Picture of rapper Lizzo

Lizzo, body positivity and being '100% THAT bitch'

17 minutes to read
Article
Simone Sprangers
19/02/2020

The five words 'one hundred percent that bitch' are part of a line that made rapper Lizzo one of the most famous artists of our time. The line is part of her song 'Truth Hurts', which has been number one on the Billboard Hot 100 list in America for seven weeks. In this article, I will discuss the singer's journey to success as it is tied closely to the current phase of globalization. The aforementioned infamous line and Lizzo's powerful message will also be discussed to point out how popular culture can add new vocabulary to the English language through online platforms. Further, I will examine more closely how Lizzo as an artist promotes body positivity through her work and her media presence as a central message that reaches vast numbers of people across the world

Globalization and the music industry

Contemporary globalization accelerates and intensifies pre-existing phases of globalization. The defining infrastructures of different stages of globalization are their new technologies. The main technology of the current phase is the Internet, which crucially includes social networks. For a long time, musicians needed to be featured on television or the radio in order to become successful. Good reviews and interviews in the printed press were also a big factor in the process of becoming known to a big audience.

These days, all that is not the case anymore, or more precisely, all that is not enough anymore. In the contemporary music business, one must do all of that, and on top of it, one needs to engage in online promotion and make use of all kinds of social media platforms to get noticed. So, artists need to navigate through offline and online promotion to become relevant. Old and new media, or technologies, coexist and are both necessary.

All these considerations on the workings of reaching musical celebrity status nowadays come into play in the case of Lizzo.

So who is Lizzo?!

Lizzo is a female African-American singer, songwriter, rapper and classically-trained flutist. Her real name is Melissa Vivianne Jefferson, and she was born on April 27, 1988 in Detroit, Michigan (Wikipedia, 2019). Lizzo comes from a very religious family. Her parents played a lot of gospel music in the house, so you could say that music has always been a part of her life. At the age of 14, she fell in love with hip hop music and started a musical group with friends (Wikipedia, 2019). It was around that time that her stage name 'Lizzo' was born. In a conversation with online magazine The Cut, she explained that it is a combination of ‘Lissa’, after her real name Melissa, and ‘Izzo’, which is a reference to Jay-Z’s song 'Izzo' that was very popular at the time. Lizzo also took classical music courses at Houston University with a primary focus on the flute, the instrument she had been playing since she was 12.

By November 2013, Time magazine had already named Lizzo as one of the 14 artists you should see in 2014.

After a failed first attempt to make it in the music industry, Lizzo moved to Minneapolis in 2011. In 2013 and 2015, she independently released two albums, Lizzobangers, and Big Girrl Small World. In 2016, she was signed to Atlantic Records, a major label, where she produced and released her Coconut Oil EP. The follow-up to this extended play came three years later, in April of 2019, when Cuz I Love You, her first official studio album, was released.

Promotion and support from renowned artists

After years of hard work, Lizzo finally became a big star. Part of her success can be traced back to good promotion, and collaborations with famous musicians and TV stars. In an interview with Rolling Stone, she described her move to Minneapolis as 'one of the best moves I’ve made'. In the same interview, the singer recalls that ‘[w]ithin a year I was playing First Avenue' (Minneapolis’ most famous venue), [w]ithin two, Prince had asked me to come to Paisley Park to record.’ In fact, Lizzo came to work with Prince on his 2014 album Plectrumelectrum. This opportunity gave her the confidence to be a solo artist, and it helped her in creating her own style that would turn out to be a mixture of rap, pop, rock, and funk. By November 2013, Time magazine had already named Lizzo as one of the 14 artists you should see in 2014.

In 2017, she joined the highly popular TV program Ru Paul’s Drag Race as a guest judge. Drag Race even used 'Good As Hell', a song from her EP, for the so-called 'Battle For Your Life' lip-sync round in that same episode. The next year, in 2018, she was asked to be the supporting act for popular female group Haim and the band Florence + The Machine during their tours in North America. Both Rolling Stone and Forbes featured her in their 2018 lists of artists you need to know.

The success of 'Truth Hurts' and the '100%' line

Let us now look at one of her songs that ultimately defined her 'queen' status, becoming her most significant success to date. I am, of course, talking about 'Truth Hurts'. The truth about 'Truth Hurts' is that it is an ‘old’ Lizzo song: it was released in 2017. At the time of its release, it didn't do very well commercially. So then what was so special about 'Truth Hurts' that made it become such a big hit two years after its release?

Let us take a look at the actual song. 'Truth Hurts' is a 2:53 minute track led by a piano sample. The lyrics are about relationship problems. So far, it does not really sound that exciting or unique. How did it become so popular then - with 414.716.184 plays on Spotify (as of November 9, 2019) as Figure 2 shows? What made it so popular was the opening line of its first verse: ‘I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch’.

Being 100 percent that bitch’ is now slang for ‘being a woman everyone wants to be, and thus everyone is extremely jealous ofaccording to Urban Dictionary.

