When is a hit song more than just a bragging rights with royalties? For Ricky Reed, it was when creating the retro-funk banger “Juice” with Lizzo reminded him why he got into the music biz in the first place.
“My proudest moment was at the end of the day we wrote the song — we were on cloud nine,” he recalls. “It was one of those days where you know you have a big song and everybody’s bouncing off the walls. You know: ‘Let’s have drinks!’” But his co-writers weren’t ready to celebrate just yet: “Lizzo and Theron Thomas were like: ‘Let’s get some backup on this.’ Then Lizzo called all her girls and everybody who was available came to the studio, jumped in the booth and learned the backup part in a matter of minutes. And the moment when I looked up from the control room and saw all of them dancing in the booth, singing the song, I was like: ‘This is it!’ Not ‘This is it — it’s a hit,’ but like: ‘This is why I write and produce pop music. This feeling.’”
It was some time in coming: Reed started working on “Juice” back in 2016. “I was in a different studio with an old guitar kind of channeling that great mid-’80s funk vibe,” he says. “I was just making beats and instrumentals and one of them was the basic guitar-bass-drum loop that would become ‘Juice.’” Flash forward to December of last year when Reed finally found a use for it. “Essentially the now-infamous quote from Lizzo is, ‘Ricky, play me something undeniable,’ as she put it,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh, that guitar-bass idea from three years ago that I haven’t thought about in months? This is that thing for right now.’ And it clicked.”
In other words, it resonated with Lizzo. Sam Sumser and Sean Small also contributed to “Juice,” but Reed is quick to give all the credit to the singer’s infectious vibe. “There’s a lot of that pure, 100% Lizzo feeling in the song,” he says. “We were trying to continue with those stories of self-love and everything, but that day there was a desire to have it feel more raw than we had done before.”
Consequently, their anthem of empowerment almost ended up as an ode to booze. “I remember as we were working on it, we talked about ‘Blame It on the Juice’ — you know, alcohol,” says Reed. “Then Lizzo was like, ‘Wait. What if it’s like my juice? Not blaming my behavior on alcohol.’ It’s like: ‘You have a problem with how I am? This is how I am. Blame it on my juice.’ This was the lyrical turning point that made it from a feeling-myself tune to something a lot bigger and more important.”
And yet in retrospect, Reed can’t claim that the lyrics alone — or any one element in particular — made this song a smash since its release in January. “There are some songs where you can sort of parse that out, even songs that I’ve been a part of, where it’s like the song like is a lyrical masterpiece,” he admits. “Or this beat is so crazy, it doesn’t matter what’s happening vocally. ‘Juice’ really is one of those songs [where it’s all] sort of inextricable from each other. It’s that rhythmic. It’s that fun. It’s that funky. And it’s all one big thing.”
Where “Juice” has really come to life is as a streaming monster, with 65 million total plays on Spotify to date, thanks in part to inclusion on 26 of the service’s editorial playlists (from “Summer Party” to “Women’s History Month” to “”Get Some Happy!”). At YouTube, the official music video has more than 20 million views, and Amazon Music, Apple Music and Deezer have all embraced the track, which is also moving up through the ranks at Urban AC radio.
Reed is a one-time Grammy nominee for producer of the year who’s known for his work with Meghan Trainor, Jason Derulo, 5 Seconds of Summer, Twenty-One Pilots, Kesha, Maggie Rogers, Phantogram and many others. On this track, Reed performed double duty as both co-writer and producer, which required a significant shift in perspective on his part.
“It’s fun to write a song with that energy in the span of four hours and then as a producer try to build the record into a grand statement, without losing any of the feeling that was in the room the day we made it,” he says, adding that live musicians added an essential element to the sound. “Those ’80s percussion sounds are not samples; they’re real guys playing over at a studio in Hollywood,” he says. “Same goes for the big brass section at the end.”
Reed even gives credit to Atlantic, Lizzo’s label … for not trying to break her sooner. “They challenged us when we made ‘Good as Hell,’” he says of their 2016 single. “I was like, ‘Take it radio! Come on, what are you doing?’ They were like: ‘Hold your horses. Not time yet.’ And I remember feeling like, ‘What do you mean? This is a hit!’ And now, I feel so grateful for the fact that they made us exercise patience. Where Lizzo is today on the radio is so much better than if we had taken a big swing for it three years ago. We couldn’t be in a better place.”