Lizzo review – like downing a quadruple espresso martini of female self-reliance

Ovo Hydro, Glasgow
The Glasgow-loving US star’s whip-smart extravaganza of glittering sisterhood is an irresistible showcase of hits and positivity with just a hint of pop juggernaut

In a better, kinder, funnier parallel universe where Lizzo’s values are uppermost, every day is International Women’s Day. Or no days are, because there is no need for it. Until we get there, the US singer’s UK tour kicks off on IWD with an all-female band, three female backing vocalists, the Little Bigs, Lizzo’s longtime DJ, Sophia Eris, and the 10-strong Big Grrrls dance troupe, stars of Lizzo’s triple-Emmy-winning reality competition show, Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. Those Emmys put Lizzo halfway to EGOT status – ie bagging an Emmy, a Grammy (current tally: four), an Oscar and a Tony. Among many bravura performances on the stage tonight, one stands out. At just 19, guitarist Jordan Waters plays a kind of Steve Lacy role – a wunderkind who can muster plangent, taut, Prince-like funk lines, but never lapses into the kind of florid rock solos that have become endemic at pop gigs.

We know we are in Glasgow because Lizzo revels in shouting it – “GlasGOH!” she hollers, often – and twice starts a chant of “here we, here we fucking go”. Arena divas seem to act as though every city is their favourite, but Lizzo’s love for Glasgow, like her love of many things, seems genuine. Reports in the Scottish press suggest she sent complimentary tickets for tonight’s gig to the staff of famed Glasgow micro-venue Nice’n’Sleazy, in recognition of a great time she’d had there years back.

Tonight’s extravaganza of glitter and sisterhood is both slick and authentic. As has become customary – certainly since Lizzo’s breakout album of 2019, Cuz I Love You, but in her previous indie career as well – a night out in Lizzo’s company is like downing a quadruple espresso martini of female self-reliance and LGBTQ++ positivity. In a lovely touch, a tearful guy called Grant asks her to propose to his boyfriend, via his phone. On the morning of the show, Lizzo tweeted about racism and transphobia; a few days before, she had raised an online eyebrow at the return of the Victoria’s Secret lingerie catwalk show.

One of the most pernicious forms of misogyny – conforming to certain body shapes – certainly does not survive the night. Here are women – many women – taking up space – lots of space – with so much wit and energy. For act one, Lizzo is resplendent in a nude bodysuit on which skimpy bright blue swooshes accentuate her curves. From opening track The Sign on in, there is so much twerking, it almost ceases to be provocative. (In case twerking still bothers anyone, there’s a Lizzo Ted Talk about the cultural history of Black female movement to consult.) One of the most memorable tracks of the night is Naked, a ballad to her body that also takes in vulnerability in love. In a clever bit of understated stagecraft, lasers appear to burn lines on the floor through the dry ice.

As songs from Lizzo’s latest album, Special (2022) alternate with tracks from its predecessor and the EP that inaugurated her current era, Coconut Oil (2016), it’s as though she knows she has roughly two hours a night in which to rebalance cosmic scales weighted in favour of hate, division and cruelty. So every held note, every high kick, every message – whether pre-recorded, writ large on video screens, or, in the case of the Roe v Wade-referencing My Body My Choice, projected on to Lizzo’s second, neutral-coloured bodysuit – is replete with upliftment, re-education and seenness.

Another of the night’s highlights is Rumors, a non-album 2021 collaboration between Lizzo and Cardi B. As the song rolls its eyes at social media, where women get it in the neck, text-message bubbles, OMG-ing at fake Lizzo news, fill the screens. A laughing Cardi B appears as a (recorded) video selfie, fluffing her own lines, a strangely sweet and intimate way to phone in a guest verse.

Joy unconfined all round, then. The one tiny hair worth splitting tonight is that the Special songs, although still very special, just aren’t as characterful as Lizzo’s older tracks. It’s not that recent hits such as About Damn Time aren’t glorious – they are. A No 1 in the US, it won the coveted record of the year Grammy, the first time a Black woman has won it since Whitney Houston – for I Will Always Love You – in 1994, which boggles the mind in an era dominated by Beyoncé.

Watch the video for Rumors by Lizzo, ft. Cardi B.

Covers of Lauryn Hill and Chaka Khan play well tonight, while a mashup of Lizzo’s stark old hip-hop track Phone and a new song, Grrls, is harder, faster and more fun. But given the plethora of disco-inspired lockdown records, the retro glitterball twinkle on Special risks having the perverse effect of making Lizzo feel like just another big name. Heft may be beautiful, but the industry heavyweights brought on to Special have had a homogenising influence on Lizzo’s whip-smart zingers. Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Ilya, Kid Harpoon: these men have polished wares for everyone from Ariana Grande to Harry Styles. Lizzo’s stellar individuality has room for braver production choices, not undemanding prêt-à-porter in limiting sizes.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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