“This is so silly, I’m so sorry, y’all. This is supposed be a keynote speech!” Lizzo exclaimed halfway through her freewheeling keynote address on Sunday at South By Southwest. Sundays at SXSW are always a little sleepy, a situation not helped by this particular one arriving the day after clocks jumped forward an hour for Daylight Savings Time. So the vibe around the Austin Convention Center was understandably a little subdued — at least until Lizzo took the stage bedecked in a bright, outrageously checkered outfit, fighting back happy tears of disbelief but eager to talk with radio host Angela Yee about Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, her upcoming unscripted streaming series.
Debuting March 25 on Amazon Prime Video, Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls follows the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter-flutist on a quest to find onstage dancers who look like herself. It’s an inherently body-positive program, a show that’s as much about self-love and acceptance as it is about hiring a team of performers.
Lizzo’s gospel of self-love fueled much of her SXSW keynote speech, culminating in a moment where she led the audience through a self-belief mantra of “I love you. You are beautiful. You can do anything,” encouraging strangers to take off their SXSW-mandated masks and turn and say these words of positivity to one another. It was the emotional peak of a talk that was at once frank, funny, and revealing.
Here’s our 5 takeaways:
A new album is on the way.
Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls kicks off what promises to be a bustling 2022 for the rapper. “The bitch been busy,” Lizzo said of herself. The big news? There’s new music on the horizon. “I can finally tell everybody, literally I’m flying home today to master my album. It’s done so it’s coming very very soon…and it’s good. I worked real hard on it, so it better be good.”
While there’s no word of an official release date, Lizzo confirmed her Prime Video series will tease some of her the material. “There’s gonna be previews of new music on the show before the album comes out, so if you want some new music, watch Watch Out for the Big Grrrls on Prime Video March 25. I’m not gonna tell you which episodes, so you’ll have to binge all of ’em.” Lizzo deflected specific questions about the sound of the new music, but Yee noted that SZA and Missy Elliott appear on the show, which could be a hint of what’s to come on the album.
After the record is out, Lizzo is hitting the road. “There’s definitely a tour but we have a lot of surprises,” she said. “This is just the beginning, this is the tip of the titty, honey.”
Lizzo’s desire to see more people who look like her onstage birthed the series.
“I needed big girls more than I needed a television show,” Lizzo said by way of explaining the origin of her series. From the outset of her performing career, she wanted to surround herself with dancers who shared her same stature. She sat through endless open casting calls to no avail: “I didn’t see me reflected in the dancers and then one day I said, ‘You know what motherfucker, if I gotta get a TV show to bring some awareness for this, then pull up my sleeves and let’s go.'”
Watch Out for the Big Grrrls bucks reality-show conventions.
Twenty years after “I’m not here to make friends” became a reality TV show cliché, Lizzo attempts to turn that notion upon its head: On Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, the whole idea is to foster cooperation and camaraderie, and build a team.
“It was also important that I changed the narrative of what a reality competition television show looks like,” Lizzo said. “We don’t always have to be cruel, we can be kind. We don’t have to pit people against each other.” This sensibility stems from the impetus for the show, and how it’s been so difficult to find dancers. “I feel like it’s hard enough in the dance world already for girls who look like me, so why would I create that environment in my space? If I had the power to change that, why not change that?”
Watch Out for the Big Grrrls was directed by Nneka Onuorah, and Lizzo said it was “so important to have a Black woman at the helm of the camera on this entire series. Her vision.” Part of that vision was to move away from reality-show conventions. “We wanted to make sure that we created an environment, especially on camera, that could be conducive to having Black people and not have a stereotype,” Lizzo said. “We can see them for who they really are and not a caricature, like what happens so much on television.”
Lizzo says the haters got to her after releasing “Rumors.”
The performer admitted she was hurt by criticism around the time she released “Rumors,” her first new single since 2019’s breakthrough Cuz I Love You. “When ‘Rumors’ dropped last year, I saw some really cruel things online. Nothing about the music — ‘Rumors’ did very well, baby — but it was just some things about my character that really deeply hurt me and it was coincidentally the day that I had to film,” she said.
As Lizzo prepared to introduce her dancers to her new song, she wound up crying on camera. “I was talking about the fatphobia and racism toward people who look like me, and specifically me. And then I had to clean up my face and go in and play ‘Rumors’ to the girls, and this was not planned at all. I got extremely emotional when I walked into the room…but I get to share this moment and put these women on a pedestal and on a platform, and we’re eventually going to show the world that you cannot treat people like that. You cannot treat people who look like me like this. Shut the fuck up and just watch the show, bitch.”
The onetime Houstonian is not happy with the state of Texas politics.
Given Lizzo’s roots in Houston, Yee asked the rapper to weigh in on a series of political controversies in the state — Lizzo didn’t mince words. When it came to Texas governor Greg Abbott’s order to treat gender-affirmative childcare as child abuse, she said, “I’m proud to rep Houston but I’m not proud to rep Texan politics right now. There are very regressive laws being passed. They’re taking away the right for young children to have a chance to live authentically as themselves. It’s a violation of human rights. Trans rights are human rights.”
She also spoke out on Texas’s restrictive abortion law. “We got a lotta ugly babies y’all need to be handling instead of y’all being in people’s homes and telling them what to do with their bodies and being all up in their uteruses,” Lizzo said. “The abortion ban is atrocious as well. Mind your business. Stay out of my body.”
(Full disclosure: In 2021, Rolling Stone’s parent company, P-MRC, acquired a 50 percent stake in the SXSW festival.)