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Why 2020 Democrats love Lizzo

For the same reasons most of us do. And, you know, #relatability. 

Lizzo singing onstage.
Lizzo onstage at the MoPop Festival 2019 at West Riverfront Park on July 27, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan.
Scott Legato/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Everybody loves Lizzo — including, it appears, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

The singer, known for buoyant, soulful anthems that focus on celebrating individuality, body positivity, and overall irreverence, is certainly having a Moment. Since the release of her newest album “Cuz I Love You” in April, she’s had multiple songs make their way up the Billboard charts, awed audiences with her commanding stage presence and incredible flute skills, and generally become near-ubiquitous. Exuberant performances in a variety of venues — from the BET Awards to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series (or rather its “tiny-ass desk”) to the MTV Video Music Awards — have boosted her profile and solidified her persona as an artist who not only revels in being herself, but wants others to as well.

And according to an analysis by Towards Data Science, Lizzo is one of few artists whose songs appear across multiple 2020 candidate playlists, including those of Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand (who dropped out last week), Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg. (The songs they picked: “Like a Girl” and “Good as Hell.”)

They’re also far from Lizzo’s only political fans. Earlier this month, the singer got a sweet if somewhat cringeworthy shoutout from former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who tweeted the lyrics to “Truth Hurts” alongside a video that set the song to footage from a 2016 Democratic debate. And in August, former president Barack Obama featured her song “Juice” on his summer playlist.

The degree of support Lizzo has received from many politicians is a strong reflection of just how universally her music tends to resonate, how #relatable their use of her music can make them seem, and how her willingness to defy genres gives her songs unique versatility.

By tagging themselves as Lizzo fans, candidates are suggesting that they, too, embody her message, which focuses heavily on empowerment, love, and a thoroughly joyful existence. They’re also signaling that they’re not only on-trend but that they have something in common with her young, diverse, and energized fan base, a coveted demographic at the polls.

“Lizzo is a badass who time and again models female empowerment and the beauty in being yourself,” Gillibrand spokeswoman Meredith Kelly told the Washington Post, when asked why the Senator was using Lizzo classic “Good as Hell” as her walk-out song at campaign events. “We love her music and message of acceptance, and nobody is better at pumping you up before a big speech.”

Political candidates’ personal and campaign playlists — and the artists they feature — have become a bigger focal point in the last decade or so as streaming services like Spotify have grown in popularity, enabling anyone to curate and share the music they like. Obama especially helped popularize the idea of sharing playlists during his first term, and has continued the tradition even after leaving the White House.

These playlists, often put together with the aid of a candidate’s staffers, are intended to align closely with a politician’s message and serve a couple different functions. When used at campaign events and other public appearances, they can help rally crowds. And when shared with supporters, they can showcase a more personal dimension of a candidate in a way that other campaign messaging fails to do.

For example, a recent New York Times analysis of several 2020 Democratic candidates’ playlists concluded that their music selections offered a glimpse of both their interests and political aims. Bernie Sanders’s list, which featured Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard,” was seen as giving a nod to his New York upbringing; Elizabeth Warren’s, which included Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” was interpreted as embodying “campaign themes aimed at working-class voters.”

The message candidates are sending by having Lizzo on their playlists? That they’re committed to championing inclusion, getting things done their way and serving as an all-around force for positivity. Or, as Lizzo herself sings on “Like a Girl”: “Woke up feelin’ like I just might run for president/Even if there ain’t no precedent.”

What playing Lizzo means

Lizzo’s music — which has been widely lauded for being infectious, creative, and almost always a bop — could help campaigns make a couple different statements, experts tell Vox.

At the most straightforward level, Lizzo’s unabashed commitment to being and loving yourself (“If you by yourself, then go and buy yourself / Another round from the bottle on the higher shelf,” she sings on “Soulmate”), is both empowering and fun. Plus, the pacing and effusive nature of her music make her songs ideal for campaign events and ginning up a crowd.

“I listen to Lizzo in the morning. It’s one of those albums that really makes you feel like you can do anything,” Democratic strategist Camille Rivera, who previously introduced Elizabeth Warren at a New York rally, told Vox. “[Her] lyrics are fearless.”

By tying themselves to her music, campaigns can also co-opt the point of view that her songs, many of which focus on what it means to be a woman of color, articulate. “If Lizzo is an artist who supports body positivity, feminism, and an unapologetic being in the world, then all of those things become stand-ins for what those particular candidates support,” says University of Virginia professor of hip hop A.D. Carson.

In playing Lizzo at campaign events or including her songs on publicly shared playlists, candidates are bringing themselves a bit closer to her fans in the process. “They are sending a message to young people that they are connected to voters who are listening to her music,” says Rivera.

Additionally, since much of Lizzo’s music centers on “redefining what it means to be a woman in hip hop” and rejecting tired beauty norms, it also speaks to various politicians redefining what a presidential nominee looks like, Carleton College music professor Andy Flory told Vox. Harris would be the first black woman to win a major party nomination if she’s the Democratic nominee, for example, and Buttigieg would be the first openly gay man to do so.

Lizzo’s music also evades easy classification into a specific genre, making it particularly versatile — and thus ideally suited for campaign playlists.

Carson notes that Lizzo’s songs are simultaneously “ambiguous and specific,” in that candidates and voters can interpret them to be what they want. For example, the call and response of “Good as Hell” — “Baby how you feelin’/Feeling good as hell” — could be about dancing it out at a rally, even as it also speaks to specific experiences like that of a black woman visiting a hair salon, says Charlie Harding, co-host of Vox’s Switched on Pop podcast.

“She is projecting her identity in a way that many people can see themselves in it,” he adds. “Lizzo herself is creating music that is adaptable for different spaces.”

Lizzo has also been vocal about politics — in a way that aligns with Democratic positions

On top of the Democratic party’s clear affection for her music, Lizzo has established a persona that aligns closely with Democratic political stances.

Historically, conflicts have occasionally arisen between artists and the politicians who use or support their songs. Famously, Aerosmith and Adele pushing back against the use of their music in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign; before that, Bruce Springsteen clashed with Ronald Reagan. But that kind of tension doesn’t seem to be an issue with Lizzo and the 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Earlier this year, she jokingly declared her own candidacy for 2020 during a concert at the SXSW music festival. “Beto-Lizzo 2020, you voting,” she said at the time.

Since then, she’s tweeted about her past support for Obama and made it clear that she’ll be voting for a Democrat in 2020, though she hasn’t landed on a candidate just yet. Most recently, Lizzo tweeted (and then deleted) a call for her supporters to consider a candidate’s policy positions instead of solely judging their age. The tweet specifically mentioned Bernie Sanders and expressed concerns of potential ageism among younger voters. When asked if she was endorsing Sanders, she said her tweet was a call to action for Democrats to get “unified as a party.”

While we may not know for some time who Lizzo officially supports for the 2020 nomination, it’s clear she’s wholeheartedly a fan of the Democrats. And for several 2020 hopefuls in the party, that feeling is certainly mutual.

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