“Truth Hurts” and its empowering message recently came under scrutiny after a pair of songwriting brothers claimed they deserve to be credited as writers on the chart-topping track. The line at the center of their complaint is, at this point, virtually synonymous with Lizzo, who reportedly filed to trademark the phrase and already features it on T-shirts sold on her website: “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100 percent that b----.”
In her tweet, Lizzo reiterated that she came across the phrase in a meme, acknowledging that she saw it “in 2017, while working on a demo” — presumably the unreleased track at the center of the dispute. As outlined in a New York Times article last week, songwriters Justin and Jeremiah Raisen argue that they should have received writing credits on “Truth Hurts” because a variation of its signature line first appeared in “Healthy,” a demo they worked on with Lizzo and two other songwriters in an April 2017 studio session.
“I saw a meme that resonated with me, a meme that made me feel like 100% that b----,” Lizzo wrote. “I sang that line in the demo and I later used the line in Truth Hurts.”
From there, her story and that of the Raisen brothers diverge. The brothers have argued that Lizzo’s delivery of the line in question is virtually the same in “Truth Hurts” as it is in “Healthy.” But Lizzo strongly rejected that claim, tweeting: “The men who now claim a piece of Truth Hurts did not help me write any part of the song. They had nothing to do with the line or how I chose to sing it.”
As reported by the Associated Press, Lizzo’s lawyer, Cynthia S. Arato, announced Wednesday that a lawsuit filed in federal court in California seeks to establish that the Raisens and Justin “Yves” Rothman, another songwriter present for the “Healthy” session, have no claim to “Truth Hurts.” Per the AP, the lawsuit echoes the statement Arato gave last week to the Times, in which she told the paper that the Raisens had “renounced any claim to the work, in writing, months ago.” Arato did not respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.
However, Lizzo did note in her tweet Wednesday that she was “sharing my success” with the presumed creator of the meme in question, British singer Mina Lioness, who tweeted “I did a DNA test and found out I’m 100% that b----” in February 2017 and had publicly called Lizzo out for co-opting the line. Lioness seemed to react to Lizzo’s new tweet with a spin on her own viral quip: “I just took a DNA Test, turns out I’m a credited writer for the number one song on Billboard.”
Songwriting disputes have a long legacy and can be notoriously fraught — as shown by recent high-profile copyright cases involving Robin Thicke’s controversial megahit “Blurred Lines” and Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse.” The dispute over “Truth Hurts” is somewhat unusual, at least to industry outsiders, because it alleges that “Truth Hurts” borrowed from an unreleased song. And then there’s the debate around the origins of the “DNA test” lyric, which some have said walks the line between inspiration and plagiarism.
In an interview last week with The Washington Post, veteran songwriter Justin Raisen said he never “knowingly signed away my rights or claims” but believes the statement from Arato refers to exasperated emails he and his brother sent after months of unsuccessful appeals to Lizzo’s team and producer Ricky Reed, who signed the singer to his Atlantic Records imprint, Nice Life, in 2016. On Instagram, the brothers noted they had “tried to sort this out quietly for the last two years,” beginning in September 2017 when Justin Raisen observed, in an email to his management company, that “you can literally sing ‘Healthy’ over the entirety of ‘Truth Hurts.’ ” In January 2018, long before “Truth Hurts” entered the Hot 100, the Raisens’ publisher put the song in dispute — essentially stalling the profits for its credited songwriters.
During the April writing session, Justin Raisen recalled, Lizzo landed on a beat produced by Jeremiah called “Healthy.” The songwriters took to the Internet, absent-mindedly scrolling through memes about health and wellness. One stumbled across a phrase that Jeremiah Raisen insisted would be perfect for the track.
The Raisens’ recent Instagram posts invite social media users to be the judge, juxtaposing the “DNA test” line in the “Truth Hurts” single with the line as Lizzo belted it on the “Healthy” demo: “I just did a DNA test, turns out I’m 100 percent that b----.” The final frame of the video plays both song snippets simultaneously.
