Lizzo Tried to Teach Me to Twerk in a Minneapolis Lake
Plus Minnesota stories involving the sexual potency of Prince, Har Mar Superstar's face on a pair of undies, and so much more.
I’m knee-deep in Cedar Lake, just off a sandy swatch of land called Hidden Beach. This is where the teens and twenty-somethings of Minneapolis come to party when the weather gets warm enough to strip off. These days the police are well aware and a patrol car is parked up a ways from the shore, observing. A haul of confiscated beer stands propped up on the hood. Despite their hovering presence the atmosphere is chill. People are shooting the shit, drinking from unmarked containers, sunbathing, and sometimes swimming. One girl plays with her pet lizard, posing for pictures. As for me, I’m looking foolish, wearing a leather skirt on day that’s so sticky every time I walk, my thighs are reluctant to separate. I’m squatting in the water, knees bent, ass stuck as far out as I can manage. Minneapolis-via Detroit and Houston-based rapper Lizzo has just shown me that she can independently move each ass cheek up and down and now she’s trying to teach me to do the same thing. Or at least she’s trying to teach me to twerk. My flat half-Asian ass is having none of it, but Lizzo rewards my effort with a warm hug.
Before our twerk tutorial I find Lizzo—all expressive brows and mile-a-minute-chatter—on a picnic blanket sharing a vodka-laced concoction from hot pink receptacle with a crew of welcoming pals including Sofia Eres and Manchita, two sparky female MCs who make up Grrrl Party. The trio are brilliantly and accurately self-described as “a celebration of femininity and unsheathed swagger.” (Scroll down to watch the video for their debut single “Wegula.”)
A former sometime member of The Chalice and current backing vocalist for fellow extrovert Minnesotan Har Mar Superstar, Lizzo the solo star dropped Lizzobangers last year. A synth-slathered, funkadelic, rainbow ride of big beats, freshly baked, and lickety-quick rhymes. Songs that crackle with sass, soul, and strut, bass that quakes, and hooks spikier than a sea urchin’s spines. If this was a competition, Lizzo is she’s straight killing it across the board.
Lizzo – “Batches and Cookies”
Where are we?
We’re at the beach! We’re at Cedar Lake and we call it Hidden Beach. It used to be more hidden than it is now. When I came here it was poppin, but apparently back in the day like two people knew about this beach. People still secretly party, but sometimes the cops come through because they caught wind. I mean, you can still party here. But this is not water were drinking: let’s keep it real.
So the sitch with the lake is do not put your head under water?
It’s lake water, pre-historic booty water, so you don’t really want to mess with that. It doesn’t get to rejuvenate itself like the ocean does. Don’t drink the water; don’t let it get into your orifices.
So you were originally from Detroit, then you moved to Houston, and now you’ve been in Minneapolis for about three years. What was it that drew you to the city?
Whimsy drew me here. I never really heard of Minneapolis then I met this dude who told me to come and check out the city. I was like, “I’m good I heard it snows.” And then I came and played a show and this girl was like you have to move here—she had like tears in her eyes. I was like, “You are so passionate about your city and about music and your city.” So I just moved here. It’s nice. Summers are nice; winters are character building.
You’ve described you music as “superhero music”…
I described Lazerbeak’s production as superhero music. Let’s get it correct because that man is amazing. His beats are super-anthemic. He uses really cool rock, almost classical chord progressions. He uses crazy horns. I remember I took his beat tape that he put out and I made songs for almost every track. He and Ryan Olson, who executive produced it, kind of chopped it up and made it a record. I describe my music as Lizzobangers.
How have you found the musical community to be since you’ve moved here?
Amazing. Everyone I’m sitting with here on the beach makes music and good music at that. It’s a city of artists who support each other creatively. It’s super humbling and exciting to be in a city that does that. It’s almost like we all keep it our own secret. We’re like, "Have you heard of so and so’s band?" and then we all go to the show and we support it, listen to it, and jam it. I can go to another city and jam Greg Grease and people will be, “Woah, who is this?” I’ve never met more talented people than I have in Minneapolis.
You say said you didn’t really have a sense of what Minneapolis was about before you moved here. Obviously Prince is from here, so you must have had some sense of its musical history?
Yeah, but I just remember my mama wouldn’t let me watch Purple Rain. I remember watching Purple Rain with my mom’s hand covering my eyes. I didn’t really get to see it or get into that culture deep enough. But of course I knew of the Purple One.
Why didn’t she let you watch it? She thought he was too sexual?