Screenshot of Lizzo’s Spotify page, showing her most streamed songs, including Truth Hurts

Figure 1. screenshot of Lizzo’s Spotify page, showing her most streamed songs, including Truth Hurts

By April 2019, the line had been picked up by users of video-sharing app Tik Tok. Users of the app, mostly teenagers, began posting so-called 'DNA Test Challenge' videos in which they pretend to do a DNA test with self-invented results that match Lizzo’s line. Below, you can find a compilation of said clips that were posted on Tik Tok. These videos became a meme trend. Naturally, because of that trend, the song 'Truth Hurts' skyrocketed in popularity. Its success exploded with the track climbing to the top of music charts worldwide. Since the song became such a hit, Lizzo decided to release a deluxe version of her album Cuz I Love You on the 3rd of May 2019, which contains three extra tracks, including 'Truth Hurts'.

 

Another thing that helped its popularity is that the song was used in 2019 Netflix movie Someone Great. At one point, Gina Rodriguez, one of the main characters of the film, sings along to the track. The movie was released on April 19, 2019, the same month in which the meme trend started. It is reasonable to think that the former is connected to the latter.

After Lizzo’s performance at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, where she performed a medley of 'Truth Hurts' and 'Good As Hell', there was another peak in the ‘100%’ meme trend, this time on Twitter. Figures 2-5 show a few outstanding examples.

Figure 2. Screenshot of 100 percent meme 1

Figure 3. Screenshot of 100 percent meme 2

Figure 4. Screenshot of 100 percent meme 3

Figure 5. Screenshot of 100 percent meme 4

The origin of the '100%' line

The song's success eventually led to Lizzo filing for a patent on the '100%' line, so that she'd be able to use it for commercial activities. However, recently, the rapper has been covered in lawsuits claiming that the song is plagiarism. Lizzo is fighting all of these allegations, except one. Lizzo has conceded to add one person to the list of songwriters for 'Truth Hurts'. That person is Mina Lioness. Lioness claimed that she invented the ‘100%’ line in 2017 in one of her tweets, which was made a few months prior to the song's release.  

The inspiration for the famous line was a meme, and the song that came out of that inspiration became the subject of a meme trend itself.

Though Lizzo denies ever seeing this tweet, she decided to credit Mina Lioness, and even made a statement on Twitter about the matter. In it, she said that she saw a meme while recording in a studio in 2017 and that it made her feel like '100% that bitch', so she used the line for a demo. Later, the line became part of 'Truth Hurts'. It was brought to her attention that the meme she had seen in 2017 was inspired by Lioness' tweet, and so she decided to credit her for it. See Figure 6 for the full statement.

 

Figure 6. Screenshot of Lizzo’s tweet on Twitter, posted on October 23, 2019

Her inspiration was a meme (which was inspired by a tweet), and the song that came out of that inspiration became the subject of a meme trend itself. This is an excellent example of how social media works. If you see something on the Internet and then use it, or get inspired and create something new out of it, the next step is that that something can function as an inspiration for others once it's out there. And so the circle goes round and round.

Impact

The infamous line can be seen everywhere: on social media, in memes, but also in more serious contexts. Lizzo was quoted in the American political TV program Meet The Press by one of its presenters, Shawna Thomas. In the program, on September 1, 2019, Thomas said that 2020 election candidate Joe Biden should announce senator Stacey Abrams as his vice-presidential nominee, adding that: ‘[i]t’s like a Lizzo quote. She is 100% that B right now. And everyone knows it. And she is owning it. And that’s interesting’.

It is safe to say Lizzo’s ‘100%’ line has entered not only the online realm but also the ‘offline’ world of television. Even on a sophisticated broadcast channel like NBC, which is the home of Meet The Press, Lizzo’s words are used in the formulation of an opinion on US politics. In fact, Lizzo had been quoted in a political vein before. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used parts of Lizzo’s line in a tweet on August 21st. Suddenly, the line has climbed to a new level of usage: politics. 

But Lizzo's concern as an artist is not with mainstream US politics, but with spreading a message of loving yourself and your body, which is what she uses her place in the spotlight for.

Body positivity and self-love

If you look at Lizzo's lyrics, it becomes clear that, beyong being fun and catchy, they are also concerned with conveying a message. And that message is body positivity and self-love. In fact, the ‘100%’ line in 'Truth Hurts' can be read as a line that celebrates oneself, thus spreading the message of self-love. But 'Truth Hurts' is not the only song in this vein; almost all of Lizzo's oeuvre addresses these issues in one way or another.

Lizzo is a big black woman with a big mouth and a lot of attitude in criticizing the music industry. She is different and she owns it.

Why these themes? Lizzo is an African-American, plus-size woman. More to-the-point, she is a big black woman with a big mouth and a lot of attitude in criticizing the music industry. She is different and she owns it. Through her work she expresses that not being the 'perfect' type of woman or not having a slim body is not something you should be ashamed of despite stereotypes around beauty made up by the modeling and television world.

The singer, of course, does not work to inspire only black plus-size people. Since the early stages of her career, she has also had a lot of support from the LGBTQ+ community. The reason for that is, again, the fact that she is different. Many LGBTQ+ individuals also feel different, and they can related to that element in Lizzo's image. Lizzo is different and proud of it, and so she shows them that they can be proud of being different too. As of a few months ago, Lizzo's connection with the LGBTQ+ community got to another level as Lizzo decided to start calling her fans ‘Lizzbians’.

