Five Burning Questions: Billboard Staffers Discuss Lizzo's First Hot 100 Top 10 With 'Truth Hurts'

Luke Gilford
Lizzo

After nearly a decade of slowly building her fanbase and overall buzz over various mixtapes, albums, singles, syncs and TV appearances, Michigan-via-Texas singer-rapper Lizzo finally has her first true crossover hit. In its ninth week on the Billboard Hot 100, "Truth Hurts" jumps 11-6, marking her first top 10 hit on the chart. 

While the breakthrough is in many ways overdue, it's also somewhat unexpected, since it comes with a song that was first released in 2017 and not even included on the initial release of recent LP Cuz I Love You -- though following the song's viral explosion, it was added as a bonus track to the set's Deluxe edition. But was "Truth Hurts" the right song to give Lizzo her first pop smash? And now that she's here, will she stay a chart regular moving forward? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below. 

1. The journey to the Hot 100's top tier has been a long one for Lizzo and "Truth Hurts," including a whole lot of TikTok challenges, Netflix synchs and award show performances. At what point in the song's evolution from forgotten 2017 single to 2019 Billboard top 10 hit did you start to really believe in it as a legitimate pop smash?

Eric Frankenberg: It was already in the top 20 when this happened, but I’ll cite her BET Awards performance. Watching Rihanna, Tyler Perry, and the entire audience jump to their feet felt like the arrival of a major star with a major hit on her hands. As Lizzo’s cult fan base blooms into universal acclaim and the song’s airplay on the rise across multiple formats, “Truth Hurts” appears to be one of very few legitimate contenders to replace “Old Town Road” atop the Hot 100.

Bianca Gracie: I remember being a fan of the sassy "Truth Hurts" video when it first dropped, but I never thought the song was going to have legs this long! The TikTok challenge really sold it for me, just based on the platform's winning streak of taking unexpected songs to the top of the charts. (Looking at you, Lil Nas X.) This generation is really smart when it comes to grasping the wildest parts of a song and giving it a memeable voice, and the DNA line has "Twitter pop stan" written all over it. Once that took off on social media, I realized the song wasn't going anywhere for a while. It's surely going to crack through the top 5 of the Hot 100 soon!

Jason Lipshutz: I have not yet seen Someone Great on Netflix — apologies, Gina Rodriguez, Always Be My Maybe was ahead of it in my queue! — but I have seen the trailer for Someone Great, and the 15 seconds or so soundtracked by “Truth Hurts” feature Rodriguez and her pals singing, dancing and generally mining pure joy from “Truth Hurts.” It’s a breathtaking sequence, and although the subsequent memes and awards show performances helped solidify the song’s breakthrough potential, those 15 seconds represented the moment where something was clearly unlocked.

Andrew Unterberger: I'll also mention the BET Awards performance as the moment I was sold. Great award show performances have the ability to showcase and really crystalize a hit song at the peak of its momentum, and that's what Lizzo's high-energy, masterfully staged and choreographed performance at BET did for "Truth Hurts." Plus, no one ever became less of a star by performing at an awards show in a wedding dress from atop a gigantic cake

Christine Werthman: I am old and don't know about the TikTok memes, but I did hear about it being featured in the Netflix movie Someone Great, and saw the subsequent chart spike. I first heard this song in December 2017, a couple of months after she first released it. This was my introduction to Lizzo, and I was completely obsessed with it after that initial listen, so the attention this track is now getting is long overdue. This song might have started on the fringes, but it was always meant to go big.

2. Do you think "Truth Hurts" was the right song to finally put Lizzo over the top? Or would you have rather seen her cross over with a different one of her earlier singles? 

Eric Frankenberg: Yes. Quite simply, it’s her best single to date and her most direct expression of self. “Juice” and “Tempo” are great (and deserve to be top 10 follow-ups) but to my ears, both songs sound like they were Lizzo’s interpretations of songs designed to be hits on the radio and/or in the club. Whereas “Juice” calls back to “24K Magic” or even “Shake it Off,” “Truth Hurts” doesn’t sound like it had any intention other than Lizzo being 100% (that bitch) Lizzo. The song is the perfect distillation of her rapping, singing, humor, and ear for slightly unconventional hooks. It’s reminiscent of the late-in-the-game, unexpected success of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” following its bonus-track inclusion on Pink Friday. An undeniable track that ties together it’s undeniable superstar’s best instincts, opening the door for years of hits to come.

