Lizzo on making Big Grrrls 'the main character' and that emotional breakdown with her dancers

·10 min read
Lizzo on making Big Grrrls 'the main character' and that emotional breakdown with her dancers

In just a few short years, Lizzo has catapulted to superstar status. She has scored No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 with 2019's "Truth Hurts" and her latest single "About Damn Time." She took home three Grammys (of eight nominations) in 2019. She was one of EW's Entertainers of the Year. She hosted and was musical guest on Saturday Night Live. She played Coachella. She became the first woman to headline Bonnaroo (though, sadly it was canceled due to weather). She announced a headlining tour.

Now, she's an Emmy nominee. "This is pretty high on the motherf---ing list," she tells EW's The Awardist of the six nominations for her Amazon Prime Video reality competition series Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, where she's auditioning backup dancers for her shows. And not just any dancers but, as the title implies, dancers who are breaking down barriers in an industry that has put women of a certain small size in the spotlight for a long time. But not anymore.

"This has been a dream that long in the making for me. And not only was I able to fulfill a dream for me, I was able to make these girls' dreams come true of not just dancing, but being stars," the singer-songwriter says. "Being television stars and having a platform to kind of take their lives to the next level and have opportunities that weren't going to necessarily be given to them otherwise."

Check out an exclusive, inside look at the series above, and read on for The Awardist's interview with Lizzo.

Watch Out for the Big Grrrls
Watch Out for the Big Grrrls

James Clark/Amazon Lizzo dedicated her Emmy nomination to 'Big Grrrls' everywhere

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls got six nominations. I don't know what you were — wildest dreams — hoping and expecting, but how does that match up?

LIZZO: Extremely unexpected. [Laughs] I mean, listen, man, I've been doing music for a long time and it's kind of incredible to see how far music has taken me. This wasn't because I was like, "Let me make a TV show so I can win an Emmy." This is like, "I need to find dancers and, wow, I can document this and, wow, this is making a difference. And holy s---, it's been recognized." That was kind of the order of operations with this one. And so I was just completely flabbergasted, if I could use that word. Pardon my French. [Laughs]

I also feel like my Grammy noms, my eight Grammy noms back in 2019, were unexpected as well. I really do this s--- because I want to, and I love to do it. And I think it is a blessing and an honor to be recognized for doing it.

You mentioned those Grammy nominations — you've had some really amazing moments in your career so far. Where does this show rank for you? What does it mean in the overall list of Lizzo accomplishments?

This is pretty high on the motherf---ing list because I've been looking for, I've been waiting for... The moment that you see where I'm auditioning the girls for the first time — and I have on the little rainbow outfit with the little bitty kitten heels and the gloves — that was a dream that I've had since 2014. You can even see it on my Instagram. If you scroll back far enough, you'll see "first-ever Big Grrrl auditions" and I had Grace Holden drive down from Duluth when I didn't know her back then and dance for me. And I said, "Can you twerk into split?" And you know, the rest is history.

This has been a dream that long in the making for me. And not only was I able to fulfill a dream for me, I was able to make these girls' dreams come true of not just dancing, but being stars. Being television stars and having a platform to kind of take their lives to the next level and have opportunities that weren't going to necessarily be given to them otherwise.

And then, this is a three-tiered thing, man, three-tiered cake: The way that it has impacted people, the way that it has disrupted the industry, the nomination for best casting — what a testament to telling stories of big Black girls, big trans girls, big Korean girls. And also just the representation that I think that this show has given big girls — we've never seen us be the main character and also shown off our athletic prowess. These girls were working out, dancing their asses off, doing gymnastic feats, back flips and all types of s--- into the splits, being beautiful, being the main character. I just think that this show has done so much for me as a human being. I can't even begin to list the ways.

Once you really got into the thick of making this, what surprised you about making a television show, or what was something you weren't quite prepared for?

I didn't think it was going to be so fast. [Laughs] It happened really quickly. We got everything done in a month, but mind you, I had to do Bonnaroo, so we kind of scheduled it that way. Because I needed to get my ass to Bonnaroo and I needed dancers ASAP. So that was incredible to see what we were able to do in a month. And I'm like, man, I wonder what would we be able to pull off if we had more time? I mean, we got a six-time Emmy-nominated show in a month! [Laughs]

Lizzo’s: Watch Out for the Big Grrrls
Lizzo’s: Watch Out for the Big Grrrls

James Clark/Amazon Lizzo's Big Grrrls

And then, of course — I mean, spoiler alert maybe to anyone listening or who missed the news last year — Bonnaroo didn't happen. So you had to really go with the flow, be ready to adjust, be flexible. Were there other moments like that along the way that, I don't know if you want to call them happy accidents, but things you didn't plan for but thought, this is great, let's go with it?

