Last year, Triller triumphantly announced that it would pay out a total of $14 million in cash and equity to Black creators in 2022. It seemed like a smart move, helping the lesser-known short-form video app to compete with TikTok by uplifting underrepresented talent. But The Washington Post recently reported that most of these creators were never actually paid. Instead of the stardom and stability they were promised, some creators ended up in financial turmoil, they said.
A lawsuit filed on Tuesday alleges that Triller’s late and missing payments extended beyond its creator program. In March 2021, Triller acquired Verzuz, a livestreamed music series created by Grammy winners Timbaland and Swizz Beatz. The two artists became shareholders in the company and allocated part of their equity to over 40 performers who had appeared on Verzuz, including John Legend, 2 Chainz, Alicia Keys, T-Pain and more.
Now, Timbaland and Swizz Beatz say that Triller owes them $28 million in missing payments.
According to the lawsuit obtained by The Washington Post, Triller missed a big payment to the two artists in January, so the parties agreed that Triller would pay them $18 million by March 20, followed by $1 million per month for the next 10 months. The lawsuit claims that Triller has not made any of these payments. Triller, however, says that only one $10 million payment is in question.
As Triller allegedly fails to pay its partner creators, the company has experienced a rocky road to IPO. At first, Triller planned to go public via a reverse merger with SeaChange International, valuing the combined company at $5 billion. But in June, Triller canceled its merger and confidentially filed to go public weeks later. According to SEC filings, Triller has never been profitable and lost more than $700 million last year.
Triller sent TechCrunch a statement via email addressing the lawsuit:
This is not a feud over VERZUZ, but simply about earn-out payments to Swizz and Tim. Swizz and Tim have personally been paid by Triller over $50 million in cash and stock to-date, and they stand to benefit even more over time. In addition, they have annual obligations, which if met, and no breach has occurred, entitles them to additional payments. Only one payment of $10 million is in question. We do not believe they have met the thresholds for that payment yet, which include, but are not limited to, delivery of a set number of VERZUZ events for 2022. We have been trying to resolve this amicably and this does not affect VERZUZ operations or Triller’s ownership of VERZUZ. If this does proceed in court, we look forward to a judgment that weighs all the facts.