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Lizzo and the Legend of the Crystal Flute

Lizzo is the least culpable of the parties involved in the recent crystal flute fiasco.

62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards - Press Room

Grammy Award-winning rap and pop artist Lizzo had a surprise guest appearance at her concert in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night. 

No, it wasn’t rappers Cardi B or Missy Elliot—it was President James Madison’s 200 year old crystal flute. Video from Tuesday night’s performance shows Lizzo, in a glittery, nude-colored bodysuit being handed the Founding Father's crystal flute. As soon as the flute hits Lizzo’s hands, her jaw drops. The dialogue is inaudible, but Lizzo clearly says "Wow" to the woman handing her the flute as the singer gingerly wrapped her hands around it and carried it across the stage.

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“B*tch, I’m scared,” Lizzo said into the microphone, clearly aware of the flute’s cultural and historical import. The crowd laughed. For a few seconds, the Grammy award-winning artist, who is also classically trained in the flute, twiddles with the instrument, moving her fingers with long, acrylic nails to the proper position. “It’s crystal, it's like playing out of a wine glass, b*tch, so be patient.”

A few seconds later, Lizzo plays her first note into the flute to raucous cheers. The beautiful sound of the flute even seems to catch the singer off guard, pulling her mouth away from the embouchure hole with a big smile before excitedly sticking her tongue out. When she returns to the flute, she plays another note with a trill, and begins to twerk. Lizzo then steps away from the microphone with a look of astonishment on her face, and lifts the crystal flute high above her head before walking it back to its caretakers.

“B*itch, I just twerked and played James Madison’s crystal flute from the 1800s,” Lizzo said as the crowd roared. “We just made history tonight. Thank you to the Library of Congress for preserving our history and making history freaking cool. History is freaking cool, you guys!”

The fiasco set right-wing Twitter ablaze. Lizzo’s music is vulgar, her outfit was obscene, and twerking motions beneath the dignity of one of Madison's most prized possessions. But Lizzo is the least culpable of the parties involved.

Tuesday night’s display was organized by the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden via Twitter. “The @librarycongress has the largest flute collection in the world with more than 1,800,” Hayeden tweeted. “It incl [sic] Pres James Madison’s 1813 crystal flute @lizzo we would love for you to come see it and even play a couple when you are in DC next week. Like your song they are ‘Good as hell.’”

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The tweet caught Lizzo’s attention. “IM [sic] COMING CARLA! AND IM [sic] PLAYIN THAT CRYSTAL FLUTE!!!!!” the 34-year-old pop star responded.

The liberals who control the far reaches of the administrative state and supposedly non-political entities like the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the Smithsonian Institute, are daring you to notice the insult they're leveling at one of our nation's founders. They’re picking a fight with you, and daring you to respond. I can’t help but feel for Lizzo for being used in such a cheap gimmick.

Tiffany Li, a professor at UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law, said the quiet part out loud in a Twitter thread. 

“Lizzo, a Black female superstar, collaborating with Carla Hayden, the first African American and first woman Librarian of Congress, to use a flute from James Madison, the Founding Father who originated the 3/5 Compromise and also the Library of Congress itself? The symbolism!!!” Li tweeted.

“For many reasons, this event would not have been what James Madison or many of his contemporaries would have wished for or expected from the future. But this is the future now. We can make the future what we want it to be—more vibrant, more just, more equitable, more free,” Li said in a follow-up tweet.

Li is right. This is exactly the game Hayden and the Library of Congress are trying to play. The supposed stewards of our national history are telling you, not so subtly, that when Madison, Washington, Hamilton, and the other Founding Fathers brought forth a new nation on this continent, a pop star playing James Madison’s crystal flute in a nude bodysuit while twerking is exactly what they had in mind.

Once upon a time, America celebrated presidents, diplomats, and philosophers—Madison was all three. “But this is the future now,” as Li reminds us. Madison is out, and Lizzo is in. And Hayden suggests that Lizzo’s performance Tuesday is a symbol of an America that is “more vibrant, more just, more equitable, more free.” To Hayden and those like her, America is not a particular place, founded by brilliant men and built atop venerable traditions. Instead, it is a byword for the latest designs of the liberal elite.

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