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Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022: No. 6 — Lizzo

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For this year’s update of our ongoing Greatest Pop Star by Year project, Billboard is counting down our staff picks for the top 10 pop stars of 2022 all this week. At No. 6, we remember the year in Lizzo — who once again used a runaway viral smash as a springboard to total pop cultural ubiquity.

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The year 2022 was not just a ‘Special’ one for Lizzo – it was the year she proved that she could navigate and command the pop landscape alongside splashy newcomers and veterans alike.

Three years removed from her seismic breakthrough with Cuz I Love You, Lizzo had entered the new decade unproven as a major force in pop music. In 2021, she unveiled “Rumors,” a Cardi B-assisted standalone single that debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and fizzled out too quickly to really maintain the excitement from her previous hit singles “Truth Hurts” and “Good as Hell.” But the brief silence that followed would eventually give way to a year that yielded Lizzo the fastest-moving and highest-charting album of her career — while she expanded her reach in different fields of entertainment and cultivated a coherent and powerful public image to complement her pop stardom.

Billboard’s Greatest Pop Stars of 2022:
Introduction & Honorable Mentions | Rookie of the Year: Steve Lacy | Comeback of the Year: Sam Smith | No. 10: Nicki Minaj | No. 9: Future | No. 8: Jack Harlow | No. 7: Doja Cat

When Lizzo reemerged in 2022, she chose television, not music, as her entry point. Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, an unscripted reality competition series chronicling the journey to becoming one of Lizzo’s dancers, debuted on Amazon Prime — her first project under her production deal with Amazon Studios. Lizzo smartly used the launch of the show, which was met with a generally positive critical reception, to launch her proper return to the music scene. A day before Watch Out for the Big Grrrls went live, Lizzo announced the release date for “About Damn Time.” 

The following week, in a move straight from the playbook of pop titans past and present, Lizzo previewed yet another venture: This time, she was entering the world of shapewear with Yitty, her collaboration with Fabletics. Through a series of smartly sequenced announcements and releases, Lizzo reemerged as a full-fledged pop star — one whose brand permeated different industries and yielded successful returns in each.

By April, Lizzo fixed her attention squarely on music. “About Damn Time,” an uplifting disco-tinged anthem of affirmation, was released on April 15, alongside the announcement of its parent album, Special. With a quiet debut at No. 50, “About Damn Time” got off to a much slower start on the Hot 100 than “Rumors.” Nonetheless, Lizzo used the familiarity and bottled momentum she accrued on TikTok in 2020 to inform her aggressive promotion of the song on the platform. Thanks largely to added exposure from a dance trend created by TikTok personality Jaeden Gomez, “About Damn Time” reached the Hot 100’s top 10 in its fourth week. 

In a move that shifted Lizzo’s promotional approach from that of a mid-level pop star to one that more closely mirrored a superstar’s, she tapped into how the song connected with audiences on an emotional and political level. Obviously, “About Damn Time” made people feel good, hence the cute dances that Lizzo would often stitch and repost on her official TikTok page. But she also knew that the song would make people feel empowered: In an April 8 TikTok, Lizzo used a snippet of “About Damn Time” to celebrate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. During her performance of the song at the 2022 BET Awards, Lizzo proclaimed, “It’s about damn time we stand in our power. Black people, my people.” This combination of marketing savvy and innate ability to make music that can mean different things to different audiences at different times resulted in “About Damn Time” becoming both Lizzo’s second Hot 100-topper in late July, and ultimately one of the defining hits of 2022.

When “About Damn Time” reached the pole position on the Hot 100, its parent album, Special, zoomed to a No. 2 finish on the Billboard 200. Although the set earned a less rapturous reception than its predecessor, Special earned the best first week of Lizzo’s career so far, with 69,000 units moved. Special debuted alongside “Lizzoverse,” a Twitch-streamed cosmic light show extravaganza that found Lizzo tapping into yet another media platform to expand the reach of her music and brand. 

Although Special was blocked from the top of the Billboard 200 by Bad Bunny’s monstrous Un Verano Sin Ti, the album’s strong performance proved that Lizzo had built herself a legion of fans that were guaranteed to show up for her, regardless of whether her albums were packed with buzzy guest artists. Special also spawned one more minor hit in “2 B Loved (Am I Ready),” which Lizzo spotlighted in a characteristically impressive performance in a medley with “Time” at the MTV Video Music Awards in August. Outside of hit singles, the Special campaign showed how deftly Lizzo could maneuver controversy after, she humbly changed a lyric in “Grrrls,” one of the set’s promotional singles, that was criticized as ableist.

Although the singles campaign for Special seemed to end with “2 B Loved,” Lizzo remained a leading pop culture figure in 2022, and she only continued to amass more cultural capital. In September, Lizzo embarked on her first headlining arena tour; the tour boasted openers such as Latto and Saucy Santana, two rappers who each turned 2022 into career-defining years, and surprise guests at different stops, including Missy Elliott (“Tempo”), Cardi B (“Rumors”), and SZA (“Special”). 

A week into the tour, Lizzo, a classically trained flautist, found herself at the center of a firestorm of controversy when she played James Madison’s 209-year-old crystal flute while twerking onstage. Ultimately, the controversy didn’t stick because, as the Library of Congress tweeted, Lizzo’s performance with the historic instrument was “not all that unusual.” In fact, the controversy did more to expose her detractors’ own misogynoir and fatphobia – and showed that the general public would be quick to come to Lizzo’s defense. Two weeks before she launched the Special Tour, Watch Out for the Big Grrrls took home three trophies at the Primetime Emmy Awards, lifting Lizzo halfway to EGOT status.

As 2022 drew to a close, Lizzo continued to rack up awards and nominations. She earned nods for herself and “About Damn Time” at the American Music Awards, as well as triumphs at the Soul Train Music Awards (best dance performance), MTV Video Music Awards (video for good), and the People’s Choice Awards (song of 2022). At the People’s Choice Awards, Lizzo used her acceptance speech for the People’s Champion award to uplift and amplify the marginalized voices of 17 activists including Tamika Palmer, the mother of the late Breonna Taylor. Yet again, Lizzo found a way to use her passion for activism and political empowerment to continue to transcend and reinvent what pop stardom can look like.

Closing out the year with the premiere of her Love, Lizzo documentary on HBO Max, a writing credit on SZA’s acclaimed SOS album, and five Grammy nominations including album, record, and song of the year, Lizzo ends 2022 a solidified capital-letters Pop Star — and it’s about damn time.

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