Toward the end of Friday’s 100-minute concert at TD Garden, as she took a moment to point out her favorite audience outfits of the night, Lizzo called out “I see you!” to a well-dressed fan. Those words are at the heart of Lizzo’s whole brand. The singer and rapper may be the most capable steward of self-esteem in 21st-century pop music since Pink, but where the latter’s mama-bear persona offers the promise of hard-won acceptance and protection, Lizzo is cheerfully (but not tearfully) inclusive. Throughout the evening, Lizzo provided a concrete example of what loving yourself actually looks like by living it out loud.
It came through in the joy radiating from her from the moment she rose through the floor wearing a contoured, chartreuse bodysuit to announce “Hi, mother[friend]ers, did you miss me?” to the flute trills of the closing “About Damn Time.” It was so pervasive, in fact, that she briefly broke down with laughter a couple of lines into “Grrrls,” while there was a moment during “Like a Girl” when she grinned so wide that it looked like she might botch her next line.
But she didn’t, because Lizzo has learned how to harness her glee to work for her, rather than let it control her. She beamed through aerobics jam “2 Be Loved (Am I Ready)” and let the streamlined subway disco of “Everybody’s Gay” flow ecstatically, while other songs dialed things down to provide necessary contrast. “Naked” was a slow, vulnerable seduction and “Jerome” was slow, self-immolating soul. And she unleashed a Jennifer Hudson-level vocal as she whipped herself into a reluctant frenzy as horniness gave way to real feelings in “Cuz I Love You.”
She was also confident enough to pull off a distinct rock-music thread amid a set defined by hip-hop, soul, R&B, and disco. Some of it was purely visual, like the kaleidoscopic red, white, and black “Seven Nation Army”-style visuals behind “Truth Hurts.” And some of it bled into the music itself, from the alt-rock guitar chords of “I Love You Bitch” to her backing band the Lizzbians playing the churning intro to “Heart of the Sunrise” before dropping into the spare electrofunk bounce of “Boys,” bridging the gap between Yes and “Funkytown.”
Throughout, Lizzo kept returning to two things. One was an affirmation of “I love you! You are beautiful. And you can do anything.” And the other was her social-media flirtation with local boy Chris Evans, going so far as to deliver the carnal “Tempo” to a cardboard cutout of Evans in a Bruins jersey. The beauty of Lizzo is that she could direct the former to the latter, or to herself, or to her audience, and mean every word of it either way.
Lizzo opener Latto was strident and explicit, leading with aggressive sexuality and a glare, though the breathlessness that works so well on the recording of “Big Energy” led her to drop nearly half the words in favor of letting the guide vocal take over.
With Latto. At TD Garden, Friday.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.