Last year, the song “Truth Hurts,” by the R&B and pop singer Lizzo, was one of music’s most extraordinary success stories, a two-year-old track that became a No. 1 hit and established Lizzo as a bold and charismatic new star.
The authorship of “Truth Hurts” also became one of the industry’s most closely watched controversies, after Lizzo was accused by two songwriting brothers, Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, of taking her song’s signature boast — a wisecrack about the results of a DNA test, which itself came from a tweet — from another song they had written with her, and denying them credit.
Lizzo responded in October by suing the Raisens and another writer who said he was involved in the original track, saying their claims did not have “any merit,” and announcing that she would be granting writing credit and royalties to the woman behind the tweet that had started it all. By the time the Grammys came around — with Lizzo as a top contender — the controversy around the song was barely being talked about.
But on Friday, the Raisens filed a detailed counterclaim seeking credit and royalties on “Truth Hurts,” arguing that their work in a joint early songwriting session set the “DNA test” line to music. If not for the Raisens’ work as songwriters and producers in that session, they said in their complaint, “Lizzo would never have collected her Grammy Award,” for best pop solo performance on “Truth Hurts.”
The Raisens had raised many of their major arguments last year, on social media and in an interview with The New York Times, in which they described that songwriting session, from April 2017 — about five months before “Truth Hurts” was released. They posted audio clips comparing “Truth Hurts” with the original track they wrote with her, which was called “Healthy.”
But their countersuit, filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, has far more detail, including excerpts from what it says are Justin Raisen’s text exchanges with Lizzo and with her primary producer, Ricky Reed. According to screenshots submitted in the complaint, Reed reached out to Raisen when the song went to No. 1; seeming sympathetic to the Raisens’ claims, Reed said he wanted their dispute “resolved.”
A representative for Lizzo declined to comment. But in her suit last fall, she portrayed the Raisens and Yves Rothman, another writer who said he was denied credit on “Truth Hurts,” as having only “come out of the woodwork” once the song became a hit. “The men who now claim a piece of Truth Hurts,” she said on social media at the time, “did not help me write any part of the song.”
The case drew wide attention not only because it challenged the authorship of a smash hit — “Truth Hurts” was No. 1 for a total of seven weeks last year — but because it shined a light on the tense negotiations that often go on behind the scenes among artists, producers and writers to divide credit and royalties. Writers and their advocates often argue that while pop artists have many opportunities to exploit their fame, songwriters’ livelihood is almost entirely dependent on the percentages, or “splits,” that they get from contributing to hit songs.
Among the lawyers representing the Raisens is Lawrence Y. Iser, a noted copyright attorney who in 2010 represented David Byrne in a lawsuit against Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida, who had used a Talking Heads song without permission in a Senate campaign ad.
In a statement, Iser called Lizzo “a talented musician and performer who currently enjoys immense popularity based on a hit song that she did not write alone,” and said the case had larger ramifications for the music industry.
If the Raisens do not prevail in their effort to gain credit and royalties from “Truth Hurts,” Iser said, that “would make it impossible for working musicians to be confident that they will be properly credited for their work if they get into a studio and create songs with powerful artists.”