“The goal was just to make good music,” Lizzo says, calling just after arriving in New York for a show and explaining her path to signing with a major label. “When we first started touring, we had done a lot in the U.K. and I had gotten signed to a major in the U.K. I remember that not being the most ideal situation. I mean, I did it and it was great, but it made me not want to be on a major label ever again after the year was up.”
Pop super-producer Ricky Reed, however, helped initiate a conversation with Atlantic to get the rapper and television host signed, paving the way for Lizzo’s major-label debut. Her new EP, Coconut Oil, is out today, capping a whirlwind three years since she released her debut, Lizzobangers, following stints in several indie hip-hop groups. Along the way, the Houston-raised artist, born Melissa Jefferson, has earned co-signs from the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Prince, the latter of whom featured her on his 2014 album Plectrumelectrum. She feels confident that her latest career move was the right one. “The way that Atlantic treated me was more like a family, and I want my label to feel like a family,” she says.
After signing with the label, Lizzo had planned originally to dive straight into working on a full-length, which would follow up her acclaimed 2015 LP Big Grrrl Small World. Instead, she got so excited to share several songs she had been working on for some time that she prepped the EP, named after a song on the album dedicated to the black women who have connected with her music.
“A lot of my fans are backpackers and white kids, but as much as I love that, when I got to tour with SZA I saw black women in the audience, and the way they connected with my music was different than I had experienced,” she recalls. “I wanted to do a song that celebrated that and also celebrated myself.”
The name “Coconut Oil” ended up being adopted in lieu of a different name she had in mind for the EP, mostly because it helped continue describe the journey she had been going through with her music. “There’s self-exploration. There’s self-love. Then there’s self-realization,” she notes of her past music. “‘Coconut Oil’ is the ultimate ode to self-care and to my process. I’m not there yet, but I’m creating my music so I can get there.”
A move to Los Angeles also influenced the new project, creating a positive disruption to her old style of writing. Not only has she found herself working with new collaborators but she’s also explored more spontaneity in her music. “I feel like here it’s been from God’s lips to my ears to the microphone,” she explains.
Heavy-duty earworm and Coconut Oil single “Phone” is the best example of her new approach. Originally, when she entered the studio with producer Jesse Shatkin (Sia’s “Chandelier”) and writer Evan Bogart (Beyoncé’s “Halo”), Lizzo had anticipated making something with the same emotional weight as the songs the pair had been best known for. “I was like, ‘This is gonna be the most important song I ever make!'” she recalls with a laugh. Instead, when she couldn’t find her soul, she decided to focus on a memory of a time when she couldn’t find her phone, which launched a bar fight in Minneapolis and a line from a song recorded with her old rap crew that Bogart loved: “Where the hell my phone?” Shatkin made a track for her to rap over in “two seconds” and from there she created a playful, manic ode to a dizzy end to a wild night out.
“It was probably one of my proudest musical moments with people I love and respect.”
A new full-length album is still on Lizzo’s mind, but even more exciting opportunities that have come up in the period before the release of Coconut Oil, including a gig hosting MTV’s new music performance show Wonderland, which is being billed as the network’s updated answer to its classic series TRL. “Television was a surprise,” she says. Before MTV called her about the opportunity, she had been taking various auditions for film and TV roles that had been offered to her though she hadn’t been totally invested in the pursuit. “There are people who would kill to get these auditions, so to not take them would be to take them away from those people and waste it,” she says.
As for more acting, the former theater kid admits that while she’s been having the time of her life on Wonderland, she doesn’t want to distract from her life as a touring musician. “I want to respect the fact that I’m a musician, and I want people to respect the fact that I’m a musician,” she says. “I’m trying to find the balance. ‘Its all about the balance’ has been my mantra this year.”