Bianca Gracie: As much as I love how brash and in-your-face "Truth Hurts" is (Why're men great 'til they gotta be great?" is one of the dopest chorus openers in recent memory), I really would've loved to have seen "Good as Hell" get all this shine. The track is the highlight from her 2016 Coconut Oil EP and while soundtracked on Barbershop: The Next Cut and A Bad Moms Christmas, the song felt more like a blip during its release that year instead of having a growing momentum. "Good as Hell" is the ultimate self-care anthem that is meant to uplift women at their lowest points, which is why I was surprised that it wasn't given enough of a pop boost.

Jason Lipshutz“Boys” and “Juice” are both giddy and inviting, while “Phone” and its accompanying music video remain top-notch, but it was always going to be “Truth Hurts.” The song perfectly bottles the slick humor and ebullient attitude of Lizzo; she becomes the wisecracking older sister you never had within the first minute (hell, by the end of the first line!). And the hook here is wordy but memorable — everybody knows and loves the Minnesota Vikings call-out by now. “Truth Hurts” didn’t follow a straight path to the top of the heap for Lizzo, but it’s her most accomplished single by far, and the one that correctly made her a star.

Andrew Unterberger: I'm more convinced about the worthiness of "Truth Hurts" now than I was a month ago, but color me still a little bit surprised that it was this song, and not either the pitch-perfect soundtrack single "Good as Hell" or the expert-level pop-funk banger "Juice," that first introduced her to the Top 40. This song feels to me like the hit that Lizzo has after crossover audiences are already well familiar with her and love everything she does, not the one that puts her in their hearts for the first time. But it just goes to show that you never know with pop music: sometimes the most obvious K.O. single in the world doesn't connect as well as the random single from two years ago that finally caught on with the right people at the right time. 

Christine Werthman: Absolutely. I was so happy when I saw that it was on the deluxe version of her debut album because it meant that more people would get to experience the track. I still think it's her best song.

3. Now that she's here, do you think Lizzo will be a fixture in the top 40 heading into the next decade? Or do you see her having more of a career more like recent collaborator Charli XCX, of having a devout pop fanbase and an occasional cameo on someone else's smash, but only one true crossover of her own?

Eric Frankenberg: Regrettably (and hopefully not for long), Charli never had the solo momentum on the charts that Lizzo has right now, despite two earth-shaking features. “Truth Hurts” has already passed the No. 8-peaking “Boom Clap” on the Hot 100 (with a significant bullet) and she’s quickly becoming 2019’s go-to artist for water-cooler TV performances. Plus, Cuz I Love You is showing impressive longevity in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, whereas Charli’s Sucker debuted at No. 28 and fell off the chart a couple months later. Most importantly, Lizzo’s album is loaded with a few more song that are (should be) primed to follow up “Truth Hurts.”

Bianca Gracie: 2019 is definitely Lizzo's year, but with so many artists coming in an out of the Top 40 it's hard to say if she'll remain a mainstream pop figure. I do think Charli XCX is the more suitable comparison of where I see Lizzo's career going: Her fanbase is growing into a niche one, similar to the likes of pop singers who don't get their dues (Charli, Carly Rae Jepsen, Zara Larsson, etc.) There's definitely nothing wrong with that. But once the novelty of "Truth Hurts" wears off, I think Lizzo's crossover spotlight will begin to dim just a little bit.

Jason Lipshutz: Lizzo’s personality as a pop artist is both unique and immediate -- as in, there are no other stars quite like her, and even though she only has one hit and one album thus far, it’s easy to get a sense of her identity and approach. Whether she’ll be a consistent hitmaker or a cult hero is difficult to say at this point, and depends more on the songs and projects she’ll release to follow up the success of “Truth Hurts.” But based on that core appeal, Door No. 3 -- one-hit wonder status, disappearing into obscurity after this stint in the mainstream -- doesn’t seem possible for Lizzo.

Andrew Unterberger: It's tough to say, mostly because the path of "Truth Hurts" to crossover glory was so unpredictable and unrepeatable -- which can prove pretty tricky for even the most talented pop artists to follow up. But Lizzo is certainly that talented, and she also has the drive to keep putting herself in as many positions to succeed as possile. I could see her not spawning another major hit off Cuz I Love You, or maybe even the album after that, but then having some completely unforeseeable smash five years from now that ends up outstripping even "Truth Hurts." 

Christine Werthman: I don't think anyone right now (beyond the big guns, like Drake, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, etc.) has the power to be a regular fixture in the top 40, because there's so much out there and tastes are constantly shifting. But I do think that Lizzo's got the chops to continue to shine with her own material, not just as a guest. I would put her closer to Charli XCX in terms of adventurousness with her music, but it's not like Charli XCX is that left-of-center or obscure anymore. She opened for Taylor Swift last year!

