Lizzo performed to a devout crowd of fans at the Fillmore who were indicative of her quickly rising stardom.

lizzo photo by steph catsoulis for my spilt milk
Lizzo at the Fillmore on Sunday night, by Steph Catsoulis

Lizzo wants her live shows to be church, and her sold out show at the Fillmore on September 8 was exactly that. At the center of the stage was an altar, with orange lighting washing the stage. As the smoke built and dissipated, out walked Lizzo, dressed in a shimmery gold robe like that of a gospel singer. While the crowd’s excitement built, she started her set with “Heaven Help Me” and began her work of bringing the audience to worship.

Lizzo has spoken about wanting to capture the hallelujah moments from the religious music of her childhood and her church in her own music. In an interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, she explained that she loves the “visceral, physical reaction that you see in people, that's driven by the music” in church, and wants to bring her audiences to obligatory movement. Her set and costume design were built facing this spiritual worship, but even without these explicit references, that sentiment came through. 

When she began “Cuz I Love You,” the title track of her new album, it was clear that the audience members were devout Lizzo fans. The song isn’t a bop in the way many of her other songs are, and it has real power in the vocals and the horns that back it. Despite it not being as pop-friendly as a lot of her music, everyone in the crowd welcomed it with the same enthusiasm. The people around me sang every word, and it was clear that these were not fair-weathered fans. They carried the chorus of “Jerome,” and cheered on her dancers during “Tempo” with the same enthusiasm they had for Lizzo herself.

It’s been nearly a year since Lizzo last performed in New Orleans and her fame has increased tremendously in that time. When she performed at Voodoo Fest in 2018, I walked to the front of the crowd easily and stuck with the few other people surrounding me who actually knew more than two Lizzo songs. This time, there were fans who out-fanned me. 

In the last year she has released her newest album, Cuz I Love You, which received almost unanimous praise. Her 2017 song “Truth Hurts” recently moved up the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. She’s been on the cover of countless magazines, and she attended the Met Gala for the first time. She’s become a recognizable star, and the back-to-back sold out crowds she performed to at The Fillmore reflected that. Lizzo is fully aware of the ways her stardom has swelled, and she reveled in it. In between each song, she let the audience cheer endlessly, egging them on and not looking bashful over it. 

Lizzo worships herself and her fans, so her fans worship her, and themselves, back. She champions self-love, and it’s something she pushes so relentlessly that it’s difficult to not believe. When she introduced her song, “Soulmate,” she said “Sing this with your whole chest even if you don’t believe it right now.” Her between-song banter and speeches feel a bit stiff at times, almost like something you’d read on a Pinterest motivation board, but this sentiment is why I’m willing to overlook that. Her mantra isn’t that we should believe in ourselves every second of the day. It’s that going through the motions of actively speaking highly of ourselves, even when we don’t feel it entirely, bridges the gap between knowing we are great and feeling that we are great, and I think this works similar to prayer. 

She also shows her fans the work she does herself to bridge those gaps. Lizzo has and continues to be very open about the moments that she does not and has not felt confident. Despite being known for her self-love and positivity, she admits in real time to the moments when those mantras don’t feel true. These admissions add depth to her overt positivity, and make her more than a surface-level pop star telling us to love ourselves. 

As she neared the end of her set, she went into an intimate, sultry performance of her sexiest song, “Lingerie.” She came on stage with a feather robe, leaning up against the altar, rubbing her thighs as she sang. Almost immediately after she finished, she admitted that she had never performed that song live, and that it still made her incredibly nervous to do so. These moments of honesty get her message of self-love across much more effectively than her mantras, but she reminds us that these mantras exist for a reason. 

She closed the show with her biggest songs, but to an outsider that would have been hard to tell. The enthusiasm from the crowd was constant throughout her entire set, and Lizzo consistently brought them to obligatory movement.