“Hi, motherf***er, did you miss me?” Lizzo opens the show with the sing-song taunt of her 2022 song “The Sign”. Judging from the roar that subsequently fills the O2 Arena, the answer is clearly, yes. It’s the first time that the 34-year-old empowerment pop-soul sensation has headlined an arena tour in the UK but she’s familiar with this side of the pond. During her early years on the scene in the 2010s, Lizzo played in the country’s various bars and small venues. Smallest venues, even. “We went from getting f***ed up in the Travelodge to selling out the O2 twice!” she exclaims later.
Riding high from her Record of the Year win at last month’s Grammys – her fourth award in total – singer-cum-flautist-cum-twerk icon Lizzo (aka Melissa Jefferson) is closing out the European leg of the Special world tour, named after her acclaimed 2022 album. Lizzo’s mainstream breakthrough arrived in 2019 when a two-year-old song found new life thanks to the Netflix romcom Someone Great. “Truth Hurts” – and its now-iconic lyrics proclaiming to be “100 per cent that b****” – helped Lizzo’s status, together with her catalogue of self-love manifesto bops, rocket to stardom. She’s stayed there ever since.
In an industry that has long awarded privileges to slim, white bodies, Lizzo loudly and proudly defies both. She demands that people notice her, and preaches the value of others doing the same. Lizzo is so fresh and exciting a cultural entity, however, that her actual talent is sometimes the last thing that comes to mind when you think of her. This two-hour set, packed with spine-tingling belted vocals, trilling flute solos, and high-energy dance routines, is a firm reminder that Lizzo is more than a cultural figure; she’s a musician for the ages.
Lyrics like “I’m my own soulmate / I know how to love me” might grate some in the real world, but tonight – performed with gusto and a beaming smile – they’re irresistibly charming. Likewise, Lizzo’s dance troupe prove they aren’t solely some advertisement for body diversity. Watching the Big Grrls, mostly curvy and plus-sized women, deliver both full-force twerk moments and majorette-style routines with equal ease is undeniably powerful.
Lizzo is particularly engaging when she wrestles with the public perception of herself. On “Rumours”, she addresses internet rumours as headlines such as “Lizzo’s pregnant!” and “Lizzo got surgery” float on the screen behind her. (Cardi B makes a fun cameo appearance to lip-sync her verse in a pre-recorded FaceTime call.) It’s clear that, despite her confidence, Lizzo is not immune to harsh words about her music, her diet, or her choice to dance in a bikini. When she performs “Special”, her voice is crisp and clear through a rap that earnestly asks why people dedicate whole videos to criticising her. She’s at her most vulnerable during “Naked”. In the stillest moment of the show, Lizzo stands in dim light, wearing a nude leotard and lets her strong vocals do the talking.
As much as this is a showcase for Lizzo’s musical talent, it’s evident she knows how to work a crowd. With humour and warmth, she delivers birthday wishes and does her best Adele impression. “Hiya babes!” she chirps in a Cockney accent. Lizzo even shouts out the TFL strikers. “Even if it takes me 12 hours to get here, I stand behind anyone fighting for what they f***ing deserve!” she shouts to rapturous applause.
Lizzo ends the night with her Grammy-winning single of the year, encouraging us all to let go of our stresses on the disco-inspired “About Damn Time”. As a sparkling glitter ball splashes shards of light across the arena, the air feels celebratory and refreshed. Lizzo belongs on a stage as big as this; it’s about damn time she played the O2. Sorry, Travelodge.