Concert Reviews

Lizzo Makes Healing Music for Fat People Who Deserve Space to Dance

Aaron Thackeray
Lizzo makes healing music.
Dead sardines in a can had a better chance of dancing than many Lizzo fans did at the overpacked Ogden Theatre on May 1.

That's because music promoters have a bias: They want to sell as many tickets as possible. It’s a Barbie world in the industry, and venues expect most fat people to stay home. If they come, they’d better fold their arms and make themselves as small as possible — and even if they do show, they’re sure to get the stink eye from the fat-phobic "you-should-have-to-buy-two-seats-if-you-want-to-ride-on-this-plane" types.

Lizzo, who worships large bodies and expects her fans to do the same, brought out more big fans than most artists do. That’s a beautiful thing. And all those big bodies deserve space to dance alongside her skinnier fans.

“Slow songs, they for skinny hoes/Can't move all of this here to one of those,” she sings. “I'm a thick bitch, I  need tempo/Fuck it up to the tempo.”

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Lizzo performed at the Ogden Theatre on May 1, 2019.
Aaron Thackeray
As much as her songs demand that we all fuck it up to the tempo, there wasn’t enough room. Squeezed in, I could barely lift my arm to push in my ear protection. Early in the night, I lost my balance...but my feet were fixed in place by other people's feet, as though I’d squealed on a mob boss and had been forced to stand in concrete. I remained propped at an awkward angle by the crowd until the concert ended, when I finally regained my balance, calves screaming.

So when Lizzo’s DJ and hype-woman Sophia Eris invited us to clap, I'd inched up my forearms into prayer position and penguin-flapped my hands together. “Lift your hands up,” Lizzo instructed us. God, I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Instead, I dared wiggle my fingers, fearing I’d accidentally flick somebody. When her dancers jumped around stage looking like they were having the time of their lives and modeling what they wanted the crowd to do, envy overwhelmed me. How could I get on stage — and breathe?

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Even though the theater was packed, Lizzo's fans had a great time.
Aaron Thackeray
Were people being inconsiderate? Not one bit. There was just not enough space for some of us to move. At least we smiled as we sang along.

I get it: Promoters want to make money, and those who love Lizzo want everybody to receive the gospel of self-love she preaches. In a world where ad agencies work their damnedest to make us feel bad about ourselves so that their clients can fix us with products — diets, skin creams, new clothes and exercise fads — what she offers is radical self-acceptance. That’s worth squeezing in for, even if the ticket's pricey.

“I want you to look in the mirror and say, 'I love you, you’re beautiful, you can do anything,'” she told the crowd. She wanted us to dance: fat, skinny, whatever. But most of all: fat.

Music is therapy, she said: therapy for her as a performer and therapy for us, the fans. But if there’s no room to dance and be comfortable in our bodies, that therapeutic session risks backfiring. It’s hard not to wish you were skinnier when you can’t budge.

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Lizzo touches her fans.
Aaron Thackeray
Still, Lizzo owned the crowd — even those of us who never moved.

A lot of pop music pretends to offer healing. But much of it — think Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry — fails because it’s the music of cool, pretty people selling their songs to misfits. Sure, it can empower. But something’s always missing.

Lizzo is an artist who is in it: who once upon a time lived in her car, who struggles with self-hatred, misogyny, racism, fat phobia and pain (not to mention the “fuck boy” she croons about in the song “Jerome”), and who continues to be insulted and slurred and mocked by the trolling class.

Through it all, she delivers joy. She shows us how to embrace ourselves despite all the suffering, to open our hearts to let ourselves cry, to do the work that makes us love ourselves and each other. She’s a survivor who makes music for survivors.

Is it corny, trite or prescriptive pap? True, her lyrics aren’t dizzying in their complexity, and she’s more self-help than Shakespeare. But she’s funny, she’s cutting, and she’s to the point. It works.

In a world that grinds black, fat and femme bodies down, the healing power that Lizzo offers is pop music at its best. Who are we to refuse that medicine? Venue operators just need to make sure we have enough room to take it.