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Lizzo’s SNL Set Was Plucked Right Out of a Famous Annie Lee Painting

Lizzo on SNL 12/17/2022.

On December 17, 2022, Lizzo appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live for the second time this year (and ever). During her first appearance she was the host and musical guest, but this time it was all about the musical performance. But just because it was 50% less work doesn’t mean she half-assed anything. In fact, with the help of the SNL set designers, costume and makeup artists, Lizzo recreated one of the most recognizable paintings by a Black artist in the last 50 years: Annie Lee’s “Blue Monday.”

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There are little detail changes in the makeup, jewelry, and hairstyle, as well as the calendar showing December (the month of the performance) instead of June, but Lizzo’s performance of “Break Up Twice” and Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” is a clear homage to Lee’s work. Inspired by the decade-plus she spent waking up at 5AM to work in the railroad industry, “Blue Monday” is one of Lee’s only self-portraits. In this and many of her other works, Lee kept the faces of the subjects blank, making it easier for people to see themselves in these figures. In a 1997 Chicago Tribune profile, Lee stated, “I think my paintings connect me to women. I know that how I feel is the way a lot of women feel.”

Annie Lee's 'Blue Monday' painting showing a tired Black woman sitting on a bed. Image: Annie Lee.
(The Annie F. Lee Art Foundation)

In the ’90s, Lee’s artwork appeared on television shows like ER, A Different World, Thea, and more. The painting may have been created in the mid-1980s, but even beyond her 2014 passing, “Blue Monday” has continued to help people express their tiredness through memes. Whether in response to relationships, the news, or a new year, Millennials and older Zoomers have used Lee’s imagery in replies and status updates to convey the feeling of being mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted.

Beyond “Blue Monday,” Lee created several other famous paintings (like My Cup Runneth Over) and continued working with themes of Black women’s experiences in other mediums, too. In addition to her artistry, Lee was known for her humanitarian work and for raising funds to help younger artists attending HBCUs. While Lizzo is often seen in a glamorous light, she’s also very open and unapologetic about her struggles and insecurities. As an artist, this vulnerability (reflected in the choice to perform “Break Up Twice”) makes Lizzo more than worthy of being in conversation with Lee’s paintings and legacy.

Watch Lizzo’s full performance here:

(featured image: NBC)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.

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