An Analysis of Lizzo’s TedTalk about Twerking

This topic and format is a little bit different than the content I usually put out, but I wrote this analysis on a TedTalk of Lizzo in my public speaking class last semester and wanted to give it a place to live (beyond the confines of my google drive) because I actually found it very interesting to write and I learned a lot about the true cultural implications of twerking! I also think it can serve as an informational post about key ideas of public speaking. P.S. This paper has been edited a bit from it’s OG version.  Enjoy! 

In the TedTalk, The Black history of twerking — and how it taught me self-love, black pop-singer, rapper and flutist Lizzo charismatically discussed twerking for 12 minutes and 6 seconds in August of 2021-  The thesis of Lizzo’s speech was that twerking brings empowerment and that it is a sacred practice unique to the black experience, including herself, and no one can tell her otherwise. Lizzo’s speech contained three main points: In her first point, Lizzo brings to light her own experience with twerking and focuses on how it brought her empowerment in a body she once felt insecure about. Her second point discusses the history of twerking with it’s origins in Africa and how it eventually got brought over to America on the trans-atlantic slave trade. Lizzo’s third and final point is the affirmation that black people will not be erased from twerking even as it goes mainstream in society- she speaks confidently about not allowing pop-culture to appropriate this black creation. Lizzo discusses how as twerking grew more mainstream and was introduced in media, it was described as disgusting and as a means to sexualize young women when in her point of view, it is an integral component of black culture and something to be proud and expressive of; Lizzo tries to prove this throughout the duration of her speech. Lizzo’s main attention getting device is her inflection and the passion and attitude she pours into her words when delivering her speech- this enthusiasm for the topic makes her speech very engaging. She also does demonstrations to grab the attention of her audience like dancing and singing. Lizzo concludes with a call to action by encouraging her audience to be optimistic and, of course, to twerk with her. Lizzo even goes as far as to get off the stage and dance with her adoring crowd. The speaker’s visible glee and the gratitude she expresses demonstrates her enthusiasm for the speech and further engages her with her audience. With this action, I believe Lizzo is encouraging her audience to embrace the practice of twerking and show that it is a dance for everyone even with its origins stemming from black women.

In her speech, Lizzo tries to change the beliefs of her audience to view twerking as a sacred cultural practice rather than a trashy mainstream dance. She also makes her frustration with twerking being oversexualized by present society known and urges her audience to view it in a different light, thus using her speech to change the hostile or unjust attitude that her viewers may hold towards twerking. Lizzo contends that pop culture was introduced to twerking and immediately berated it as being disgusting and disturbing, taking its original meaning and quickly usurping it to be something else; Lizzo speaks about this because she wants to change the beliefs of society so they may see twerking for all that it truly is. Lizzo’s speech was a proposition of value about twerking and this is made clear through her recollection of the history of twerking and how it’s grown throughout society in a way to show it’s worth to her culture. 

Lizzo’s speech actuates in that she is motivating her audience to remember the history of twerking and to get involved in the dance as well. Her persuasive function is abundantly clear at the end of her speech when, as I mentioned before, Lizzo encourages the crowd to twerk with her which further demonstrates her function being to actuate because she is motivating her audience to do something. 

Lizzo did a great job utilizing all three components of the rhetorical triangle in her speech. She includes ethos when she is talking about how twerking is a part of her culture and even tells personal stories about her experience with the dance thus establishing her credibility and authority to speak on the topic. Lizzo also incorporates logos in her speech by using historical facts to support her points, such as that twerking is parallel to the West African dance Mapouka and that it was used as a celebration of joy and religious worship. Lizzo gave a detailed history of how twerking metamorphosed to the cultural phenomenon that it is today. Lastly, she utilizes pathos in her speech with the sheer emotion and inflection in her words as it is apparent that Lizzo is trying to sway her audience emotionally with her engagement in the topic.

Lizzo states her claim that twerking is an integral component of black culture at the beginning of her speech and contends that it is empowering and important through a recollection of personal and historical stories to support that and thus utilizes the direct methods organizational pattern. 

I adamantly believe that Lizzo’s analysis of her audience was effective. Since Lizzo is a public figure and fairly well known, it is to be assumed that the majority of the audience are fans of hers which made them a receptive audience in that she probably could have said anything and they would have been supportive of the proposition. This was easy to analyze based on the audio of the crowd reacting happily and supportively and the audience’s pleased expressions when the producers panned the camera to them. Another instance where Lizzo’s celebrity presence influences her speech is her utilization of the bandwagon fallacy in that because she is a public figure and has a large fan base the audience is quicker to support her ideas. According to Sarah Stone Watt and Joshua Trey Barnett in their chapter Persuasive Speaking, a persuasive speech sets out to, “…influence people to think or behave in a particular way.” (Watt and Barnett). When you look at it this way, Lizzo’s speech was undoubtedly persuasive. 

As far as delivery goes, I think Lizzo did a great job presenting her speech, staying engaged with the audience and being enthusiastic. I liked how she paused after saying particularly powerful statements, this allowed her words to really sink in with her audience. Her joy and enthusiasm for giving her speech to the audience was notable and refreshing. As for the content of the speech, I really loved everything that she was saying. I think her speech made a lot of sense structurally by first stating her claim then going into her personal background, giving historical facts and concluding with some motivation and a call to action. Lizzo turned what initially seemed to be a quirky topic into a topic of social justice and culture and I loved the way that she made this happen through her speech. 

With this speech, Lizzo has successfully reclaimed twerking as being a massively cultural and historic practice close to her heart and I am so glad that she took the time to share her insight on this topic.

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