View this post on Instagram
The Truth about “Truth Hurts” On April 11th, 2017, we wrote a song called “Healthy” w/ Lizzo, Jesse St John, and Yves Rothman at our studio. “I just took a DNA test turns out I’m 100% that bitch” was taken from “Healthy” and used in “Truth Hurts”. We were never contacted about being credited for the use of the parts of “Healthy” (melody, lyrics, and chords) that appear in “Truth Hurts”. After reaching out to Ricky Reed and Lizzo’s team about fixing it, we put the song in dispute in 2017 when it came out. We’ve tried to sort this out quietly for the last two years, only asking for 5% each but were shutdown every time. Coming forward publicly to family, friends, artists, and colleagues seems to be the only way at this point in relieving some of our emotional distress caused by this. The last thing we want to do is throw any negativity toward Lizzo’s momentum and movement as a cultural figure. If we believe in what she’s preaching, believing in ourselves & our own voices is something we thought she’d understand. Shout out to the singer Mina Lioness ( @minalioness ) for tweeting “I just did a DNA test turns out I’m 100% that bitch”. A meme of that came up in our writing session & inspired the lyric and melody we wrote together. If Ricky and Lizzo’s team decide to settle this dispute with us, we would like to share some of the proceeds with Mina for her influence on Healthy. The clip below shows a video & photos from the day we wrote “Healthy” along with the comparisons between the two works. All the Love, Justin & Jeremiah Raisen #lizzo #truthhurts #healthy #billboard
The “DNA test” line added an extra layer to the drama. Tweets are entitled to copyright protection “to the extent that what’s being tweeted constitutes an original work of authorship,” said Lisa Alter, a copyright lawyer not involved in the Lizzo dispute. But proving copyright infringement could be tough on a platform where users are often inclined to make the same jokes. Even if an expert found the tweet to be an original work, an artist could rely on a fair use defense, which can get complicated. “The courts are all over the place in evaluating” such cases, Alter said.
If the Raisens had merely suggested using the “DNA test” line they had seen in a meme, they probably would not have a copyright infringement case, Alter said, noting “an idea itself is not copyright.” But the Raisens say their contribution went beyond that, and hired a musicologist to attest as much in a recent report that said “Truth Hurts” borrowed both lyrical and melodic elements from “Healthy.”
“The duplication of these distinctive elements in ‘Truth’ makes it difficult to argue that these similarities are the result of coincidence or that ‘Truth’ was independently created and did not copy these elements from ‘Healthy,' ” the report stated, ultimately concluding that "‘Truth Hurts’ would not exist in its present form without the existence of and the borrowing from ‘Healthy.’ ”
Justin Raisen, who called Lizzo “one of the most talented people” he has ever worked with, said it’s in that spirit that he, his brother and Rothman — all recruited to collaborate with Lizzo — should be credited on “Truth Hurts;” he and his brother have each asked for 5 percent of the songwriting royalties. In addition to the meme-inspired lyric, the song’s “melody was written over the beat that we came up with,” Justin Raisen said.
A similar — though less detailed — claim surfaced earlier this year when Ariana Grande released “Thank U, Next,” the album she recorded following her very public split with “Saturday Night Live” comic Pete Davidson and the sudden death of rapper Mac Miller, her ex-boyfriend. She has recounted how a group of girlfriends — including several songwriters — rallied around her in the studio, leading to the Tiffany’s shopping trip that inspired “7 Rings.”
As eagle-eyed fans noted the morning of the album’s release, one “7 Rings” writer and ring recipient, Kimberly “Kaydence” Krysiuk, implied on Instagram that she should have received writing credits for additional songs. In a snappy, thinly veiled response, Victoria Monét, one of Grande’s closest collaborators, wondered if the singer’s dogs should also receive writing credits because “they were in the room too.”
It’s a dilemma that bands have long grappled with: What constitutes songwriting? And what passes for meaningful collaboration in a room full of people bringing different talents and skills to the table in the hope that they produce a song that resonates?
Not surprisingly, Alter recommends songwriters sign a contract to make terms clear. But she said it rarely happens.
“It’s not a thing that songwriters who collaborate like to do because they’re all good buddies,” Alter said. “Every time we talk to young songwriters we say, ‘If you want to stay good friends, then you better write this down, because otherwise it could become an issue.’ And there goes everything."
An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Lizzo's producer, Ricky Reed, was at the writing session that produced "Healthy." The article has been updated.