“Truth Hurts” rapper Lizzo has never been one to mince words. In a new interview to promote her new documentary, Love Lizzo, she speaks frankly about some of the racist tropes that have swirled around her and her music, going so far as to say that pop music is “inherently racist.”
She has steadfastly remained unfazed by haters debating the “Blackness” of her music and took some time to school people on their pop genre biases.
“Genre’s racist inherently,” the Emmy-winning artist told Entertainment Weekly. “I think if people did any research they would see that there was race music and then there was pop music.”
“And race music was their way of segregating Black artists from being mainstream because they didn’t want their kids listening to music created by Black and brown people because they said it was demonic and yada, yada, yada,” she continued.
She then went on to say that music genres like R&B, rap, and hip-hop were just code words for Black music. She turned up the heat when she blasted MTV for refusing to play Black artists in the early 80s, instead choosing only to play white rock bands.
“I think when you think about pop, you think about MTV in the '80s talking about ‘We can't play rap music’ or ‘We can't put this person on our platform because we're thinking about what people in the middle of America think’ — and we all know what that's code for,” she stated.
She’s definitely not wrong. In the 1980s, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album dominated the charts, and it remains the number 1 selling album of all time. However, despite making absolutely groundbreaking music videos, he wasn’t seen on MTV. It wasn’t until he released his video for “Billie Jean” that MTV was forced to play the video or lose everyone on the CBS (later Sony/Epic) label due to demand from Jackson's record execs. Thus Jackson became the first Black artist to be played on MTV, and only because MTV was forced to.
That exclusion of Black artists did not go unnoticed, especially by iconic rock legend David Bowie, who called out MTV to their very faces in 1983. At a time when Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Lionel Ritchie, Luther Vandross (a former backup singer for Bowie), Marvin Gaye, Boney-M, and others were dominating the charts, MTV almost never spun them on the channel. During an interview with MTV, Bowie told them they were creating a “frightening predicament.”
That, Lizzo says, is still the predicament today with pop music and with those who criticize her blend of rap and pop singing as not “Black enough.”
“Fast-forward to 2022,” she told the outlet, “we have this well-oiled pop machine, but remember that it has a racist origin. And I think the coolest thing I've seen is rap and hip-hop artists become pop. Now pop music is really rap in its DNA — rap is running the game, and I think that's so cool. But we forget that in the late '80s and the early '90s, there were these massive pop diva records that were sung by Black women like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey.”
She continues, “And I'm giving that same energy. I'm giving that same energy with a little bit of rap, and I think that people just have to get used to me. I think anything that's new, people are going to criticize and feel like it's not for them.”
She goes on to share a funny anecdote of a friend who doesn’t like avocados but loves guacamole and then says that she’s gonna be the guacamole for those who aren’t used to her brand of music. “But once you get used to something, it might be for you. So for people who don't like pop music or don't like Black artists that make pop music, they may eventually like me. I might be guacamole to them. You just gotta get used to me because I'm making good s***. You missing out.”
Lizzo is a classically-trained flutist and also won an Emmy for her work on Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, an Amazon series that documented her search for backup dancers. She recently confirmed dates for her upcoming North American tour, and she might have a concert special airing just in time for NYE.