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Juice: The Story Behind Lizzo’s Breakout Song
In Depth

Juice: The Story Behind Lizzo’s Breakout Song

A landmark anthem of self-love, Juice wrapped a modern protest message in feel-good funk, capturing Lizzo’s essence in the process.

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The pure joy of Lizzo’s Juice, a song of self-love, hedonism and giving precisely no shits, warmed us all up during the cold month of January 2019. But it’s important in our love of the song to understand the message of Juice. Lizzo’s optimism and pride is not superficial. There is a strong political heart in Juice; Lizzo’s feel-good funk is also modern protest music.

Listen to the best of Lizzo here.

“It takes guts to boldly love yourself in this world that screams in your face that you ain’t shit”

Back in 2015, Lizzo wrote a song called My Skin. Included on her self-released Big Grrrl Small World album, the song was inspired by the police shooting of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old Black man, in Minneapolis, not far from where Lizzo lived at the time. Black Lives Matter protests followed. Lizzo was deeply affected by the incident.

“You can wake up and change many things about your appearance, but the inevitability of waking up in your skin is what unifies us,” Lizzo said. “My Skin literally matters. It matters because it’s the largest organ on my body. Because it’s my exterior. It’s been stretched, sunburnt and covered in glitter. It’s the first thing you notice about me. My skin is dark brown, but if you asked someone they would say it’s black. My blackness is my largest assumed ‘accessory’.”

In the spoken-word intro to My Skin, Lizzo expands on her theme to say, “Learning to love yourself and, like, learning to love your body is like a journey that I feel like every person, but more specifically women, have to go through.” It was a tender song, singing of self-love as self-preservation in a hostile world. It was also the standout track on Big Grrrl Small World. “People can think I’m a superhero but it’s just bravery. It takes guts to boldly love yourself in this world that screams in your face that you ain’t shit,” Lizzo said.

“I think [the word] ‘juice’ is kinda freaky. I think ‘juice’ is spiritual and special”

Four years later, Lizzo reflected on the reaction she got to My Skin: “People were just so shocked that, you know, in 2014 this big Black girl was saying, ‘I’m in love with myself. I love my skin,’” she said. “I was like, why is this such a shocker to y’all? I’m gonna just talk about this shit all the time until you get used to it.” Juice is the direct descendent of My Skin and, as jubilant as it is, it has that same message.

“I think [the word] ‘juice’ is kinda freaky,” Lizzo said. “I think ‘juice’ is spiritual and special. I think it’s Black pussy.” Juice came out of a collaboration between Lizzo, Theron Thomas, Sam Sumser, Sean Small and Ricky Reed. Reed started out with a skeleton arrangement of drums and synths, and, on playing that to Thomas and Lizzo, they saw its undeniable potential.

Thomas immediately started in with the first line, “Mirror, mirror on the wall,” and he and Lizzo worked out the first verse. “It’s not just about waking up pretty,” Lizzo said to Thomas. “What do we really mean underneath that?” The pair then worked on the line about being “born like this”. “‘I was born like this’ means I love me for me, no matter what make up I have on, what weave I have on, whether I got my lash extensions on or not,” Lizzo explained.

Thomas had the idea of using “a group of girls in there” as additional vocalists, and Lizzo said, “Even better – I can get my girls in here!” She called up some of her closest friends and they added the warmth and spontaneity that professionalism alone cannot capture. “This was bananas, how much it was adding,” said Reed of these vocals. Reed worked up the music for the track, using his collection of vintage synths and adding genuine electro effects rather than computer-generated substitutes. It’s what gives Juice a real feeling of authenticity that many other retro-jams lack.

“She’s exactly what you want an artist to be, which is themselves”

For the video, Lizzo and the director, Quinn Wilson, ran with the 80s theme. The concept of Lizzo sitting on a couch, channel-flipping, allowed for them to play with a cornucopia of fun images from the period – from workout videos, to shopping channels, to late-night talk shows. In fact, for the latter, Lizzo and Wilson had been inspired by Madonna’s appearances on Late Night With David Letterman. In 1988, Madonna and Sandra Bernhard appeared together, implying they were in a relationship. Six years later, Madonna was on the show again, this time swearing like a trooper and brilliantly shifting the power dynamics away from the host. She refused to kiss an audience member just because Letterman asked her too, and then decisively took control of the conversation. “There was something really honest about how not with the shits Madonna was, and I feel like I wanted to bring that alive,” Lizzo said.

Released on 4 January 2019, Juice was the lead single from Lizzo’s third (and first major-label) album, Cuz I Love You. It won widespread acclaim and fans from across the musical spectrum. Beth Ditto covered it; as did Harry Styles, on Radio 1’s Live Lounge, leading Lizzo to invite him on stage to perform the song with her during a SiriusXM performance. “I just think she’s amazing,” Styles said. “She’s one of the most exciting artists working now for sure. She’s exactly what you want an artist to be, which is themselves.”

As for that exciting artist herself, she has quickly become one of the best female rappers of her era, but she knows her work remains something that’s always in progress. “Body positivity and self-love are trendy, and that’s exciting,” Lizzo said. “I’ve talked about it for a long time, since it was something radical, especially for a fat Black woman to say. Now I’m saying it’s something you have to work on, even when you’re at low points. It’s not just a cute idea for a spa day.”

Find out which Lizzo song tops our list of the best songs of 2022.

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