Lizzo Faces Countersuit for Denying Songwriters a Share of "Truth Hurts"

Grammys 2020 - Lizzo accepts the Best Pop Solo Performance award for 'Truth Hurts' - Getty - H 2020
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Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" was undoubtedly one of the biggest critical and commercial successes of the past year. But according to counterclaims filed on Friday in California federal court, she and her credited producer are not 100 percent the sole songwriters of the hit. Moreover, Justin Raisen, Jeremiah Raisen and Justin “Yves” Rothman allege that she would never have collected her Grammy Award but for their songwriting and producing contributions.

Melissa Jefferson, known professionally as Lizzo, filed her preemptive strike back in October. In a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Raisens and Rothman have no ownership rights in the hit song, she tells a story how they "came out of the wordwork" once the song achieved massive popularity. She doesn't dispute being at a writing session at Justin Raisen’s Los Angeles studio in April 2017, but insists the trio did not write any part of "Truth Hurts."

In counterclaims, the Raisens and Rothman present an alternative tale, and backed by attorneys of some notoriety, they detail text messages, photographs, emails and sheet music to support the proposition that "Truth Hurts" derived from joint work.

In Lizzo's suit, she attempts to minimize their claims by largely portraying the dispute as one over a now-famous line of the song: "I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch."

Notably, the Raisens — who have produced works by artists including Charli XCX, Kim Gordon and Sky Ferreira — hardly contend being the original author of that line. 

"While the group (Justin, Jeremiah, Yves, [Jesse] Saint John [Geller] and Lizzo) were collaborating on the lyrics and searching the internet for inspiration, Saint John showed the group an internet meme that read, 'I did a DNA test and found out I’m 100% that bitch,'" states the counterclaim. "Jeremiah enthusiastically suggested they add this line to the song."

At the time, continues the Raisens' court papers, the work was known as "Healthy" as Jeremiah wanted a song about health, sobriety and wellness.

"At the end of the five-hour session, Justin, Jeremiah, Yves, Saint John and Lizzo had each contributed inseparable and interdependent non-trivial amounts of creative, original and intellectual expression to create 'Healthy' and a second song 'Gorgeous,' with the intent that their creative contributions be combined," alleges the counterclaims.

The participants at that recording session were enthusiastic about the results. In a text a day after the session, Lizzo wrote, "Whoooo these r bomb! Gonna send notes asap!"

Upon requests by Ricky Reed, who has been officially credited as the producer for "Truth Hurts," Lizzo returned for another session a few days later and worked on a revised version, according to the court papers..

A push was made to get "Healthy" on an EP, but those efforts proved unsuccessful.

Then, in September 2017, Lizzo released "Truth Hurts."  Although he wasn't credited, Justin says he received congratulations from people who had previously heard "Healthy." Ross Donadio, his manager, subsequently reached out Lizzo's team. Was it just the "100% that bitch" line? "Yes it's the line and also some of the chord progressions, melody in the verse part and rhythmic cadence from 'Healthy' demo," wrote Donadio.

The Raisens say that Lizzo's team largely ignored them, and that led to follow-up emails and eventually culminated in the Raisens registering themselves as songwriters on "Truth Hurts" with ASCAP, which administers the licensing of song performance rights. More discussions ensued, but no resolution. According to Lizzo, the Raisens were demanding an "exorbitant" 20 percent share of the song.

"On March 26, 2019, Lizzo and Justin spoke on the phone," states the cross-complaint. "During the March 26, 2019 phone call, Lizzo admitted to Justin that elements of 'Truth Hurts' never would have been created without 'Healthy,' and admitted that Reed suggested to her that they take elements from 'Healthy' for 'Truth Hurts,' including the '100%' lyric and melody. However, Lizzo also told Justin that she did not want to share any percentage of 'Truth Hurts' with the Raisens. In fact, Lizzo used the call as an opportunity to intimidate Justin into stalling his efforts to pursue the Raisens’ claims. Lizzo warned Justin to be wary of continuing to seek a percentage of 'Truth Hurts,' because, 'you know ... I’m not trying to have problems with you if you know what I’m saying ... like I could be in a room with someone tomorrow that knows you ... you know what I’m saying?'”

In her own complaint, Lizzo points to a phone conversation between the two a few days later on April 2.

"During that call, Justin Raisen acknowledged that neither he nor his brother had anything to do with the material through which they had claimed their purported share," states Lizzo's lawsuit. "That same day, after Justin Raisen made his concession, the Raisens’ manager contacted Lizzo’s lawyer and told her that the Raisens were no longer making any claim to 'Truth Hurts.'”

Lizzo says that after the Raisens "relinquished" their claim, Netflix licensed the song for Someone Great. In contrast, the Raisens allege that Lizzo had already entered into a licensing agreement with Netflix by the time of the March 26 call.

Highlighting the deep divide between the parties about what factually happened, the Raisens' court papers add, "The March 26, 2019 call between Lizzo and Justin did not resolve their dispute, and they have not spoken since."

The counterclaims also spend ink on a musicology report that concludes that "Truth contains some strikingly similar lyric and musical elements to those in Healthy," with both songs alleged to have identical structures, Lizzo vamping in the beginning, a piano sound as the underlying instrumental theme, a melody line of a "repeating quarter note intervals of a major sixth," a breakdown to a capella vocals at the bridge, etc. And, of course, there's that famous song lyric.

The Raisens and Rothman are being represented by Lawrence Iser, Shawn Holley and Allen Secretov at Kinsella Weitzman. In the past, Iser has represented artists including Jackson Browne and David Byrne while Holley was once a member of O.J. Simpson's "Dream Team" and has also counseled Kim Kardashian, Snoop Dogg and Lindsay Lohan.

In a statement upon filing, Iser says, "Lizzo is a talented musician and performer who currently enjoys immense popularity based on a hit song that she did not write ... When the case proceeds to trial, we look forward to sharing the sound recordings, videos, photographs and musicology that 100% prove that collaboration. Our clients deserve their fair share of the recognition and revenue that comes from collaborating on a hit song. From the standpoint of the industry as a whole, a contrary result 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."