TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Lizzo is a singer, rapper and dancer, who's also been playing the flute since she was in junior high. Prince was a fan and had her sing on his 2014 album "Plectrumelectrum." Lizzo's new album is called "Cuz I Love You." And rock critic Ken Tucker says it's a diverse set of songs that showcase an immensely ambitious artist.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CUZ I LOVE YOU")
LIZZO: (Singing) I'm crying 'cause I love you. (Rapping) Never been in love before, what the [expletive] feelings, yo? Once upon a time, I was a hoe. I don't even want to hoe no more. Got you something from the liquor store, little bit of Lizzo and some more. Trying to open up a little more, sorry if my heart a little slow. (Singing) I thought that I didn't care. I thought I was...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Is anyone more fun to listen to right now than Lizzo? I think not. Her singing possesses a warmth that can't be faked or manufactured. Her phrasing is smoothly conversational, enunciated through a smile. Her big and bawdy songs are the kind of music heard on the radio or leaking through a bystander's earbuds that makes people say, hey, who is that?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUICE")
LIZZO: (Singing) Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Don't say it 'cause I know I'm cute. Oh, baby. Louis down to my drawers, LV all on my shoes. Oh, baby. I be dripping so much sauce, got a bih (ph) looking like Ragu. Oh, baby. Lit up like a crystal ball - that's cool, baby. So is you. That's how I roll. If I'm shining, everybody going to shine. Yeah, I'm goals. I was born like this - don't even got to try. Now you know. I'm like Chardonnay - get better over time - so you know. Heard you say I'm not the baddest b****. You lie. It ain't my fault...
TUCKER: Lizzo is actually 30-year-old Melissa Jefferson. She was a child in Detroit, a teenager in Houston and she moved to Minneapolis when she was a young woman starting her career. She's been playing the flute since her junior high school marching band days. And I have to say the free-spirited flute solos I've seen her dash off on YouTube and Instagram videos have overcome my hatred for the use of this instrument in pop music, going all the way back to Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson in the 1970s. Many of Lizzo's songs feature lyrics intended to be inspirational in a way that is in keeping with someone who spent her youth, as she has said, being called, quote, "the chubby girl with funny teeth" and "a big girl with a cute face."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EXACTLY HOW I FEEL")
LIZZO: (Singing) That's exactly how I feel. That's exactly how I feel. That's exactly how I feel. I woke up this morning, wrong side of the bed. I don't have to splain (ph) it. I might be a b**** - b****. I might make a friend - friend. Ain't I so amazing? Love me or hate me, oh, I ain't changing. And I don't give a - no. That's exactly how I feel. That's exactly how I feel. Say it again. That's exactly how I feel.
TUCKER: For a while early on, Lizzo figured she'd be primarily a rapper. She claims not to know whether or not she had a good enough voice to sing melodies. Fortunately, she hooked up with some producers who wanted to hear what she could do with a ballad. The results, as can be heard on this song, "Jerome," are superb.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JEROME")
LIZZO: (Singing) Jerome, Jerome, take your a** home and come back when you're grown. Jerome, Jerome, go on. Take your a** home where the peaches have thorns. Poor little baby...
TUCKER: Lizzo has a sense of history. When it came time to choose a major label record deal, she says she signed with Atlantic Records, in part, because it had been the home of one of her idols, Aretha Franklin. When she wanted to include a fierce rap on her album, she opted to do it as a duet with another hero of hers, Missy Elliott. When she wanted to include a sultry ballad, she created the song called "Lingerie," which sounds as though it could've emanated from a Memphis studio like Stax or Hi Records in the 1960s and '70s.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LINGERIE")
LIZZO: (Singing) Hair down, moonlit. Look at my lipstick. So thick, so fit - want to put your lips in places. Oh, the sun don't shine there. I like that right there. Keep going and going, and keep it flowing. You know what you're doing, don't you?
TUCKER: As far as Lizzo's contemporaries go, I think one of the only logical comparisons to what she's trying to do is Bruno Mars, who has negotiated a pervasive pop stardom while retaining the credibility of his R&B roots. In her own way, Lizzo is trying for the kind of diverse mass audience that few artists attempt these days. She sounds as though she's never been more ready to take the big time by storm.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Lizzo's new album called "Cuz I Love You."
I want to correct an error I made on yesterday's show while talking with Erin Lee Carr about her new HBO documentary about the women who had been abused when they were young gymnasts by Larry Nassar. He had been a physician with the U.S. women's Olympic gymnastics team and a physician at Michigan State University. I mistakenly said the University of Michigan. My apologies to the University of Michigan for that error.
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be New Yorker staff writer Dexter Filkins. His new article is titled "John Bolton On The Warpath." Bolton is Trump's national security adviser. He's known for his hawkish views. He's a former Fox News commentator and served as U.N. ambassador under George W. Bush. I hope you'll join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.