- Listeners of Lizzo’s new single “Grrrls” quickly criticized her use of an ableist slur.
- Within a few days, Lizzo had apologized and re-released the song with new lyrics.
- The disabled community on TikTok hopes celebrities take note of how Lizzo handled the situation.
When Lizzo released her new single “Grrrls” on June 10, fans noticed a problem. Listeners quickly pointed out there was an ableist slur in the lyrics — “spaz”, a shortened version of the word “spastic,” which is a term often used as an insult to describe someone who has difficulty controlling their muscles and movement due to a disability.
The word is more commonly used in the UK and less so in the US, but it immediately garnered attention from the disability community on TikTok. Popular creators including Shelby Lynch, who has 429,000 followers, Imani Barbarin, who has 428,000, and smaller ones such as Jo Copson, who has just under 4,000, weighed in on the conversation when “Grrrls” was released. They expressed disappointment in Lizzo, especially because of her reputation as a staunch advocate and celebrator of body positivity and inclusion.
In less than 48 hours, Lizzo had swiftly responded to the criticism, and re-released the song without the hurtful lyric, making it an apology the majority of the community was more than happy to accept.
TikTok was flooded with creators expressing their shock at the lyrics
Creators flocked to TikTok to express their concern with “Grrrls” soon after it dropped. TikToker @itsabigaillea, for example, said words like the one she used are “so harmful, hurtful, and offensive to the disabled community
“I know this word is more casually and commonly used in the USA,” she added in a now-removed video. “But that doesn’t make it okay. It’s still a word to mock disabled people, especially those with cerebral palsy and those who have coordination issues.”
Jay Audrey, a creator who shares their experiences with chronic illness on TikTok where they have 27,000 followers, told Insider they were disappointed when they first heard the song.
“We’re all so accustomed to casually hearing language that hurts us,” they said. “So it stings when a celebrity you really admire perpetuates that.”
Creator JexxyP, who doesn’t use her real name online for privacy reasons, shares her experience living with chronic pain on her TikTok where she has 14,000 followers. She said her initial response was “shock” that the word had slipped past so many people along the song’s development “without someone noticing it could be problematic.”
“Lizzo’s entire ethos is about positivity and inclusion,” she said. “It seemed strange that that didn’t extend to the disabled community.”
Disabled creators welcomed Lizzo’s apology with open arms
But these feelings were short-lived. Within 48 hours of the flood of criticism, Lizzo apologized in a statement on Instagram, saying she had never wanted to promote derogatory language, and she understood the power words can have.
“As an influential artist I’m dedicated to being part of the change I’ve been waiting to see in the world,” she said in the statement, adding she would be removing the slur from the track and re-releasing it.
Disabled creators welcomed her apology with open arms, and many deleted their critical videos, replacing them with messages of thanks.
Kamran Mallick, the CEO of Disability Rights UK, told Insider that language has evolved over time. Certain words, such as the one in Lizzo’s song, may have been accepted 30 years ago but are no longer. When words that harm the disabled community turn up in popular culture, he said raising that point in a way that articulates why it’s wrong can have positive results.
“We always want to see people who use language in that way, and then if they are shown why it’s not acceptable, they learn and they change and they accept it and acknowledge that they were wrong,” he said. “And this was a good example.”
Audrey said they were “so proud and so happy” with Lizzo’s apology. They said a motto they try to live by is that the only apology that matters is changed behavior, and Lizzo “made herself the bar here” by taking the time to change the song as quickly as possible, without playing “the victim” at all . Audrey added they hope that kind of self-reflection will be the norm when public figures are called out in the future.
“To get there, we have to affirm and support and praise the people who set that example,” they said. “Shine the spotlight on what she’s doing right; that’s what matters.”
JexxyP said Lizzo is “blazing the way” and she hopes other artists and celebrities follow suit. Onlookers of the situation should be reminded that anyone can become disabled at any point in their lives, she said, because “people tend to forget that.”
“We live our lives being incredibly excluded from society whether it’s due to accessibility or just due to people’s opinions and views,” she said. “It was nice to feel really truly listened to.”