In a recent interview with Laura Snapes for Rookie Magazine, Minneapolis-based rapper Lizzo offers an anecdote about forming girl groups with her classmates as a Destiny’s Child fan attending grade school in Houston. Yet while Lizzo (born Melissa Jefferson) latched onto certain artistic responsibilities like vetting talent, songwriting, and arrangement, she had to overcome the fear of singing in front of her friends.
Conquering stage fright is a common trope in performers’ origin stories. But Lizzo’s resolve was activated within the makeshift space of girls’ leisure, an environment that matters to the recording industry despite its historical devaluation of female labor and fandom. But as both the squad’s and the hip-hop crew’s forebear, girl groups also use their choreography and harmonies to keep time with an ideological contradiction: commodifying empowerment through gestures of solidarity that fans can mimic and elaborate upon while simultaneously raising one worker’s value at the expense of other professionals.
As a rapper who filters hip-hop through intersectional feminism, Lizzo wiggles against this contradiction. Her music investigates issues like body positivity, sexual agency, creative ambition, self-care, and women’s friendships. But pursuing these themes within pop music is to risk someone depoliticizing your rhyme. So Lizzo also uses collaboration to challenge the #squad’s ideological underpinnings. She has pursued this as a member of the hip-hop collective GRRRL PRTY. She has crossed genres with Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis and singer Caroline Smith, drawing attention to the creative process and generating support for non-profit organizations vital to her community as a result.
This spirit informs her recent Late Show appearance, which uses a live performance of “Ain’t I” to accommodate two dancers more proudly full-figured than broadcast television usually allows, and GRRRL PRTY deejay Sophia Eris. While the stage configuration and mix privilege Lizzo, she dances with them instead of at a remove. She also dedicates the performance to the memory of her grandmother, an emotional moment that Eris acknowledges by patting her friend’s shoulder. It’s an imperfect moment, but useful and electrifying in demonstrating what’s possible when women think beyond the squad and present themselves as a collective.