Social media was abuzz following Lizzo’s performance on Saturday Night Live’s final episode of the year, during which she performed “Break Up Twice” off her latest album Special. While going viral for a jaw-dropping performance isn’t new, the Grammy-winning songstress pulled off something particularly poignant this time. In front of a blue backdrop, donning a white slip dress while sitting on a bed, the 34-year-old pop sensation re-created the famous painting Blue Monday by the late Black artist Annie Lee.
Annie Lee (1935-2014) was an artist famous for her expressive use of body language and movement in her work to illustrate everyday moments in African-American life. Blue Monday is Lee’s most famous painting and only self-portrait. A deliberate stylistic choice present in Blue Monday along with the rest of Lee’s paintings is the absence of faces. This allows the body language of the figures to do the storytelling while creating an opportunity for the viewer to project themselves or others onto the painting. The piece depicts a tired-looking Black woman slumped over as she seemingly struggles to get out of bed in the morning – inspired by Lee’s work at a railroad job.
Many of Annie Lee’s pieces feature women at the forefront; the artist told the Chicago Tribune in 1997, “I think my paintings connect me to women. I know that how I feel is the way a lot of women feel.” This quote, in the context of the exhausted female figure in Blue Monday, brings to mind the “strong Black woman” archetype – the damaging expectation for Black women to remain resilient and persevere through being overworked and abused. While Lizzo did not explicitly state why Blue Monday inspired her vision for the performance, the iconic singer’s choice to pay homage to Lee’s masterpiece created a moving display that combines the cross-generational creative power of two Black female innovators; it’s no surprise that viewers quickly took to social media to express their adoration. In the above Instagram post, the second slide includes a tweet which reads, “Uniquely Black in America @lizzo is unapologetic about her place in the cultural zeitgeist. This hung in every Black household at the turn of the 21st century. It fully encapsulates our mood today. We are beyond tired. #snl”
The amazing Lizzo paid homage to one of our great artists Annie Lee and her Blue Monday. Annie Lee was Chief clerk at a railroad to pay bills. Blue Monday possibly her most famous work, and her only self portrait. Say her name!!! #AnnieLee #BLACKARTIST pic.twitter.com/ADXk60hFK3
— Sonari (he/him) (@Sonari) December 18, 2022
Lizzo’s homage to Annie Lee’s ‘Blue Monday’ is gonna live rent free in my mind for awhile!
— Shelton Boyd-Griffith (@flyrebel) December 18, 2022
Lizzo took the SNL stage for the third time in her career, following indie rock group the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ last-minute cancellation of their scheduled appearance due to illness. In addition to “Break Up Twice”, she performed a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas”. Watch her stunning performance below.
Photo, top: Screenshot from YouTube