Grammy-nominated hitmaker Theron Thomas was an essential cog in the songwriting machine behind Lizzo’s About Damn Time, which was named Record Of The Year at the Grammys. It's also nominated at the BRITs on Saturday (February 11) in the International Song Of The Year category, while Lizzo is up for International Artist (she's also performing at the ceremony).
About Damn Time rocked the charts in the States and UK, and sparked a TikTok dance craze. Here, Theron Thomas reveals the secrets – and “Lizzo-isms” – that helped craft one of 2022’s most viral (and vital) singles…
WORDS: JAMES HANLEY
So, we had been working on [Lizzo’s fourth studio album] Special for three years when Ricky Reed called me to say, ‘Hey, we’re wrapping the album, but I feel like there’s one song missing and I really think we can nail it. I’ve got this beat – Lizzo likes the beat – I’m going to send it to you.’
I was in Atlanta and Lizzo was in the studio in LA. They came up with ideas and I came up with ideas and it took us, I want to say, two or three weeks to finish the song. I went back out to LA and we finished it there. Sometimes people do the most amazing things in crunch time and this is our NBA; this is our game and we were in the fourth quarter in the finals, you know what I’m saying? We were going to make the shot or miss the shot. And thank God we made the shot.
For Lizzo’s first album [2019’s major label debut Cuz I Love You] we did Juice, Tempo, Lingerie and Exactly How I Feel. I love Lizzo’s music because I’m like, ‘This is the only place that I can go to get this.’ I feel like she is having a conversation that no one else is having right now. But when we were making About Damn Time, I didn’t know that we were making About Damn Time! I didn’t know that, I’m not even going to pretend. Sometimes I know and sometimes I’m just like, ‘Yeah, I like this song, it’s going to be good.’ It was later on that I was like, ‘Oh, it was really good.’
The bassline is a Ricky Reed special. I think it was the first thing he had and it had that funky vibe. But if you listen to the beat, it had a tempo that was easy to rap over. That’s the thing about Lizzo, she’s going to be melodic, but she’s still going to hit you with a rap flow. At one point, the bridge was the hook and the hook was the bridge. Certain parts were cut out and it was hard, but I will tell you this, the song is super-fun and being a part of something that makes people happy is the type of brand that I want to build both for myself and my family.
I enjoy the way that Ricky Reed makes music because he makes it in sections. He might say, ‘Hey, Theron, I’ve got this cool guitar loop and I’m going to put drums to it and send it to you.’ I will send Ricky an idea that he won’t use, but he will be like, ‘Oh, man, that idea was crazy, it inspired me to do this – now take it up a level and try this.’ We’ll go through all these layers until we get to an About Damn Time or The Sign.
I work with a lot of people and I’ve never seen anybody work like Ricky. I enjoy working with him because I like to see how the song grows. No lie, sometimes I’m kind of like, ‘This shit is going to suck.’ And then I tell myself, ‘Theron, shut up – Ricky Reed knows what he’s doing [laughs].’
Lizzo was very strategic, lyrically. She knew the message that she wanted to convey with this record after lockdown and I think she did an incredible job. The second verse was all Lizzo and when I heard, ‘In a minute, I’ma need a sentimental man or woman to pump me up/Feeling fussy, walkin’ in my Balenci-ussy’s, tryna bring out the fabulous,’ I didn’t know what she was saying. I thought she was saying, ‘Tryna bring out the fat big bucks,’ and I was like, ‘Yo, that’s kinda fire, that’s such a powerful line.’ And then she said, ‘No Theron, I’m saying “fabulous.”’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s awesome too!’ It’s offbeat and I just find it to be extremely catchy and unique.
Everybody who works with Lizzo knows we call these things ‘Lizzo-isms’ and a song ain’t finished until we get them. Somebody might have a great idea but until Lizzo actually comes in and adds her Lizzo-isms – things that only she would say – you can’t finish the record. So, I’m glad that Lizzo-ism shone through because it’s definitely special. Seeing it grow on TikTok and everybody doing the dance and involving their families was a blessing. I don’t think there is anything more fulfilling than making something and watching masses of people enjoy it.
I think that second verse went viral because people are tired of the same old thing. It’s like, ‘I’ve seen the rotary phone, the touch phone, the cordless phone and the cellphone, what’s new?’ So I think in the future you’re going to see a lot of unusual moments being the reason why a song is big. We’re in a new world where people want to embrace something different and that was just a different thing to embrace.
We were working on the album for three years and I’d had other songs come out in the meantime, but Lizzo is my friend and her work is important to me. She stands for something and her image and representation in music needs to happen. My mindset the whole time I’m making music is, ‘Yo, something has to motherfucking work, let’s come out swinging.’ So my prayers were answered. She’s the shit, bro.
I won’t lie, I felt a lot of pressure because the first album came out three years ago and sometimes people get in your head a little bit and are like, ‘Yo, what is Lizzo doing? She needs to drop something – you guys need to hurry up.’ I’m just like, ‘I believe in this woman enough to spend three years of my life away from my wife and kids and focus on her,’ because I believed that About Damn Time was going to happen. And it was about damn time that it happened [laughs].