You can't write that type of television. [Laughs] That moment where Jayla's mom is like, "So now I'm going to pray for you because of the tornado." And Jayla goes, "The what?" Yeah. You can't write it. [Laughs] There were definitely some moments that were extremely unexpected. I think the most famous one being me breaking down in front of the girls about "Rumors" — the same day that I went on Instagram live and had that breakdown, I was literally in glam to go in the room with the girls, where I had the negligee on and I played "Rumors" for them. That was the exact same day. And so when I broke down and got emotional, that wasn't scripted, it wasn't planned. I actually was just like, "Yo, I just need to keep it real with y'all for a second." I really can't fake being happy when I wanted to get something off my chest. So that was one of those moments that it was just like, speak your truth, let it off your chest.

There were a lot of things that happened. I wouldn't call them happy accidents, but those were unexpected twists and turns of the show.

The moment where you break down with them and play "Rumors" and you're trying to reclaim power from people trying to bring you down, addressing haters with the song, here's my question about that: What kind of feelings do you have toward haters? Do you feel sad for the people who have this internalized hate and jealousy that makes them feel so compelled to then try to bring other people down? Or do you just not even give them space in your mind?

I used to feel that way, because back in the day when trolls kind of first spawned, it was from a self-hatred. But then they started getting clout from being trolls. And now trolls are like, you can literally be famous for trolling and paid to troll. And I just stopped having any type of sympathy for them because those people are attention seekers. So instead of clapping back or giving them any of that, I just refuse to give them attention now because it's really just a pathetic ego boost for them. You know what I mean? They're really just attention seekers. They're trying to get clout and I'm like, "Okay, the best thing to do is just ignore them and just go on about my day because I'm getting paid more than them anyway." [Laughs]

There was a quick passing comment that I believe Jayla made while talking about trans representation, saying it's time for people to see her too. She said, "It's about damn time." And I was like, "Wait, oh, eh."

Oh, she said that before the song was written. [Laughs]

She did? Okay. That's what I was going to say. Did you hear that and were like, "Hmmm... there's something to that!"

No, that was one of those like wild synchronicities. We filmed the show in August 2021. And I wrote "About Damn Time" in February 2022. I didn't put two and two together. [Laughs] I just think that there were a lot of cool synchronicities when I watch it now. I'm like, "Oh, huh. Interesting."

If I'm not mistaken, you are a big fan of reality as well?

Oh yeah.

Are there any moments that stick out in your mind — in terms of now being someone who is producing a reality show — that you thought back and you're like, "You know what? That show, they're doing it right. There's something that I learned from them that I wanted to apply here"?

When it comes to me personally, yeah. I definitely love the way that Tyra Banks and RuPaul carried themselves when they spoke [on their shows]. There was a flourish to them that I wanted to — even though I was everyone's homegirl on the show and it was a different type of relationship between me and the girls — I still wanted to have that flourish when I was presenting, things like a lot of the bumps where you'd see me and I have the piccolo and I'm like, "Okay, ladies...," those moments where I got to be a little campy and a little presenter-y, I really milked it because of presenters that I've seen in the past.

I also will say, there's things — because I was a part of the editing process to the point where I was like, "Oh my gosh, let me just talk to the editor" and I was looking at her like, "Listen, can we just go through this, this, this?" — but there were a lot of things that I wanted to make sure we didn't edit out, like the choreography, because there's a moment in Making the Band that's always stuck out to me. It's Laurieann Gibson and the girls, and she's teaching them a move and it's a kick ball change — "and one, and two," into the kick ball change. Like, I am not a dancer. I wasn't trained to be a dancer as a kid. I didn't know what kick ball change was, but when I saw that, from now on I knew what a kick ball change was. I thought that that was so cool to show. It's the little things that you don't think are significant.

So to show some of those moments of the industry that are raw and it's like, "Nope, do it again." Or that moment where Charity doesn't know how to get into that move during "Good as Hell" and Shirlene runs up to show her how to get down in a safe way, things like that I think were really cool to show.

Check out more from EW's The Awardistfeaturing exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best in TV.

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