Flutegate! If You're Going to Get Mad, Don't Get Mad at Lizzo

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

First, let me say that I had no idea that James Madison played a crystal flute. Zero. So to pretend that I care about it would be silly. I didn’t even know it existed. Now that I do know, however, I have to say: how cool is a crystal flute??? I mean, I’ve never even heard of a crystal instrument. This is mind-blowing information and I’m glad we all know about it now.

But Twitter was all abuzz the other day because people were upset that the singer known for walking around almost naked, flaunting great swaths of skin and shaking it in various ways for cameras, played this flute onstage while twerking. Terrence Williams, a comedian, made this funny reaction video. In defense of everyone who got annoyed at this, there is very little flute playing in this clip.

Obviously, a flute played by James Madison is probably priceless. And it’s reasonable that the people who watched this and aren’t familiar with Lizzo, other than what they’ve seen in the tabloids, would have thought it was a ridiculous risk for a historical instrument to be taken onstage for a twerk fest. What’s the payoff? Why didn’t she play it? The fact is, she’s an amazing flautist. But for some reason, her PR team instructed her to share the twerking video instead of this one, where she is fully clothed and playing Madison’s flute the way it should be played. This is awesome.

Lizzo is clearly a well-trained musician who has every right to play this flute. Anyone who says otherwise is not being honest. The real crime here, however, is how someone as talented as Lizzo has found herself with the public image her PR team has crafted that has kept many people from discovering how great she is. Many of us, myself included, completely avoid Lizzo’s performances because her image is so ridiculous and offensive. I simply will not subject my eyes to the vulgarity of it, and many people feel that way. We look away from that which offends. Now, hear me clearly: I don’t want to censor her or stop her from acting in whatever way she wishes, but I won’t participate in it. I subscribe to the “turn the channel” mentality that freedom demands. If you don’t like something, don’t watch it. And so I haven’t.

Her public relations people have insisted on making her a sideshow carnival act, baring her fat rolls for laughs and jeers at every opportunity. It’s cruel. They are the ones who everyone should be mad at. The fact that a woman like Lizzo with this kind of talent can be reduced to a joke by industry “professionals” because it makes money is the real outrage.

The conservatives who didn’t like the twerking clip weren’t wrong to say so. It was stupid. It was clearly a troll to get people talking. That’s what PR people do. Had the video of the performance at the Library of Congress been the first video to go viral, or had the concert video included actual flute playing, none of the criticism would have started. Conservatives would have praised her talent and skill if they had seen her play. And while the race hustlers tried to make this into an “own the cons” moment, Ben Shapiro described it perfectly: “This Lizzo-flute controversy is a perfect example of what I have termed Face Tattoo Phenomenon: the phenomenon whereby someone does something deliberately controversial in an attempt to draw attention and then acts offended when you notice.”

Because of our natural impulse to avoid watching performers who rely on cheap tricks like nudity to get attention, none of us had ever heard her play the flute, and her PR team knew that. So they released that dumb clip of her not playing a priceless historical flute while twerking, leading some to believe it was a cheap trick while withholding the real performance that does the instrument proud. Not only does her PR team treat her badly, but it treats the audience badly with these stunts as well.

I hope Lizzo realizes that the people around her are vile and don’t care how ridiculous she looks or what her reputation and image are as long as it is making them money. As a mother with daughters who study instruments, it is one of my biggest hopes that they will grow up to be able to perform with ease and skill. The idea that some smarmy PR firm would come along and turn the years of hard work and tears and struggle into a joke makes me boiling mad inside…for Lizzo!

Lizzo deserves better than that. Her skill is inarguable, but her reputation and image are a dumpster fire of gross outfits and vulgarity. Her advisors have effectively trapped her in an unhealthy body, which is now part of the act. Should she ever want to get healthy and lose weight, it would destroy their business plan. This borders on abuse. Was Lizzo given a choice to be covered up and classy? Fans of her for a long time told me that when she first started performing, she was much different.

“I started following her a few years ago. I caught her on a live concert as an opener on a B stage. I was so impressed and in awe of her raw talent. She had so much energy and was so uplifting. She looked modest and beautiful. As she grew, I felt she sold talent out,” said one fan.

“I’m sad that this talent is hidden, and even as a big girl, she has to take her clothes off and dry hump air to be a success. Shame on pop culture,” said another. Hear! Hear! This so-called “feminist” message of needing to be highly sexualized in order to be “powerful” is damaging to young girls. They are more than their body parts. When will real feminism make a comeback? When will the kind of woman who says “notice me for my skill and my talent” become popular again?

Let’s have more of the Library of Congress performances from Lizzo and less of the bargain-basement dimestore hooker variety. (Of course, that would require a competent PR team, which she does not have.)


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