “big girls as the protagonist, as talent, and not just the punchline of a joke.”   

Our Call: STREAM IT. For new fans and old, Love, Lizzo offers biographical boilerplate, professional benchmarks, personal manifestos, and proud calls for body positivity all at once from the Grammy-winning singer, flutist, and rapper.

Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges



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