The singer-songwriter getting a writing credit for Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” speaks out
Mina Lioness is finally getting credit for her viral tweet used in Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” — but it didn’t come without a trail of anguish, receipts, and help from an intellectual property lawyer.
At 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday in February 2017, singer-songwriter Mina Lioness was wide awake in North London, tweeting. Across the pond and hours behind, Demi Lovato had logged onto Twitter to share the results of her ancestry assessment from her now-deactivated account: “I did a DNA test and found out I'm mainly Spanish, with Native American, SCANDINAVIAN (which I had NO idea), Irish, BRITISH….” she tweeted, before following up with: “And I’m 1% African!!!!”
Lioness saw this and typed 12 words that would change her life forever: “I did a DNA test and found out I'm 100% that bitch.” The tweet went viral, which wasn’t abnormal for her at all. As she explains to me over the phone this past Saturday, that week alone four of her other tweets received heavy traction online, so she decided to mute it. Little did she know, her tweet would become one of the most iconic and recognizable song lyrics in Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” — a single that, as of writing, has held Billboard 100’s number one spot for a record-breaking seven weeks. An otherwise incredible achievement to add to Lioness’ resume, her contribution went uncredited for two years — until now.
Lizzo, who has been embroiled in accusations of plagiarism surrounding the composition of “Truth Hurts” for the past two weeks, wrote in a public Instagram post last Wednesday: “The creator of the tweet is who I am sharing my success with.” Over the phone, Lioness confirms to The FADER that she's spoken to Lizzo's camp and they're in talks of crediting her as an official songwriter for “Truth Hurts”: "I'm not officially as of yet, but it's in the process. I've just been told I'm allowed to say I'm a credited writer on "Truth Hurts" and whatever anybody wants to make of that, that's up to them, as far as I'm concerned."
After two years of trying to prove to the Twitterverse and the internet-at-large that she was the originator of the iconic line, Lioness is finally getting her rightfully deserved recognition, but it didn’t come without a trail of anguish, receipts, and help from intellectual property consultant and representative Ibrahim Ojaali. In her first interview, Lioness recounts the long road getting here, the difficulty of claiming intellectual property on Twitter, why it’s important to believe black women, and her plans to continue doing music in the future.
“Truth Hurts” was originally released in 2017. Did you first hear the line in the song then?
I had heard of Lizzo. I'd never heard any of the music before. One day after the tweet went really viral, [a conversation] on Twitter was talking about what comes up when you search your name. I don't know why my mind said to me, “Mina, just search this tweet.” I searched the tweet and when I saw it come up in a lyric on Genius, I was like, What? I read it and I thought, “Nah, this isn't real.” By then, the song itself hadn't actually blown up yet, so I just thought she was an indie artist.
You did all of this back in 2017?
Literally 2017. I remember she might have dropped "Truth Hurts" in September, and [a few months later] I remember I screenshot it, tweeted it, and I tagged her. But in 2017, the tweet [had] already been re-copied, reproduced, put on t-shirts, put on earrings, pins, hats, flags. I've completely lost control of this tweet. I've understood that. I have been on the internet for the last 10 years, I know what it is to go viral. Meanwhile, I'm seeing Peaches. Peaches is now doing a GoFundMe for $100K because of “fleek.” I would log on to my Tumblr, and I would see my face in the screenshot. I would go on Instagram and some people would do the captions and tag me in them. I used to watch the tweet, and it's like, You're the reason why this tweet exists. This is a new internet sensation and you're just some regular, degular, schmegular girl from London. My first thought was that if I say it's actually me who started all of this, not a single person on this earth would believe me.
You and Lizzo had that exchange in February 2018 and you basically said, “This is my content, my intellectual property and I'm still here left without the credit.” What was the experience of seeing her, at the time, outright denying it?
When she responded, I immediately had a panic attack. Immediately. Cause whenever you see a verified account in your mentions, it's not what they say, it's who they bring with them. I immediately knew all of her fans [were] gonna come and sit in my mentions for hours. I remember thinking to myself, “What you say now could either be the start of something or the end or something. Whatever you say to this woman is either gonna make or break this situation.”
I can’t lie. I was angry. I was so angry because it's [a meme] that I'm now starting to see Andy Cohen using on Watch What Happens Live. I'm starting to see actors and actresses [use it], even Tamar Braxton was like, “That line is hot.” This line is actually doing things and everybody's going to attribute it to one person that is not you.
