The reigning queen of subverting pop expectations subverts the expectation of the innocent 50s love song in 12/8 time.
I have to pace myself with Lizzo. I’ve been following her for awhile now, from afar, knowing that she was an all-encompassing artist and a fantastic musician. I’m still worried that my 16-year-old flute & pop music obsessed brain might explode retroactively if I spend too much time on Ms. Jefferson‘s SashaBeFluting instagram account. She is the kind of pop star we’ve been waiting for, unapologetic about everything that she is (including a nerd!), and brings together extremely broadly appealing music combined with tremendous knowledge of Western art music. She is a full chapter in a Bernard Gendron book. She is the total package, full stop. She has absolutely nothing to apologize for.
Again, I seriously might not ever talk about another musician if I spend too much time with Lizzo. I don’t want to seem like a bandwagon joiner, but good lord. If my friends would stop sending me videos of her meeting up with marching band kids, maybe that’d happen.
Intro: Melissa Viviane Jefferson, known by her performing name Lizzo, has taken 2019 by storm. Her major label debut, Cuz I Love You, reached number 4 on the Billboard Top 200 after its release in April 2019. Lizzo has released music since shortly after she moved to Minneapolis in 2011, and she released the single “Truth Hurts” in 2017 on an EP. In 2019, “Truth Hurts” landed at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, where it as remained for four weeks, giving Lizzo the longest running solo (i.e. without a collaborator) female rap number 1 single. The title track for Cuz I Love You was not released as a single, but the video was released on Valentine’s Day 2019.
Analysis: The meter of the song is very clearly outlined from the first instrumental sounds (heard here at :06), where an ascending and then descending chromatic line demonstrate an unmistakeable triple meter, 12/8 feel. This is reminiscent of many 1950s love ballads (“Earth Angel”, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, just two examples that are in 12/8), a format that Lizzo turns on its head in the very first verse, with abundance language that gives the song an explicit warning on Spotify.
Considerations for Teaching: It first occurred to me to write about this song via the inspiration of a former composition professor of mine, Dr. Jay Batzner, who played Fastball’s “The Way” in composition seminar for us back in 2006 to demonstrate the effect of going from mono to stereo in a song. He is way more influential to this blog than he realizes. Nowadays, I follow him on Twitter, and he discussed using this song to teach triple meter to freshman theory students. It’s a brilliant idea.
Unfortunately, although they might already know it, you could probably not get away with teaching this song to middle or high school students. With Lizzo’s unapologetic public persona comes a good deal of cursing, prompting lots of language advisories before her music, even on her now-legendary Tiny Desk Concert performance. But if you’re teaching in a college setting? There is no excuse not to use this song as an example.
Also, the fluting. Like I said. My woodwind geek brain is on the verge of exploding every time I think about her.
In this CBS interview, she’s talking right away about learning the flute and the importance of Popular Music Education and seriously my heart cannot take it. It is so wonderful.
And because you know you want more, here’s a quick clip (via her flutestagram) of Lizzo playing flute at her Tiny Desk performance.