A flute had never achieved any semblance of celebrity until last Wednesday, when a flute named Sasha Flute launched her very own Instagram page and promptly racked up 40,000 followers. During an AMA, she revealed the secret to her success: “My body is dipped in silver I came out the womb shining.”
Yes, Sasha Flute is an actual flute. Her partner in crime is the singer, rapper, and flautist Lizzo. Last week, Lizzo busted Sasha out for a solo during two performances of her new retro-funk bop “Juice,” the first on Ellen, the second the following night at a Los Angeles strip club called Crazy Girls.
The creation of Sasha’s IG profile arrives on the heels of a handful of viral, flute-centric posts that Lizzo has disseminated during the past few months. Not surprisingly, the uptick in flute content has coincided with a surge in Lizzo’s popularity. Last month, “Juice” became her first single to crack the Billboard charts, and she’ll play the first Coachella show of her career this spring. (Plus, her ass got a full two-page spread in this magazine.) If this uptick is at all calculated, it’s not cynical; she is simply giving people what they want. And what they want is more Sasha Flute.
Lizzo picked up the flute at age 10 and attended the University of Houston on a scholarship to study classical flute performance. On social media, she tends to use her flute skills as a comedic prop. She exchanged friendly salvos with Ron Burgundy, and she has a running joke in which she plays a galloping melody before crying out “Suck my dick!” with an operatic flourish.
Beyond those videos, her foray into flute content has dovetailed neatly with the recent trend of flute-driven hip-hop beats. Two years ago, her exquisite #MaskOffChallenge made it to the hallowed pages of the Shade Room. Last September, she simultaneously twerked and played A$AP Rocky’s “Praise the Lord” backstage in Seattle — a video that Rocky himself retweeted, to her delight. Her magnum opus, though, came in October during a performance at the University of Iowa homecoming concert; she flipped Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott’s “Big Shot” and then furiously hit the shoot in lockstep with her backup dancers, the Big Girls. That clip garnered over 5 million views on Twitter and inspired a viral dance challenge of its own, the #FluteAndShootChallenge. Though Sasha Flute makes occasional appearances on Lizzo’s recordings, she is a significantly more powerful tool when wielded within the overlapping spheres of social media and live performance.
The flute traditionally connotes themes like spring, nature, and innocence; for example, the flute represents a bird in “Peter and the Wolf.” Lizzo deliberately juxtaposes these connotations against her identity as a vivacious, profane, self-loving woman. But she operates less in the instrument’s musical lineage than in its cultural lineage. The modern flute Zeitgeist has more or less existed on an axis from band geeks, like Alyson Hannigan’s character in American Pie, and Villanova’s crying piccolo girl, to Ron Burgundy’s iconic attempt to seduce Veronica Corningstone with an impromptu jazz-flute performance in Anchorman. Lizzo fits in this framework — she is, after all, a music nerd, a sexual being, and a magnetic performer — but she also blows it up completely. She, Sasha, and their Big Flute Energy form the new center of the flute universe.
Thanks to Lizzo, we have entered a new epoch in flute history. What other popular singer or rapper can credibly play the flute, let alone fully integrate any wind instrument into their live set and public identity? Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and Moonchild’s Amber Navran come close, but Lizzo is peerless, a true original; the world has never seen anyone quite like her, or her trusty companion Sasha Flute, who is already en route to joining B.B. King’s Lucille, Prince’s Cloud, Bo Diddley’s rectangular Twang Machine, Dizzy Gillespie’s bent trumpet, and others in the pantheon of legendary instruments.