Putting a New Twist in Old Tradition, Lizzo and Cardi B in Rumors

It isn’t often that a pop star releases a music video that aligns so well with my academic research.

But that’s exactly what Lizzo did in her new song, “Rumors.” In it, she and Cardi B dress in Grecian goddess-inspired dresses, dance in front of classically inspired statuary, wear headdresses that evoke caryatids and transform into Grecian vases.

They’re adding their own twist to what’s called the classical tradition, a style rooted in the aesthetics of ancient Greece and Rome, and they’re only the most recent Black women artists to do so.

An old tradition with a new twist

Which takes me to Lizzo’s joyful and gleeful reclamation of the classical tradition in her new music video with Cardi B.

In a song that focuses heavily on female empowerment and body positivity, Lizzo and Cardi B deploy the visual imagery, fashion, art and architecture of the classical era, while also populating it with people and bodies that have so long been excluded.

Lizzo and her dancers perform their choreography atop classical columns, positioning themselves as the muses – an allusion, perhaps, to the Black muses in Disney’s animated film “Hercules.”

The bodies of the statues in Lizzo’s video are not the chiseled physiques you’re accustomed to seeing in museums, while the various Grecian-style vases are painted with images of women in bondage gear, performing on poles and twerking. Lizzo and Cardi B also perform in front of statues that are deliberately centered on the buttocks. It’s an allusion not just to classical statues like the Venus Callipyge – which translates to “Venus of the beautiful buttocks” – but also a playful dig at a culture that historically has hypersexualized the bodies of Black women.

I’d never suggest reading the comments section of any YouTube video. But with “Rumors” you don’t have to scroll for very long before coming across a heated debate around “cultural appropriation” in the music video. Some say that it’s Greek and Roman art that’s being pilfered and sullied.

But to me, it’s just another example of Black women trying to stake their own claim to the beauty, joy and power of this tradition.

When Lizzo and Cardi B touch their acrylics in a gesture reminiscent of Michaelangelo’s famous “Creation of Adam” painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, they’re transfigured into a Grecian vase in a flash of lightning.

Just like that, the centrality of Black women to the classical tradition is no longer just a rumor.

It’s true.

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