Titties! It was titties in the movie. I couldn’t see titties as a kid. Also, he talked about sex a lot. When you’re raised in the church, that’s called secular music and you can’t really listen to that stuff. I was listening to BeBe & CeCe Winans back when Prince was in his heyday. After that, I got into Swishahouse and I got into hip-hop more when I was able to listen to the music I wanted to listen to. I got into Radiohead.
You got into Radiohead, really?
I did, from my sister! My sister was older than me and always listening to Death Cab for Cutie and Radiohead, back in the 90s. I‘d be like, “Ew, this is weird.” But then I’d listen to it on my own. But yeah, Bjork, classical music too. There is like The Replacements, too, from here. Atmosphere, he’s from here.
Your first exposure to music then was really through gospel music?
Yeah, it was. Going to church, watching my cousins sing. My cousins can blow. Man, I got like three cousins, all three of them are like Usher, Miguel, any of these dudes. They can sing.
You should put them on your record.
They were like, “So what’s your album about? It’s Christian right? Is this track about God?”
Is there tension over the fact you’re making secular music?
No, I mean, I’m not going to be like I’m coming to church to sing one of my songs. I still play flute. I’m still the smart one. They know about the rap, but I just don’t bring it up. They’re not going to be like, “You’re disowned,” but I just wouldn’t play it for my Mama Kirkwood—my great grandma.
What are some of the subjects you sing about?
It’s not like I’m talking about nigga this, nigga that. I’m talking about things that I feel. I’ve got one song that’s about being a woman. I say I can’t even walk down the street without feeling like a piece of meat. I talk about the industry. None of my songs are like glory, hallelujah. I’m not rapping about God, but God is in me when I’m doing the song. Every show I do, it’s like, “Let’s go to church!” Because church is so much bigger than the room that you pray to the cross in. I feel like were having church right now because of the spirit, of the communion. My spirituality is way different than my family’s spirituality, so I just have to hold my tongue.
As well as Lizzo, you’re actually in a bunch of other bands like Grrrl Party and The Chalice.
It’s crazy. Everyone in Minneapolis has been in at least two to three bands at once. Once I remember counting eleven bands that I was in or affiliated with. Right now it's completely narrowed down. I still sing with Har Mar Superstar. I still rap in Grrrl Party and I am Lizzo, but that’s it. All the things that I do are collaborative. It’s like building a house or doing a papier-mâché. Rap just happens to be our papier-mâché. With Grrrl Party, I’m with Sophia Eris and Manchita and we just go in, spit bars, and dance and have a good time. We make good rap music. With Har Mar, I just back him up and sing some versus. I wear this cape that looks like Charlie Brown. That’s the beauty of Minneapolis—there’s an unspoken understanding. It’s all love.
So tonight we’re going to First Avenue and 7th Street Entry which is a venue made famous in Purple Rain, but also everyone has played there—Nirvana, Green Day, The Replacements etc.
It’s a beautiful venue. We’re gonna go watch Rock For Pussy. The shows are always very interesting, but tonight is a benefit for cats.
Like kitty cats?
Yeah, they love their cats in Minneapolis. The cat lady trend? That started here. They didn’t do it ironically. I know people who are obsessed with their cats.
So you’re saying to me Minneapolis is the epicenter for great music and also crazy cat ladies?
I ain’t saying that. I know authentic cat ladies.
I thought we were going to a David Bowie tribute show and Lori from Babes in Toyland was also going to be there, too.
Babes in Toyland in the building! Tickle Torture in the building! It’s going to be super fun. The Current in the building—which is the local radio station.
How do I get psyched up for this?
Smoke some catnip, which has probably happened. Let’s keep it real. I wonder what happens when you smoke catnip…
Probably the same thing that happens when you smoke nutmeg: not a lot.
You tried to smoke nutmeg girl?
Oh yeah, when I was 14 because that’s all we had. So Har Mar is from here…
He’s from Owatonna, Minnesota. The mayor gave him his own day.
No way! Did the mayor see him in his underpants doing his little yoga handstand and think "You deserve a day"?
He had been doing that for a long time! When I first met Har Mar I remember he was hanging off the stage in New York, half naked, singing "I’m fucking awesome!" I was like, “Yeah you are, I like you.”
I interviewed Har Mar many, many years ago. I had some underwear with his face on the crotch.
Yeah, you got turned on, didn’t you?
Yeah, it was erotic.
I’m telling you, that man! That’s a sexy man. He’s the coolest guy. Every time I play a show with him, I still learn from him. Like, that’s how you keep an audience wrapped around your finger.
Were you always a performer?
