Entertainment

How Lizzo Came to Dominate Soundtracks in 2019

lizzo at coachella
Lizzo is an angel from heaven sent to bring us jams. | Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella
Lizzo is an angel from heaven sent to bring us jams. | Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella

Early on into the Netflix quasi-rom-com Someone Great, Gina Rodriguez's Jenny is drunk in her kitchen rapping along to the song "Truth Hurts" by Lizzo in her underwear. It's the morning, and she's reeling from the dissolution of a nine-year-long relationship. "I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100% that bitch," she sings. Soon her friend Erin enters with mimosa-making materials. She puts the grocery bag down and immediately starts dancing.

For writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, the lyrics of "Truth Hurts" make the song's inclusion self-explanatory. On the track, Lizzo talks about having "boy problems" but comes down hard on the side of self-affirmation. "I think Lizzo and especially with all the new stuff that's coming out is so much about self-love and empowerment and being a woman and being comfortable in your own skin and being comfortable being the baddest bitch you can be," says Robinson. "All three of these women are on different journeys and they are each their own bad bitch."

Someone Great is far from the only recent movie or TV show to use a cue from the 30-year-old artist, whose albumCuz I Love You dropped on April 19. In the past couple of years, Lizzo's voice has popped up in movies like Blockers, A Bad Moms Christmas, and I Feel Pretty. She recorded a cover of "Stayin' Alive" for Happy Death Day 2U. She's scored scenes on TV shows like grown-ish, black-ish, Insecure, and The Bold Type. She herself was really excited that her single "Juice" showed up in the trailer for the Charlize Theron-Seth Rogen comedy Long Shot. That track also closed out the final episode of Broad City ever. And that list doesn't even broach all of the commercials that have made use of her music.

Lizzo is basically everywhere right now, and for good reason: Her music, simply, slaps. She is incredibly adept at churning out songs that are exuberant and funky, perfect for dancing when you need a boost or if you're just feeling yourself. Almost all of her work is laced with the idea that she and, by the transitive property, you, the probably-female listener, are beautiful, powerful, confident, and good enough all on your own without approval from a man or society at large. In "Juice," for example, the refrain goes, "If I'm shinin' everybody gonna shine." On "Good as Hell," her ode to self-care, she sings, "If he don't love you anymore, just walk your fine ass out the door." She also reflects that in public persona. Her must-follow Instagram is filled with celebratory content, including numerous twerking videos. (The account for her flute, @sashabefluting, is also a delight.)

Lizzo told The Cut that she wasn't trying to be the "body-positive rapper" or attach herself to any trendy label: "All these fucking hashtags to convince people that the way you look is fine. Isn’t that fucking crazy? I say I love myself, and they’re like, 'Oh my gosh, she’s so brave. She’s so political.' For what? All I said is 'I love myself, bitch!'" She added: "Even when body positivity is over, it’s not like I’m going to be a thin white woman. I’m going to be black and fat. That’s just hopping on a trend and expecting people to blindly love themselves. That’s fake love. I’m trying to figure out how to actually live it." It just happens that Lizzo's personal themes dovetail well with the message seen in a lot of female-fronted entertainment today (even if the people being portrayed are sometimes a lot whiter and skinnier than Lizzo is). As women in our movies and TV have gotten rowdier and less defined by the men around them, using Lizzo for their adventures only makes sense.

In the first draft of her screenplay, Robinson was going to have Jenny rapping along to "International Players Anthem (I Choose You)" by UGK, but ultimately decided she wanted that moment (and her entire soundtrack) to feature largely women's voices. (Lizzo also shows up later on when the trio enters a club to her and Big Freedia's "Karaoke.") "For me, Lizzo is not only a beacon for women and for inclusivity and for visibility, her music and her presence and her everything embodies the spirit of what I hope people feel when they watch Someone Great," she says. "I hope it feels like listening to a Lizzo album." And, sure enough, playing Lizzo on set for lip-syncing purposes makes for a good time. "When you get to bump Lizzo over and over and over again and that's what you're shooting it's really hard for that not to be completely infectious," Robinson adds.

To that point: for the upcoming film Booksmart, music supervisor Bryan Ling made his friend, director Olivia Wilde, a series of playlists to blast on set. They included Lizzo's "W.E.R.K. Pt. II," "Hot Dish," "Betcha," "1 Deep," and "Boys," which ultimately made it into the movie and the trailer. Booksmart is about two type-A high school seniors coming into their swagger and partying after years of forgoing it in favor of school work; Lizzo has that in spades. "Lizzo, innately, through her music, represents this thing of confidence and at the same time fun," Ling said. "I think that's a lot of what the essence of this film and is and I think she embodies that perfectly, this whole spirit. It's not as much empowerment, at least from my perspective, it's way more about confidence and fun and rhythm. It's a party but it's also more than that."

The description "a party but more than that" is why Lizzo's music is so essential: Immediately, you feel like there's a voice in your ear, whispering in your ear, "It's going to be okay." Broad City first turned to Lizzo when music supervisor Matt FX Feldman and show creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer were looking for the perfect track for the much-lauded montage that opened Season 3 which charts a year in the life of the protagonists' bathroom habits. They had tried between 20 and 30 other options -- including polka -- but nothing was clicking. "This needs to be just knock your socks off amazing," Feldman recalls thinking. And then someone mentioned Lizzo. As Abbi and Ilana poop, smoke up, get ready, vomit, discard old fish, give and have oral sex, read Hillary Clinton's book, and generally live their lives in their respective homes, Lizzo and Caroline Smith's chorus of "Let 'em say what they're gonna say" from "Let 'Em Say" echoes, reiterating that no one gives a shit if you're a woman who, well, shits.

The Broad City team returned to Lizzo again the following season, featuring "Scuse Me," but they hadn't used her material yet in Season 5 when they were looking for a song to close out the entire show. Feldman -- who worked with Lizzo on the MTV series Wonderland -- DM'd the artist to asked if she had any new material they could use. She responded with a 90 second clip of the yet-unreleased "Juice;" It immediately fit. In the final shots of the series, the two best friends haven't lost their bond, but are now in different parts of the country. As Ilana boards the subway, the camera follows a series of other best-friend pairs having conversations about their lives in New York. Their respective wild nights and hangouts are reflected in Lizzo's lyrics about "gettin' loose."

"You can look at Lizzo and you can also just look at her trajectory and the ways her songs have sounded for the last six, seven, eight years -- not just her last two years -- and it's so clearly this authentic journey," Feldman said. "She is the bull leading the charge. It's like no one else. It just speaks to the music. It speaks to everything she does. When it comes to that sort of empowerment, I personally can't think of any other artist I'd rather use."

For Feldman, Lizzo's ubiquity can be attributed the obvious: People just really love Lizzo. "The fact that all of these people around the world are like, 'No no no we need her, we need that song' -- she's an artist of the people," he said. "It's amazing."

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.