Changing the norm

Lizzo fuelled a revolution of body positivity. She became a figure of inspiration and a role model for curvier young women who are insecure about their looks and shape. In an interview with Time, Lizzo has said that when she grew up, she had no one to look up to who was like her. That is why she wanted to become a role model herself: I have to be that person because I don’t see that person. The space I’m occupying isn’t just for me, it’s for all the big black girls in the future who just want to be seen.

'I have to be that person because I don’t see that person.'

She, of course, is not the only 'big' woman who advocates for body positivity; she is, however, the one who is most explicitly proudly showing her body and her attitude and addressing the issue with every opportunity she gets. But Lizzo also talks about her colleagues, rappers Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, for example, in her interview with Time:

'These women who are telling their stories-look at how they look. Have you ever seen anything like that before? Is it weird? Does it make you uncomfortable? It feels novel because we’re not the norm. I post a lot of naked pictures of myself - one, because I look good, but two, because I want to normalize it. When I post these things, it’s not to be provocative. I’m sick of black women being (seen as) provocative because you’re not used to us’.

As this quote from the Time feature states, Lizzo posts a lot of nude pictures on her social media pages. That's not the only place she uses for sharing images of her body though; the album cover of Cuz I Love You is also a photo of the rapper with no clothes on. This cover is a statement that underscores her message of self-love: Lizzo loves her body, and she is proud of it. So proud that she dares to show it on that cover (see Figure 7 below).

Figure 7. Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You album cover

Also in live performances, Lizzo does not shy away from showing some skin. During the already mentioned performance at the MTV VMAs, she was accompanied by the Big Grrls, her beloved group of plus-size back-up dancers and singers. But that is not all of it. There was also a set of massive floating buttocks.

 

This was a collaboration between her creative director Quinn Wilson, Strange Loop Studios, and Landmark Creations. Figures 8 and 9 show photos of the performance and of the design. Besides that very visual statement, the rapper also held a speech about self-love and feeling 'good as hell' in a (hip hop) world dominated by men.

Figure 8. screenshot of Lizzo’s 2019 MTV VMA performance, including giant fake-butt

Figure 9. Floating butt design for Lizzo’s performance at the MTV VMAs

Lizzo in the context of globalization, culture, and language

The acceleration and intensification of globalization has made patterns or scapes of social and cultural behavior emerge (Appadurai, 1996). Lizzo is rebelling against conservative beauty standards and fuelling a revolution of body positivity and self-love. That is an example of a culture scape (Appadurai, 1996). Culture scapes are cultural scripts that start somewhere local, and then become global phenomena. As Lizzo is from America, she started said revolution in the US, but because she has a global reach, her message and crusade were also picked up in other countries. She became a beacon of light first and foremost to (black) women, but also to others who feel looked down upon and are insecure about their bodies or about who they are. She uses diverse social media applications to spread her message of loving yourself and being proud of how you look with words and with visuals.

As we have seen, Lizzo uses both ‘old' media, like appearances on TV programs and interviews in magazines, and 'new' media, such as social media platforms. The existence of old and new alongside one another is a feature of globalization. That coexistence is one of the reasons that Lizzo found her way to success.

Further, the Internet and social platforms have created new communities, which are a fundamental dimension of everyday life for many (Castells, 2010). Today, humans are part of multiple networks that organize our social practices and behavior. Social media and the Internet are trans-national; they do not end at the borders of countries. And so, this technological infrastructure has made our society into a global system, and has thereby reshaped it into a network society (Castells, 2010).

Precisely because social media have created global communities, it is possible for Lizzo to help and inspire people not only from America but from all over the world. In September 2019, Simone Weimans, a news presenter for the NOS (Nederlandse Omroep Stichting), a public broadcasting company, was a guest in Dutch talkshow De Wereld Draait Door. In her appearance, she said that Lizzo brought ‘light into the lives of her and many others.’ She gave them a voice but also the strength to, for example, wear some kind of outfit they would not have dared to wear before because of their insecurities about their bodies and their looks.

All in all, social networks, which are based on peer-to-peer electronics, make circulation of any type of (digital) content possible (Castells, 2010), and it is partly because of that circulation of content through social media platforms that rapper Lizzo eventually found her way to success. Initially, because her song 'Truth Hurts' was used in a movie licensed to the major streaming platform of Netflix, Lizzo made a hit song. The song became even more popular as users of another platform, video-sharing app Tik Tok, began posting the aforementioned ‘100%’ videos that became a trend. The song thereby gained massive popularity and let to hundreds of millions of plays on Spotify. It provided Lizzo with her well-deserved place in the spotlight. The popularity of the '100%' line led to memes emerging on Instagram and Twitter. It became an actual widespread expression that was eventually added to Urban Dictionary. Just like this, people began using the line everywhere, from tweets to conversations with friends to political commentary on TV news channels. 

References

Appadurai, A. (1996), Modernity at large. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Castells, M. (2010), The rise of the network society. Hoboken: Blackwell Publishers.