How Lizzo Turned A 2017 Song Into One Of 2019’s Biggest Hits
Despite being released nearly two years ago, Lizzo has made ‘Truth Hurts’ sound fresher than ever.
Lizzo has always been a force, but in 2019, she is everywhere.
Despite consistently making music that’s deeply personal, she has appeal to almost everyone. She gives no fucks about how omnipresent she is, because it’s never enough. And we don’t care either, because in our minds, Lizzo can do no wrong.
But why is it that — above all the songs she’s put out over the last 18 months — that her biggest song this year was a single from 2017?
Of course, we’re talking about ‘Truth Hurts’. Those simple, inescapable, opening piano notes have been sending clubs, house parties and festival crowds wild all year. The screaming exclamations of “YOU COULDA HAD A BAD BITCH” have been ringing in our collective ears for months.
Recently, nearly two years after its release, ‘Truth Hurts’ hit #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. You’d be hard-pressed to name another track that’s had a similar trajectory in recent years — and it all might have gone exactly to Lizzo’s plan.
Perhaps not exactly — we doubt she released the song with the intention of it charting two years later, but there’s no doubt that when Lizzo saw the spark, she grabbed the gasoline. That initial spark was the track’s role in the Netflix film, Someone Great. It’s a movie about music (kinda) that has an absolutely thumping soundtrack, but by far the most memorable scene is when Gina Rodriguez is aiding herself through a breakup by dancing and drinking along to Lizzo’s punchy vocals.
It helped contextualise and breathe new life into the song after Lizzo had already moved on to promoting her major label debut album Cuz I Love You. While Lizzo was promoting this album – which doesn’t feature ‘Truth Hurts’ by the way — the public decided it was going to be that song that they championed.
lol this is what happens when you play Lizzo at a jonas brothers show pic.twitter.com/s49u64BbNp
— KRYS 🗝 (@krystinajonas) August 13, 2019
How? Well, like another horse-riding genre-breaker, Lizzo can partly thank TikTok. Following the release of Someone Great and the buzz the film gave ‘Truth Hurts’, Gen Z latched on to the song’s punchy opening line — “I just took a DNA test/Turns out I’m 100 percent that bitch” — and they ran with it all the way into memehood. Suddenly, the song had been recontextualised again, now hitting that delicate balance between a hit and a meme — a tightrope walk Lizzo does often.
TikTok had already proven itself to be instrumental in determining the hits of 2019. ‘Old Town Road’ is one of the biggest songs of all time thanks to the app. It allows a faster sharing process than any other social media account, and — much like Vine — it is completely dominated by trends. Never one to miss an opportunity, Lizzo saw that her song has become a trend and immediately went with it.
Suddenly, she was simultaneously promoting Cuz I Love You as well as ‘Truth Hurts’. Fast forward to the BET awards, and Lizzo delivered what the You-Have-To-See-It moment of the year.
Standing atop a wedding cake by her damn self with the tiers flanked with dancers, Lizzo made the BET Awards hers. You may not have heard of any of her other songs, but you’ve all seen her play the flute and yell “Bitch!”, all while twerking. Rihanna, beaming from the crowd, initiated a standing ovation.
Lizzo understands Gen Z in a way that many of her peers do not. She understands how to move within the space, how to make herself heard. She fuses her outrageous talent with memes, and watches as her numbers skyrocket. She has bought into her own memehood — similar to artists like Charli XCX and The Veronicas — recognising that it has the power to drive relevance, streams, and success.
Whether it’s her ‘Bye Bitch!’ Instagram series or the now world-famous ‘flute-while-twerking’, Lizzo is making people laugh without compromising her talent. She’s not a laughing stock by any means, and the memes don’t take away from her work. If anything, they accelerate it, and she’s in complete control.
It’s not just memes of course: her promotion outside of internet culture is equally as pivotal to her success. Her run of talk show and award show performances continue to trend all across the Internet. First, it was her wonderfully joyous and soulful performance of ‘Juice’ on Ellen. Then she turned herself into a literal disco ball on Fallon.
Around the same time as Someone Great was released, she performed ‘Juice’ at an awards show for the first time. She took to the MTV Movie & TV Awards stage, with an incredible double whammy of choir and dancers, and gave us a Sister Act 2 inspired performance. It didn’t feel like a regular promo run — it seemed like she was keeping appearances fresh and new, a not dissimilar strategy to Lady Gaga’s ten years ago. Lizzo has kept going around her and her music, never letting it lull.
On top of all that, the quick gearshift between Cuz I Love You to ‘Truth Hurts’ is having a flow-over effect onto her other songs as well. ‘Juice’ ended up re-entering the Billboard Hot 100 after ‘Truth Hurts’ began to soar, and what’s crazier is that 2016’s ‘Good As Hell’ is now racking up serious numbers as well, currently sitting pretty on Spotify’s Global Top 50 and on the US iTunes charts. Additionally, her 2018 track ‘Boys’ is getting the TikTok treatment as well as it has started another huge trend on the social media platform.
It may not have been the song that Lizzo expected to give her household name status in 2019, but thanks to quick thinking and determination, Lizzo has made ‘Truth Hurts’ sound fresher than ever. She has become an anomaly in today’s volatile music industry, and frankly no one from here on in needs a DNA test to prove that she is, indeed, 100 percent that bitch.
Jackson Langford is a freelance music and culture writer from Newcastle. He is 100 percent that bitch. He tweets at @jacksonlangford.