EW talked to key players helping push Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" up the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, BET Head of Programming Connie Orlando, and radio host Elvis Duran.
Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on Sept. 3, so we’re re-running this July feature that tracks how the rapper’s two-year-old song became a runaway chart hit.
Last week, the exuberant rapper, singer, and flutist Lizzo hit a new peak in her breakout year when one of her songs finally reached the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Strangely though, the track that went the distance wasn’t “Juice,” the funky first single off her third studio album Cuz I Love You. Nor was it “Tempo,” her dream-come-true body-positive banger featuring her icon Missy Elliott. It wasn’t even a song off the new record. Instead, it was “Truth Hurts,” a one-off single released all the way back in September 2017. The answer to how an almost-two-year-old track ended up a 2019 Song of the Summer candidate involves an app used for lip-syncing videos, a Netflix movie, a spate of entertaining performances, and, of course, one musician built for stardom.
In 2018, Lizzo was just beginning to figure out how to leverage viral fame. While attending BeautyCon NYC in April, she posted a video fully feeling herself after her hair was styled, not yet knowing the full potential of her “Bye Bitch” kicker. Twenty-four hours later, she had already caught on to the success of the clip, using “Bye Bitch” to reflect fans’ feelings about rapper Kanye West getting President Donald Trump to sign his MAGA hat. The same thing happened again in October 2018, when Lizzo posted a video captioned “have u ever seen a bitch play flute then hit the shoot?” The post showed her freestyling on the flute, and then hitting the viral “Shoot dance” popularized by rapper Blockboy JB, each movement punctuated by a visceral “Bitch.” The video became an instant classic, and within a week she released a single referencing the moment. Lizzo becoming a full-on internet meme queen would eventually play a key component in “Truth Hurts’” top 10 debut.
At the start of 2019, Lizzo was doing more press than ever, from magazine covers to a game-changing performance on The Ellen Show. The sudden influx of exposure is maybe the best explanation for how fans dipped back into her catalog to find “Truth Hurts.” Starting in February, the song made its way to the social media platform TikTok (most famous for turning “Old Town Road” into a worldwide smash) where it helped launch a challenge called the #DNAtest, a reference to Lizzo’s opening lyrics, “I just took a DNA test/ Turns out I’m 100 percent that bitch.” The way the meme works is a user would play that line of the song, cut it off at “that bitch,” and replace it with whatever audio conveys the identity they want to portray.
#DNATest would take around a month to pick up steam, but by April it was inescapable when opening the app, accumulating 162 million views.
Meanwhile, the Netflix film Someone Great — a comedy starring Gina Rodriguez as a successful millennial woman roaming the streets of New York City with her two best friends as a way to cope with her breakup — used “Truth Hurts” in a trailer in early March (the movie was released April 19). The song also shows up in a breakout scene, where Rodriguez’s drunken, pantsless character raps and dances through the depression of a recent breakup.
“There is no better song in my opinion when you just want to put your middle fingers out to the world — especially to men — and just dance in the kitchen without pants on,” the film’s writer/director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson tells EW.
Given that “Truth Hurts” is not only playing in Someone Great but has the characters singing along to it on camera, Lizzo and her label Atlantic Records enthusiastically signed off on Robinson using the track in the film. The director was also in agreement with Netflix about using it in the trailer. But that soon became a roadblock. “There was an issue with the splits and licensing, so what we were able to license for the movie actually didn’t translate over to the trailer,” says Robinson. “[So] we had to re-license it and we almost didn’t get the song [for the commercial].” But it all worked out in the end, with the film helping launch the song onto the Spotify charts. Netflix also posted the scene by itself on YouTube (the video currently has over a million views).
Once Spotify recognized the song, its popularity hit a whole new level. Lizzo became a staple of summer music festival season, which soon lead to nationally televised performances.
“I loved it from when we started talking to the label back in April/May,” BET Head of Programming Connie Orlando says of “Truth Hurts,” having booked Lizzo to perform the track at the 2019 BET Awards. “She does it all…. She’s about empowerment, she’s about inclusion, she’s about confidence, and those are things that we look for in artists.”
Though Lizzo brought the house down at the MTV Awards the week prior with a Sister Act 2-inspired performance of “Juice,” her BET Awards performance was on a higher scale. Kicking it off on top of a giant wedding cake, Lizzo pulled zero punches, bringing an energy strong enough to convince the audience to yell lines like “That’s ok, he already in my DMs,” back at her. But what pushed it past her “Juice” performance the week prior — and won over a crowd that included Rihanna, Tyler Perry, and T.I. — was her fiery flute solo.
“Everyone was on their feet,” notes Orlando, “It was incredible. One of my favorite performances of this year’s show and whatever BET can do to support her, we are here for it all.” While Orlando agrees Lizzo was a natural fit for the show, the performance was also a big affirming step for the performer who came up in a Minneapolis music scene still dominated by white men and was first placed in an alternative box opening for acts like Har Mar Superstar. “For a long time I didn’t want to be that big black girl with a soulful voice,” Lizzo told EW earlier this year. “That’s how we were tokenized — the big black girls were always the belters, and I’ve always been afraid of being put into that box. But you know what? I’m a big, fat black girl that can sing, and I can rap, and I can dance. I started to embrace how good I can finally sing, and now I’m celebrating that.”
“Truth Hurts” eventually entered the Hot 100 chart in May at No. 50, debuting 43 spots higher than “Juice” at its peak. Earlier this month, it reached No. 6 (it’s now sitting at No. 7) and this week it achieved the greatest airplay gainer of the week while entering the top 10 of Billboard’s Radio Songs chart. Veteran morning radio host Elvis Duran of Z100 told EW that “while I think ‘Juice’ was more of a pop-forward single, ‘Truth Hurts’ feels like more of a Lizzo song. Her humor on the track shines through and is now connecting with audiences almost three years after it was originally released.”
Robinson, Orlando, and Duran are all in agreement that, through her magnetic personality, humor, flute skills, and pure musical talent, Lizzo has a long musical career ahead of her. But with “Truth Hurts,” Robinson explains, “the song just needed the exposure.”
“It all kind of lined up [for the song],” she explains, between the TikTok phenomenon, its pivotal role in Someone Great, and the musician’s showstopping performances, “but it’s all funneled through her talent … None of it would exist without what is at the core of all of this, which is the fact that ‘Truth Hurts’ is an incredible song.”