Voracious popular culture connoisseur that I am, I have been avidly following the drama surrounding pop icon Lizzo. As an academic who teaches race, gender and sexuality studies, the story has all the intersectional elements that make for a riveting story.
Over the past couple of weeks, the Grammy award-winning artist known for hits such as “Truth Hurts,” “Jerome” and “Exactly How Feel” has been embroiled in controversy and legal drama.
Three of Lizzo’s tour dancers – Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez – have accused the singer of sexual harassment and fostering a disruptive and distressing work environment through sexual, racial and religious harassment in several incidents between 2021 and 2023. Those same dancers further allege that Lizzo, known as an advocate for body positivity and self-love, criticized a dancer’s recent weight gain and later berated, then terminated that dancer for recording a meeting.
According to the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles this month, Lizzo allegedly pressured one dancer to touch a nude performer at a club in Amsterdam and subjected several dancers to an “excruciating” 12-hour audition after making false accusations that they drank while working. Additionally, the suit alleges that Lizzo’s dance captain, Shirlene Quigley, pushed her Christian beliefs upon other performers and denigrated those who had premarital sex, while also simulating oral sex, sharing lewd sexual fantasies and discussing one performer’s virginity.
The suit names Lizzo, legal name Melissa Viviane Jefferson, her production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring, Inc and Quigley as defendants. Marty Singer, an attorney for Lizzo, told NBC News the lawsuit is “without merit” and that he is “confident that Lizzo will be completely vindicated in this matter.”
News of the lawsuit against Lizzo was shocking to her legion of fans due to their connection to her online. The pristine, progressive image so many of her followers associated with Lizzo was one she meticulously crafted.
Truth be told, many politically progressive celebrities eagerly attach themselves to movements they admire in an effort to promote a specific product. Body positivity has been successful for Lizzo, largely due to her personal dilemmas as an obese Black woman in the entertainment industry. Her successful shapewear brand, Yitty, is marketed as “Shapewear for Every Body.” Nonetheless, she is being accused of fat-shaming one of her plus-sized dancers who has worn and promoted Yitty.
Like all celebrities, Lizzo has her detractors. There is a segment of these naysayers who deride and are hostile toward her message of diversity and inclusion, and this current saga provides them with the ammunition they need to attack. Even if she is guilty of the charges levied against her, it doesn’t devalue or diminish any of the causes she has promoted or represented. There is no doubt that her most diehard supporters are praying she is innocent.
As someone who is not necessarily either a fan or detractor, I hope Lizzo comes through this for the sake of her fans. This situation also provides a valuable reminder to be careful when it comes to worshiping celebrities.
Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies. He is also an author and public speaker.