4. A lot of people have been rooting for Lizzo to succeed at this level for a pretty long time now. What do you see as the most important or encouraging part of her pop triumph? 

Eric Frankenberg: Lizzo is a champion of the alternative on the Hot 100, no matter how goddamn catchy her singles have consistently been. Following the turn-of-the-decade pop/EDM boom, Adele rolled in and opened the door for Gotye, fun. and Lorde to compete against Pitbull, Katy Perry, and Flo Rida. Similarly, alongside Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X, “Truth Hurts” has shown up at the exact right time, to broaden the scope (sonically, aesthetically, lyrically) of the pop and hip hop that has been dominating the Hot 100 for the last couple years.

Bianca Gracie: I love that Lizzo is the latest to break the mold of what it means to be a black female artist in 2019. When's the last time you saw a plus-size black woman be accepted (and also dominate) in the pop realm without being confined to the industry's stereotypical ideation that they should only stick to gospel, soul or traditional R&B? Lizzo seems to be aware of this, and it's great to see her fully embrace her curves without apologizing for it. She can pen a pop tune just as effortlessly as Top 40 competitors and has a bright personality that just sucks you in. Plus, anyone who can twerk while playing the flute at the same time is forever good with me!

Jason Lipshutz: Simply put, there are not enough plus-size pop stars — to watch any music awards show, peruse any YouTube playlist or gaze at any main stage of a music festival remains an exercise in seeing mainstream artists that exhibit similar physical features. Lizzo, thankfully, is here to upend those expectations: she proudly flaunts her beauty, never apologizes for her weight and refuses to tone down her sexuality to fit within whatever society deems her able to say and do. Regardless of how high “Truth Hurts” climbs on the Hot 100 or how long Lizzo’s star burns, her presence in pop already feels important, and a welcome inspiration.

Andrew Unterberger: I'm always just excited to have a rapper -- or a rocker, a country star, even a DJ -- who very obviously wants to be a pop star, and has the skill, the imagination and the ambition to actually make it happen. Lizzo is big, sure, but she also thinks big, performs big, dreams big. Top 40 can never have enough artists like that. 

Christine Werthman: That she is a woman of color who takes no prisoners with her wordplay and is celebrated for it in the pop world feels encouraging. I still cannot believe sometimes that a song that opens with the line "Why men great 'til they gotta be great?" is in the top 10. Just like, yes. Yesssssssss.

5. If you could choose any other 2017 pop song that should have been bigger than it was to give second life via memes and syncs, which would it be? 

Eric Frankenberg: While there are a lot of underrated pop (or almost pop) tracks from 2017 that deserve a second chance but regarding syncs, I’m day-dreaming about St. Vincent’s bittersweet ode to “New York” crushing me with all of the melancholic nostalgia of a pivotal montage, break-up, or loss of a hero and a friend. It’s further to the left than “Truth Hurts” (not to mention 2017 bangers by Carly Rae Jepsen or Kelela) but a marriage to the perfect scene or trailer could produce an undeniable emotional impact that sends St. Vincent to the Hot 100 for the first time.

Bianca Gracie: Tove Lo's "Disco Tits" from her third album Blue Lips was one of the more slept-on tracks from 2017, so I would be so psyched to see it get another chance. It's a sweaty, slightly drugged-up and erotic dance track that could live through all four seasons -- from underground clubs in the winter to summer rooftop parties. The deadpan lyric "I'm fully charged, nipples are hard/ Ready to go" would be hilarious as a meme, or even as a line that buzzed character spews in the middle of a Netflix dark comedy. And the video! It's a wonder how Tove Lo's naughty road trip with a freaking muppet failed to drive past the border of 2017. With how wacky the pop world as been lately, it's definitely time for the singer and her furry bae to make a resurgence.

Jason Lipshutz: Norwegian pop artist Sigrid has never had a Hot 100 hit, and while debut single “Don’t Kill My Vibe” became a moderate hit in Europe, a song as pristine as “Don’t Kill My Vibe” deserves a second, third and fourth chance at ubiquity. That hook! That bridge! That Scandinavian form of pop that will never not warm my heart! C’mon, Netflix -- let's make sure vibes are not killed in an upcoming rom-com trailer.

Andrew Unterberger: Give me a pivotal first-love relationship montage -- and then later, a callback with the song set to a heartbreaking breakup farewell -- set to Wolf Alice's impossibly lush alt-synth epic "Don't Delete the Kisses," please. Like, right now. Tomorrow at the absolute latest. 

Christine Werthman: Charli XCX's "3AM (Pull Up)" feat. MØ from Number 1 Angel. Should've been a hit!