I always acted a fool. My earliest memory on a stage was at my mom and dad’s Christmas party, I must’ve been nine and my mom bought me this pantsuit—a powersuit! I remember Puff Daddy came on with “Every Breath I Take…” and I danced in the middle of the dancefloor, doing the Diddy dance, it looked really stupid. Everyone was like, “Go Melissa! Go Melissa!” I’m sure my mom was like “Jesus Christ, get this girl out of here!” I always went for it. When I played flute, I was always very expressive, sweating, and stuff. Honestly, it’s learning how to chill out that’s the hard part.
So you actually have to rein it back in?
I started off in Cornrow Clique when I was 13. We were an all female hip-hop crew who had cornrows in different colors. We played the Black History Month show at this high school. We had costume changes, big ol’ shirts that said: “Do it to em’ Texas!” We really thought we were bad. After that, my first real experience was in a rock band and I would get drunk. I’d scream and get in people’s faces and roll around. I’d end up on the ground, I’d be jumping off the kick drum. Being in The Chalice, being able to sing backup with Caroline Smith, I’m not only in the back, I’m a backup vocalist with another backup vocalist: I have to blend with her and then know how to compliment the star. So learning how to do that really, really helps in reining in your style and reining personality. If you really just let me go, I take off my wig, it’ll be bad! Learning how to chill out—that’s the great lesson in life. Some people need to learn how to turn it up. Some people need to learn how to chill it out. I’m one of them people, man. Like even right now, I need to chill out.
Sophia Eres, Lizzo, Noisey, and Manchita at Hidden Beach
HA! So Let’s talk Grrrl Party.
Grrrl Party comprises of Lizzo, Sophia Eris, Manchita, Quinn Wilson AKA Queen Drop, and DJ Shannon Blowtorch. We are super tight.
By this point Manchita and Sophia have joined the group on the beach.
So no one is actually from Minneapolis. You all migrated here?
Manchita: I am. I grew up in the St. Paul public school system, but started in Minneapolis.
So you’ve probably seen how the music scene has changed over the years. How does it compare to maybe even five years ago?
Manchita: Right now, Minneapolis is really open. People hold hands, but everybody has like twenty hands. Everybody’s just linking up. Before I think there wasn’t really a lot of room for woman in hip-hop, and there were few women that were able to penetrate that. And I think on top of that, we have a new wave of younger men and younger women that are braver and more accepting, so things were able to naturally unfold without an unnatural uprising or huge clash because the next wave came through.
That’s been really refreshing because I was around in the early 2000s to mid-2000s and then kind of dipped because the rap scene was too macho—there was no place for me and if I was around, it was like, “Who’s girlfriend are you? Who are you about to fuck?” So, I just kind of dipped then accidentally fell back into it with Ryan Olsen and then luckily met these ladies.
Noisey and Lizzo at First Avenue & 7th Street Entry.
With our beach chat concluded Lizzo and I part ways, agreeing to meet later at First Avenue and 7th Street Entry for the crazy cat benefit/Bowie show. She’s such a regular at the venue that tells me: “I’m gonna give you an inside scoop—I will show you the best place to dance by yourself, the best place to get a cheap drink, the best place to get a great views of the band, the best place to take a shit, and last, but not least the secret record room which is not a secret but it’s where Cryphy happens.”
I don’t see her for a couple of hours but midway through the evening one of the event’s most interesting performers takes the stage, a man who goes by the name of Tickle Torture. A man decked out entirely in gold: an elaborate gold crown, gold lamé jacket, gold lamé handbag, gold cape, miniscule gold underwear, and suspender fishnets. He’s writhing around onstage, singing some Bowie song until suddenly Lizzo creeps up behind him, stripping him of his cape, his crown, and his jacket, and sneaking offstage just as Tickle Torture starts pouring beer down the snout of a decapitated deer head whose eyes are studded with fake diamonds. Oh and then, out of nowhere, he pops his dick out. The crowd roars, mystified, thrilled.
Later still, after Lizzo’s inside scoop tour, we run into Tickle Torture outside. He is unbelievably chill given his flamboyant performance.
“What does my music sound like?” says Tickle Torture, drolly. "Like Prince and Justin Timberlake fucking in a dumpster. You open the lid and you’re like, ‘Whatttt?’ And then you close the lid."
Lizzo, Tickle Torture, and Noisey
Lizzo let’s rip a joyous cackle. It’s the best description of music I’ve heard all year. “See! They say New York don’t sleep, New York gets power naps, Minneapolis don’t give power naps,” proclaims Lizzo. “Minneapolis is always poppin.”
Kim is the host of the Made in America series and an editor at Noisey. She's on Twitter - @theKTB