I used to tweet about it quite a lot. I would tweet about how I don't know what to do, I don't think I even have rights [to] this. I'm here thinking everything is public domain, Twitter is a public domain, I don't even own this tweet. When somebody would bring to my attention that another celebrity or big figure [had] used this tweet, it'd be like ripping off the bandaid every time.
“When somebody would bring to my attention that another celebrity or big figure [had] used this tweet, it’d be like ripping off the bandaid every time.” —Mina Lioness
Everybody's knee-jerk response is always, “Why don't you just get a lawyer?”
Right, because you have to have money to sue people. You can't just be taking people to court off of pennies. Everyone's like,You didn't copyright it. You have a viral tweet. Have you copyrighted your viral tweet? Have you taken your tweet to your national government's database of copyrights and said, “Let me copyright that in case somebody steals it?” No. It's not a first thought to copyright a viral tweet.
In June, Lizzo began filing for the trademark so she could sell merch, but everything became a topic of conversation again recently when two songwriters, Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, made additional plagiarism allegations. Have the Raisens contacted you at all?
Most of their reaching out has been tagging me [on Instagram]. I had a private conversation with one of the brothers, but it wasn't more than two minutes. He just explained the exact same story that he made in the statement and then he said, “Thank you for creating the meme.” I said, “You are welcome,” and that was the end of that conversation.
People need to understand that at one point, I said to myself, “Whatever happens in the future happens.” I had already made peace with the fact that like, Alright, you created this viral content on the internet, and people are not necessarily gonna know it's you. They're going to attribute it to Lizzo, and you know that you're the one who made it. Other people, who are your mutuals, know that you made it. So just make peace with it because you can't let it destroy you. Sitting here in constant outrage is not good for your mental health.
The VMAs always fall on the day before, day after or day of my birthday, and she performed that song [this year]. I got maybe 50 mentions of, “Mina, please you gotta do something about it. You gotta fight for this. It's not fair!” The knee-jerk reaction is that I can't believe how long this tweet has been out and still, nobody from her team has spoken, messaged me, asked for confirmation, nothing. I just found it so bizarre that nobody had reached out and that's what started that thread. It wasn't me demanding that somebody speak to me, it was my shock that nobody actually had.
So I guess she reached out after that thread?
I can't remember what her name is — she has a huge Twitter platform — [somebody] quote tweeted one of my tweets and said you should get an intellectual property lawyer because tweets are not used for public. You own your tweets. And that's [when] the media began accusing [Lizzo] of plagiarism. This is all happening on my birthday. One thing I always did say is that I hated the tone in which the media spoke about Lizzo. [It] was so ugly. This is basically being caused by something I've said on the internet, and I never want to be responsible for the dogpiling of another Black woman. Part of me just felt like, Is this what you want to be known for? And then when I come to find out it was another writer that actually [showed Lizzo] the tweet and told her to put the tweet in the song, now [Lizzo’s] having to hold the blame for something she probably didn't even directly know.
“I was literally in the car holding the steering wheel, shaken, because I know that my next step with music has to now outdo a tweet that Hillary Clinton quoted.” —Mina Lioness
Given her most recent Instagram post, and her acknowledging that you are the person that she'll be celebrating the success with, it seems she’s reckoning with that.
Absolutely. All communications I've had with her team have been pleasant. The things I've been told that she has said about me have just been endearing. I was never, ever made to feel uncomfortable in the situation, even after me going on the internet like, “I can't believe they haven't spoken to me,” they made all communications as comfortable as possible.
Throughout the years I’ve been following you, you’ve released a few tracks. Are those all songs that you've written by yourself?
From scratch. I've released a mini EP and it was basically me ripping beats off of YouTube, getting my iPhone headphones, locking myself in the bathroom, recording in GarageBand, mixing it myself, listening back to it, having people listen to it, tell me what they like and what they don't like. It was all me.
Me and my friend Jam, we're gonna release a joint project together, NEVERTHESAME, and then my own future project is called God Save the Gyal Dem. That's going to be a musical anthology of the daily life of a black woman in London, just doing her thing.
What do you want people to take from this?
My biggest takeaway from this whole situation is just believe black women, believe them when they show you something, when they give you something, because this content is so invaluable. We always have to take it to another level to even be given a percentage of acknowledgement. This morning, I was literally in the car holding the steering wheel, shaken, because I know that my next step with music has to now outdo a tweet that Hillary Clinton quoted. I have to give a project that surpasses that and meets those expectations.