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Power and Its Consequences: What We Can Learn From Lizzo

Truth hurts, doesn’t it?

Credit: NBC News

 

In the space of only a few days, the world got a front-row seat to the downfall of Lizzo. Fans, news outlets, and practically everyone with internet access bore witness as the carefully crafted empire--once founded on body positivity and good vibes--crumbled brick by brick.


On August 1st, three of Lizzo’s former dancers filed a lawsuit against the superstar, her dance captain, and her production company. Within the alleged nine counts of misconduct are detailed incidents of sexual harassment, religious pressuring, and weight-based discrimination. In one notable instance, dancers even stated that they felt pressured into explicit activities at a club in Amsterdam.


Of course, it wasn’t long before the internet got ahold of the news, and thus began the discourse. Stories against Lizzo began piling up by the minute. Snubbed waiters, frustrated documentarians, even the ex-girlfriend of Lizzo’s current partner have all come forward with details as to how the artist is far from who she seems. As a matter of fact, at the time of this article’s writing, the legal team of the three dancers are investigating six more sexual harassment allegations coming from other former dancers.


There are countless reasons why these allegations are so disturbing. Beyond the dehumanizing details of the allegations and the artist’s notes app apology that many found lackluster, many fans can’t seem to reconcile the singer’s professional brand with who she allegedly is.


Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Granted, the allegations against Lizzo are just another example of the way in which powerful figures in the entertainment industry have taken advantage of the people directly under them.


This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen an abuse of power on this scale. Back in 2020, multiple crew members of TV host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres’s daytime show came out against her and her executive producers citing a “toxic work environment”. Between alleged instances of racist microaggressions, sexual harassment, and other behaviors that just seem comically evil (one staffer claimed that employees were not allowed to look DeGeneres directly in the eyes), it became clear that the motto “be kind to one another” that DeGeneres always ended her show with didn’t seem to extend to the office.


Credit: People Magazine

Even more recently, we’ve seen history be made as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) and Writers Guild of America (WGA) stand together against the AMTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) in pursuit of fair wages and job security. While explaining the intricacies of the strike would undoubtedly take way longer than this one article can hold, part of the issue comes from the fact that neither the actors nor the writers are receiving the residuals that come from shows featured on streaming services despite raking in billions of dollars from the last year alone. Some of these checks received even come up to only one cent. With the original writer’s strike creeping over 100 days, studios seem more reluctant than ever to agree to these entertainers' very reasonable demands. As they continue to gleefully push out the new season of shows like Heartstopper with accompanying tongue-in-cheek interviews with the cast (filmed pre-strike of course), actors and writers are left striking penniless and hopeless.


All this to say, the rich and powerful have a history of screwing people over, especially if you're their employee.

This, of course, begs the question: if this is the same old tale of exploitation we’ve always heard, why does it feel so different?


A One-Sided Relationship

Since she seemingly rose to fame overnight in 2019, Lizzo constructed her brand around body positivity and self-love. In doing so, she was not only successful, she inadvertently positioned herself as a representative and advocate for many marginalized groups. Her concerts were outpourings of support on the sides of both the audience and Lizzo herself. Her music video made a point to highlight dancers of all types–whether you were plus-size or black or queer or some combination or none of the above, it didn’t seem to matter to her.


No matter who you were, you looked at Lizzo and saw your best self reflected back at you.

Ultimately, while the things that Lizzo allegedly did are shocking in and of themselves, the reason why people seem equally blindsided and disappointed is because they are forced to face the truth. We don’t know Lizzo, nor what she is allegedly capable of, any more than we knew Ellen DeGeneres or the countless network executives. To assume we can understand who anybody is off of a couple of posts on Instagram and an occasional TikTok is naive and dangerous, honestly.


While I certainly wouldn’t go far as to say there are no “good” celebrities anymore (I’d like to protect my faith in the world, sue me), I do think it’s important to remember that while these people are like us, they most certainly are not us.


While Universal executives were posting funny memes online about whatever show of theirs was popular that week, they were cutting down the trees outside of their studio so protestors had no shade in the middle of July. Ellen would sign off on her shows at 4 PM and fire one of her staff members for taking medical leave at 5. In the rehearsals for concerts where Lizzo would tell a crowd of tens of thousands of people how loved they were, she left dancers so fearful that they would rather soil themselves than ask to use the bathroom. Whether these allegations are true or not, they force us to come to terms with the same sentiment we come to terms with every other month.

At a certain level of fame and fortune, the inner workings of the rich and powerful move beyond our understanding.

Just before the allegations against Lizzo were made public, a video from one of her concerts went viral. In it, she tells a cyberbullied fan that she is cool, talented, and beautiful. Most importantly, she at one point said that “the words that we say have a long-lasting effect on people.”


Unfortunately for us all, we have become unwilling witnesses to just how true that statement is.

 

Samantha Lowe is a second-year student and online writer for Rowdy. In between listening to music and keeping up with pop culture, she also spends her days desperately trying not to form parasocial relationships with celebrities (works about 80% of the time).


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