I can’t dance. Don’t ask me. Those who can are as, if not gods to me, then at the very least blessed, otherworldly beings. In new, chaotically entertaining reality-competition show Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (Amazon Prime), they can all dance and then some. The format is much as you would expect. The star – rapper, singer, songwriter, triple Grammy-winner and flautist Lizzo – needs to recruit some new backing singers and has narrowed down her options by the time filming begins to a shortlist of 13. They will compete first for 10 places in the Big Grrrls’ Mansion, then for the four actual backing singer places before Lizzo’s next big concert, at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts festival in Tennessee.
I should probably explain before we go further: they are all Big Grrrls, because that is an important part of zaftig Lizzo’s brand. The claim is that the benighted agencies were unable to supply Lizzo with anyone other than the standard size-zero dancer models, and so she’s had to take to the streets (and Amazon). Thus there is much talk of body positivity, self-love, representation, showing up for yourself, thanking God for this moment and not letting anyone steal your light/energy/trample on your beautiful soul and so on. Still, thankfully, the music and dancing generally start up again just before it becomes too emetic to be survivable without medical rehydration.
The competitors range from mid-20s to mid-30s, some trained, some self-taught, some with backstories that include poverty and homelessness, all with extraordinary drive and dedication, and all in thrall to Lizzo – whose own star quality fills the screen to bursting – and the success her own talent and determination has brought.
The opening episode sees the potential grrrls first dancing in front of Lizzo herself (two eight-counts of freestyle, then 40 seconds of her own choreography that they have had a week to prepare). Refreshingly – almost thrillingly, in fact, in this era of borderline despair – no one seems set up to fail. There is no weak link, no one who hasn’t got at least 90% of the goods. The mood is joyful, celebratory. Unnerving until you get used to it, but water to your parched soul thereafter.
It’s hard for the untrained eye to pick out much difference between the degrees of talent here because the programme does not like to show more than three frames of anyone at a time. I sat there like the nana of nanas, huffing to myself about how Fred Astaire insisted on being shown full length and with as few cuts as possible, so the audience could enjoy what he did and what they came to see. I am 108, and maybe the young people like it this way. Or have never seen it done any other way so don’t know what they’re missing.
ANYWAY – there are one-on-one rounds, teamwork rounds, choreography-learning rounds and occasional, fascinating fleeting mentions of the actual knowledge and insight into the very specific skills needed, and glimpses of Lizzo the working professional and businesswoman.
The elimination of three of the 13 is two parts tearful sorrow and one part utter joy, as one of the 13 – Crystal – is propelled straight into Lizzo’s entourage without further ado. “You just got it,” says Lizzo, simply. “You built for this. The sky is the limit for you.” I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying. Watering our own souls, how about that? Thank God for this moment.