In June, Lizzo was praised when she swiftly changed the lyrics to her single “Grrrls” after learning that the original words were considered offensive to people with disabilities.
The track was a lead single from her fourth studio album Special, which came out last month, and it immediately sparked backlash for its opening.
“Hold my bag, bitch / Hold my bag / Do you see this shit? / I'mma spaz,” the song began. The use of the word “spaz” was criticized by listeners.
In fact, it wasn’t long before “Grrrls” was trending on TikTok as users called Lizzo out for the ableist lyric.
The term is viewed as an incredibly offensive slur against people with disabilities.
It is also used as a verb to describe the act of losing physical and emotional control, which is how Lizzo intended it in her single.
But regardless of Lizzo’s intentions, fans argued that the word’s loaded connotations should have been enough for her not to include it in the lyrics.
One person tweeted at the time: “@lizzo please re-release ‘Grrrls’ without the ableist slur. That word is not kind to disabled people. Your music is global and you have a voice folks listen to. We are trusting and asking you to release it without the slur.”
“Hey @lizzo my disability Cerebral Palsy is literally classified as Spastic Diplegia (where spasticity refers to unending painful tightness in my legs) your new song makes me pretty angry + sad,” another said. “‘Spaz’ doesn’t mean freaked out or crazy. It’s an ableist slur. It’s 2022. Do better.”
Someone else wrote: “If you’ve never been bullied and called a spazz or a spastic because of your disability you don’t get to decide whether Lizzo’s new song is offensive or not. Kindly sit the fuck down.”
Others claimed that they genuinely had no idea that the word was offensive and argued that Lizzo was probably just as unaware when she wrote the song.
But the star did not attempt to justify or excuse the lyrics when she reacted to the backlash, and was nothing but respectful and apologetic to those who had taken offense.
In fact, Lizzo wasted no time in issuing a statement addressing the backlash and was proactive in rerecording “Grrrls” with a lyric change for immediate release.
“It’s been brought to my attention that there is a harmful word in my new song ‘GRRRLS.’ Let me make one thing clear: I never want to promote derogatory language,” the statement read. “As a fat black woman in America, I’ve had many hurtful words used against me so I overstand the power words can have (whether intentionally or in my case, unintentionally). I’m proud to say there’s a new version of ‘Grrrls’ with a lyric change.”
“This is the result of me listening and taking action. As an influential artist dedicated to being part of the change I’ve been waiting to see in the world,” she added.
The amended version of “Grrrls” opens with: “Hold my bag, bitch / Hold my bag / Do you see this shit? / Hold me back.”
Lizzo was celebrated for the way that she handled the situation, with many thanking the singer for being receptive to the criticism and taking action without making any excuses.
Some even said that other celebrities should “take note” of Lizzo’s actions, with one writing: “Lizzo just displayed how to learn and fix your mistakes with grace. She did the right thing when being met with deserved criticism, and I hope other artists take note.”
But just weeks later, music lovers found themselves embroiled in the ableist discourse all over again when Beyoncé used the same slur in a song from her new album, Renaissance, which was released on Friday.
While the album has won high praise from critics and fans alike, Beyoncé’s inclusion of the lyrics “Spazzing on that ass / Spaz on that ass” in her song “Heated” was not well received.
In addition to the initial backlash of Beyoncé using the offensive term in the first place, there was confusion over her choice to include the slur in her new release in spite of the reaction to Lizzo less than two months earlier.
Many argued that even if Beyoncé had missed the headlines personally, it’s highly unlikely that nobody on her team, or amid the song’s 11 writers and nine producers, would have seen the backlash.
And some claimed that the decision to go ahead with the lyrics despite the response to Lizzo suggested that everyone involved believed that Beyoncé was “above criticism.”
“Did Beyoncé not learn from Lizzo first?! Lizzo just went through this and corrected it IMMEDIATELY and Beyoncé still thought she could get away with it? Bruh come on,” one person tweeted.
“The disabled community does not have the energy for people to not learn their lessons,” another added. “We just had this issue with Lizzo a month ago how did Beyoncé learn nothing from that. I already have chronic fatigue I don’t have to energy to explain multiple times why words are offensive.”
“Really disappointed to see the music industry remain ignorant despite education provided and requested. Learn from Lizzo, Beyoncé,” one more said. “Language is powerful.”
And UK disability charity Scope also called Beyoncé out in a statement. Retweeting its previously issued statement about “Grrrls,” it added: “It’s all the more surprising that she’s used this word, given the enormous response to Lizzo’s song ‘Grrrls’ in June. Thankfully, Lizzo did the right thing and re-recorded the song. It's hard to believe that could have gone unnoticed by Beyoncé's team.”
“After the outcry from Lizzo using the word 'sp@z', I can’t believe that nobody in Beyoncé’s team was aware of how hurtful the word is to many within the disabled community. Surely one of ‘Heated’s 11 writers and 10 producers must have known?” someone else asked.
“Honestly fuck Beyonce,” another tweeted. “There's absolutely NO way her and her team didn't know sp*z is a slur considering we just did the discourse w/ Lizzo. The fact that stans are patting her on the back for 'listening & responding swiftly' NO! THEY KNEW! They just figured she's above criticism.”
“It’s very hard to believe neither Beyoncé nor anyone in her team didn’t recognise the ableist slur when Lizzo very publicly made the same mistake a month ago (and graciously corrected it). Exhausting,” one more tweeted.
Following the backlash, Beyoncé did the same as Lizzo and promised to change the lyrics of “Heated.”
A representative for the star told Insider on Monday: “The word, not used intentionally in a harmful way, will be replaced.”
“That’s great to hear but it’s shouldn’t have taken this happening *again* so soon after the Lizzo lyric change,” one person tweeted in response to the alteration. “Maybe now we can learn from these incidents, drop words like this one & make sure there don’t need to be any more retrospective lyric changes?”
“Appalling,” someone else wrote. "What was she even thinking? Did she learn nothing from the Lizzo episode?”