AUSTIN, Texas — Lizzo’s SXSW session on Sunday felt more like hanging with a friend than watching a keynote address — that is, if you’re pals with a vivacious, straight-talking, multiple Grammy-winning star with an infectious laugh. (And if so, lucky you.)
Brimming with energy and her signature sense of self-love, Lizzo made one thing absolutely clear in her whirlwind talk with radio personality Angela Yee: She’s on a mission to make sure people who look like her feel the same way and know they’re worthy of opportunities. Cue her new Amazon Studios reality TV show, “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” a competition series to select talented plus-size back-up dancers to go on tour with her.
The star and first-time executive producer hit the stage to talk up the show, but chatting about dance and body positivity inevitably turned the conversation to her other favorite topic: twerking.
“I recently did a TED Talk on twerking, because I thought it was very important. Very important,” Lizzo said. “And I think, actually through twerking, I discovered a lot of my self-love.” It’s no secret that she used to hate her booty, but the dance style changed all of that, she told the audience. “Like, I know this sounds so shallow, but certain angles of my ass while I’m twerking have just really led me to appreciate my body so much,” she said.
The star was laughing, but she was dead serious. Acceptance of her outer beauty set off a deeply personal inquiry that soon had her “excavating” who she was and whether she liked that person. Turns out, she fell in love with that person.
That spirit informs the Amazon series, which is as much about elevating the competitors as whittling them down to the final selection.
The official announcement outlines the show’s premise: “With 10 hopeful women moving into the Big Grrrls House, they must prove they have what it takes to make it to the end and join Lizzo in front of a global audience on the center stage.” The Prime Video debut is set for March 25.
While running a reality TV competition is new territory for Lizzo, her hunt for “big grrrls” is anything but, she explained to Yee. The search goes back years, and it’s been a very frustrating experience. “So ever since 2014, I’ve had open casting calls for dancers that look like me. And it’s been very difficult, especially the more I’m in the industry and we have these agency casting calls,” she explained. “I don’t see me reflected in, you know, the dancers.
“And then one day I said, ‘You know what, motherf–kers? If I got to get a TV show to bring some awareness to this, then pull up my sleeves and let’s go.”
Not that the process of making the show was a total joy ride. She recounted a particularly rough time last year when online trolls, triggered by her 2021 Cardi B collaboration “Rumors,” hurled racist, fat-shaming insults at her. Though deeply hurt and fighting through tears, she had to pull it together to film an episode that featured the single — which, despite the online blowback, actually did well. The debut charted in the top 10, broke 100 million streams on Spotify in December and made former President Barack Obama’s favorite music of 2021 list.
But at the time, the typically ebullient performer was distraught and maybe more than a little bit angry. What kept her going, she said, was the bigger picture. “I get to share this moment and put these women on a pedestal and on a platform, and we’re gonna eventually show the world that you cannot treat people like that.
“You cannot treat people who look like me, like this. Shut the f–k up. And just watch the show, b—h.”