The American listening public, fickle and baffling and cruelly indifferent as we often are, has decided that Lizzo deserves to be a big star, but it turns out we had some baffling ideas as to when that would happen, and how. On Monday, the ebullient singer-rapper-flautist (and raunchy aerobics instructor, and bombastic life coach, and marching-band inspiration) scored her first no. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, knocking the tepid Shawn Mendes–Camila Cabello jam “Señorita” off its one-week perch and furthering the delightful chaos of the chart’s post–“Old Town Road” era. Yes, Lizzo got a no. 1 hit just two weeks after Billie Eilish did; the Hot 100 is fun again. And weird again too, given which Lizzo tune got there and hypothetically why.
Indeed, Lizzo’s infectiously brash “Truth Hurts,” which as of today is the biggest song in America, came out two years ago, in September 2017. It was added as a bonus track only in retrospect to her theoretical breakout album, April 2019’s Cuz I Love You, a very fun and empowering to the point of exhausting record that took several big swings, hit-single-wise, from the bouncy pop-R&B strut of “Juice” (which killed on Ellen) to the lurid Missy Elliott hookup “Tempo.” Both those tracks got big industry pushes, but “Juice” got no higher than no. 82, and “Tempo” didn’t make the Hot 100 at all. No, the American listening public wanted “Truth Hurts,” a piano-driven breakup anthem cut two years after her previous full-length, 2015’s low-profile Big Grrrl Small World, a modest tune seemingly not destined for greatness until—and this is the hypothetical part—Netflix made it so.
Did 30 seconds of Gina Rodriguez dancing in her underwear and unpacking a wine bottle get “Truth Hurts” to no. 1? The Netflix rom-com Someone Great—released on April 19, the same day as Cuz I Love You, and concerning, for your information, the wacky exploits of a music critic looking for love, because we are people too—heavily features the song both in the trailer and in, as we see above, the movie itself. It is possible, hypothetically, that that’s all it took. Thanks to the Netflix Industrial Complex’s hostile approach to public ratings data, we’ll likely never know how many people watched Someone Great, but it is safe to assume that the vast majority of those (hypothetical) millions of people were exposed to “Truth Hurts” for the first time, and in particular the outsized meme potential of the early line “I just took a DNA test / Turns out I’m 100 percent that bitch.” I apologize for doing this, but I have to do this.
"I just took a DNA test, turns out..."— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 21, 2019
And here we are. It was obvious, even back in April, that “Truth Hurts” was on a different, and much higher, trajectory than anything off Cuz I Love You, and back in July Billboard staffers already had many fine theories as to why. By then the song was huge on TikTok, just like “Old Town Road”; Lizzo killed with it in June at the 2019 BET Awards, bellowing about her DNA test in a wedding dress atop a giant wedding cake. That this song, specifically, would be her breakout hit is not exactly shocking, even if it’s not your personal favorite, or for that matter mine. (“Tempo” is rad, man.)
“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,” Billboard’s Andrew Unterberger noted of “Truth Hurts.” “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.”
It is possible that 24 hours from now, Netflix will officially take credit for this with one of its shady-ass precision data dumps revealing that Someone Great was streamed in full by, like, 6 billion people. We can argue about how, exactly, Lizzo made it here, but to her credit, she has accepted the fickle and baffling American listening public’s decision as to which songs of hers are actual hits.
Which is to say that she also killed last week at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, and killed with, notably, a medley of “Truth Hurts” and “Good As Hell,” arguably an even bigger and brighter and stickier mega-empowerment anthem that first appeared on her also low-profile 2016 EP Coconut Oil. You might have heard “Good As Hell” in a few non-Netflix 2018 movies, namely the splendid Blockers or the triumphant conclusion of Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty; you might’ve stumbled across it in one of 400,000-plus TikTok videos. It appears that Lizzo is here to stay. And it’s quite possible that thanks to us, her next big hit single might be even older than her first one.