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Lizzo at Glastonbury review – life-affirmation 101 | Glastonbury 2023

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There’s a real ease to this year’s Glastonbury and many of its bookings have a feelgood theme, leaning on nostalgia, familiarity and affirmation – there’s Rick Astley on the Pyramid (and playing Smiths covers with Blossoms earlier today), Sophie Ellis-Bextor on the Pyramid tomorrow, Spice Girl Melanie C whacking out the greatest hits later on on the Avalon stage. Lizzo’s set fits squarely in this bracket, and is in many ways well timed: Saturday afternoon at the festival can sometimes feel a little mortal, so what better time to be reminded of the importance of self-love, the US superstar’s metier?

Her set on the Pyramid stage exudes it, though it’s better when she shows rather than tells. Lizzo is a joyful performer, today with sea witch-green hair and (at first) a black and pink leather catsuit: like Taylor Swift, she embodies every second of her performance, wearing the emotions on her supremely expressive face and never letting a wink go un-winked. She’s surrounded by her fellow big grrrl dancers, all wearing green wigs and pink leotards, and to see them shimmying together, both in tight choreography yet also clearly spontaneously vibing off real-time joy, is life-affirming. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon once said that the beauty of live music is that “people pay money to see others believe in themselves”, and you truly believe, from this ebullient, kinetic performance, that everyone onstage does.

Lizzo on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury festival. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

Where the message falters is in how painfully literal the lyrics are. Ever since Lizzo became a mainstream pop star, after years in the underground rap scene, her lyrics have tended towards positive reinforcement 101. Love yourself, say something kind about yourself, you’re special, check your nails (absolutely filthy after three days on the farm, thanks for asking). Your mileage may vary on how that sits with you, and it certainly works on the crowd, who follow her instructions to love their neighbour and themselves, singing her words into each other’s faces. But it’s hard to shake the sense that a lot of her hits lean on “start with the concept” songwriting, plying bland generalities rather than the kind of specificity that ends up being universal in its truth. It contributes to a sense of energy that’s more organised fun than real freedom. One interlude is nothing short of an ad for her shapewear line: “I take care of my body, I look good in my body,” she tells us, and you wouldn’t be surprised if the Dove logo appeared on the screens that flank the stage.

Things do get looser over the course of the set, going from tidy funk into a filthier, funkier mid-section: Tempo is housey and minimal, Rumours (with Cardi B’s verse played on track) would go down a treat at NYC Downlow, the festival’s queer clubbing haven. Jerome is a different beast altogether, Lizzo at the front of the stage sliding down the microphone stand and collapsing in a puddle on the floor, felled by the song’s brilliantly libidinous power. It’s hard not to want more of this looseness, for her band the Lizzbians (great name) to forsake tidiness for JBs-style feral energy. The set embodies a welcome sense of chaos when Lizzo finally brings out her flute (AKA Sasha Flute), trilling through funk workouts and more traditional melodies that feel a lot like something you might hear in traditional Glastonbury town.

I admit: I am a curmudgeon not given to expressions of self-love. The crowd is huge, everyone’s having a great time and Lizzo’s personal brand of empowerment simply jars with my own caustic inner narrative. She’s a fantastic pop star and spent years in the DIY trenches before her well-deserved pop breakout. She plots the distance between then and now: the first time she played Glastonbury, she tells us, was in 2018, “in one of those big ass tents, nobody in there, me and [her DJ] Sophia Eris playing, and now I’m playing in front of you all – I’m so moved.” Her success is the sort of thing we can all feel good about, even if her easy narratives of self-love remain a little far-fetched, at least for the cynics in the crowd.


There’s a real ease to this year’s Glastonbury and many of its bookings have a feelgood theme, leaning on nostalgia, familiarity and affirmation – there’s Rick Astley on the Pyramid (and playing Smiths covers with Blossoms earlier today), Sophie Ellis-Bextor on the Pyramid tomorrow, Spice Girl Melanie C whacking out the greatest hits later on on the Avalon stage. Lizzo’s set fits squarely in this bracket, and is in many ways well timed: Saturday afternoon at the festival can sometimes feel a little mortal, so what better time to be reminded of the importance of self-love, the US superstar’s metier?

Her set on the Pyramid stage exudes it, though it’s better when she shows rather than tells. Lizzo is a joyful performer, today with sea witch-green hair and (at first) a black and pink leather catsuit: like Taylor Swift, she embodies every second of her performance, wearing the emotions on her supremely expressive face and never letting a wink go un-winked. She’s surrounded by her fellow big grrrl dancers, all wearing green wigs and pink leotards, and to see them shimmying together, both in tight choreography yet also clearly spontaneously vibing off real-time joy, is life-affirming. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon once said that the beauty of live music is that “people pay money to see others believe in themselves”, and you truly believe, from this ebullient, kinetic performance, that everyone onstage does.

Lizzo on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury festival.
Lizzo on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury festival. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

Where the message falters is in how painfully literal the lyrics are. Ever since Lizzo became a mainstream pop star, after years in the underground rap scene, her lyrics have tended towards positive reinforcement 101. Love yourself, say something kind about yourself, you’re special, check your nails (absolutely filthy after three days on the farm, thanks for asking). Your mileage may vary on how that sits with you, and it certainly works on the crowd, who follow her instructions to love their neighbour and themselves, singing her words into each other’s faces. But it’s hard to shake the sense that a lot of her hits lean on “start with the concept” songwriting, plying bland generalities rather than the kind of specificity that ends up being universal in its truth. It contributes to a sense of energy that’s more organised fun than real freedom. One interlude is nothing short of an ad for her shapewear line: “I take care of my body, I look good in my body,” she tells us, and you wouldn’t be surprised if the Dove logo appeared on the screens that flank the stage.

Things do get looser over the course of the set, going from tidy funk into a filthier, funkier mid-section: Tempo is housey and minimal, Rumours (with Cardi B’s verse played on track) would go down a treat at NYC Downlow, the festival’s queer clubbing haven. Jerome is a different beast altogether, Lizzo at the front of the stage sliding down the microphone stand and collapsing in a puddle on the floor, felled by the song’s brilliantly libidinous power. It’s hard not to want more of this looseness, for her band the Lizzbians (great name) to forsake tidiness for JBs-style feral energy. The set embodies a welcome sense of chaos when Lizzo finally brings out her flute (AKA Sasha Flute), trilling through funk workouts and more traditional melodies that feel a lot like something you might hear in traditional Glastonbury town.

I admit: I am a curmudgeon not given to expressions of self-love. The crowd is huge, everyone’s having a great time and Lizzo’s personal brand of empowerment simply jars with my own caustic inner narrative. She’s a fantastic pop star and spent years in the DIY trenches before her well-deserved pop breakout. She plots the distance between then and now: the first time she played Glastonbury, she tells us, was in 2018, “in one of those big ass tents, nobody in there, me and [her DJ] Sophia Eris playing, and now I’m playing in front of you all – I’m so moved.” Her success is the sort of thing we can all feel good about, even if her easy narratives of self-love remain a little far-fetched, at least for the cynics in the crowd.

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