Jason Derulo: Pop & Circumstance

With over 50 million singles sold, ten platinum singles, 15 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 list, and an upcoming gig as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, Jason Derulo is doing pretty well for himself. Since stepping into the spotlight with the hit single “Whatcha Say” in 2009, Derulo has captivated audiences and ascended to one of the world’s premiere pop artists. Whether he’s performing live or in a music video, Derulo has a level of magnetism that’s instantly familiar and recognizable. His voice, dance moves, and overall style are comparable to other Michael Jackson disciples such as Usher, Ne-Yo, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown, and Bruno Mars.

ja1At a very young age Derulo was a prodigy with a precocious vision. He wrote his first song “Crush On You” when he was just eight years old. Derulo already knew in his heart that he would one day become a performer. He later attended the Dillard Center for the Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and studied classical voice, opera, jazz, ballet, piano, and theater. When he was twelve, Derulo was fortunate enough to meet Frank Harris who would later become his manager. The pair met on a basketball court in Miramar, Florida and discussed Derulo’s future aspirations.

In a 2009 interview with CNN, Harris recounted his first meeting with Derulo. “He said he was a singer and I was like, ‘Uh huh, cool. This kid is probably in the chorus of his high school or something.’ But then he sang and I realized he really had something, so I told him we would keep working on his basketball and I would talk to some people I knew in the music industry from New York.”

By the time he was sixteen, Derulo was working behind the scenes as a songwriter. With Harris as a liaison, Derulo was able to break into the music industry. He’s written songs for Birdman, P. Diddy, Lil Wayne, Pitbull, Danity Kane, Donnie Klang, Sean Kingston, and Cassie. He also continued honing his skills and graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.

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After years of penning other artists’ songs, Derulo was ready to launch a solo career. His breakout single “Whatcha Say” from his debut album Jason Derülo was a critical success, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 list. The song samples Imogen Heap’s song “Hide and Seek” and focuses on cheating and pleading for reconciliation. The premise for the song was inspired by Derulo’s own brother. His brother was in a relationship that ended due to his infidelity. Although he was responsible for the breakup, he desperately wanted to get back with his girlfriend. It’s a decent pop song with an upbeat tune that’s perfect for radio play.

Derulo grew up listening to Michael Jackson (and to a certain extent emulates him), so it’s no wonder that he’s garnered crossover appeal and mainstream success. “The average African-American artist does R&B and hip-hop. I’m not just an urban artist. I just make music and I don’t want to make music just for a niche audience,” Derulo told CNN. “I want to make music for every single person. I want to expand. I want to make music for the world. I want to break musical barriers and not be pigeonholed by the color of my skin to do a certain kind of music.”

“Wiggle,” from his third album Tattoos, is a catchy, albeit formulaic club song. The song features Snoop Dogg and has R. Kelly-esque lyrics, à la “Feelin’ On Yo Booty.” Although Derulo has been a songwriter since his teen years, his lyricism is lackadaisical on this track. The verse “Hot damn it, your booty like two planets. Go ‘head, and go ham sandwich. Whoa, I can’t stand it,” is cringeworthy. It’s honestly hard to tell if he’s being satirical or if he legitimately put thought into the lyrics. That being said, it’s supposed to be a fun song so maybe the lyrics shouldn’t be scrutinized. In spite of its shortcomings, the music video for “Wiggle” is extremely popular, amassing over 600 million views on YouTube thus far.

The track “Talk Dirty,” also from Tattoos, features 2 Chainz and has an erotic, hypnotic vibe. “Talk Dirty” samples portions of the song “Hermetico” by the Israeli band Balkan Beat Box. The saxophones playing in the hook are reminiscent of a snake charmer’s melody and exude an aura of exoticism. The sample injects a unique quality that distinguishes it from other pop songs.

While Derulo sounds tolerable on studio songs, his live performances are a tad underwhelming. His voice, which isn’t particularly strong in general, sounds even meeker in a large arena. As a dancer, Derulo has an ostentatious style, but it lacks innovation. He and his backup dancers are synchronized and their dancing is well-choreographed. However, nothing is nuanced or spectacular. Fortunately for Derulo, his enthusiasm and charisma override otherwise generic performances. He also has a good ear for production and an affable personality that resonates with his fans.

Derulo released his fourth album, Everything is 4, in June 2015.  At this stage in his career, Derulo is reflective but also optimistic about the future. In an interview with music magazine Spin, he elaborated on the album’s theme. “‘Everything is four’ is a phrase that has been coined before me. Four is a number of completion. Four is a number that’s literally all around. Four legs on a chair, to me, represent a strong foundation and always knowing where I come from. Also four seasons, four states of night. It represents change and being able to accept change. But also, the double meaning is everything is for a reason. Everything is for my mom. Everything is for my family. Everything happens for a reason.”

The album features guest appearances from K. Michelle, Meghan Trainor, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and the legendary Stevie Wonder. On June 30, Derulo appeared on Live with Kelly and Michael to promote his album. While on the show, he talked about meeting Stevie Wonder at the White House. “Yeah, we were invited to a charity dinner. I got to talking with Stevie, and I just flat out asked him, I was like ‘Stevie would you wanna play the harmonica on one of my songs?’ And he was like, ‘of course man, you’re family.’”

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His song “Broke” features Stevie Wonder on the harmonica and Keith Urban playing the banjo. “Broke” is a sign of Derulo branching out musically. In contrast to his previous songs, this is more of a country/blues/folk/hip hop mash-up. I really enjoyed this song because it’s a much more mature composition. Derulo disregards superficial statuses like wealth and fame in favor of authenticity. From his standpoint, a relationship should be based on genuine affection. The music is superb and leagues above a run-of-the mill pop song. Derulo also stepped up his lyricism with lines like, “I’m still gonna get stoned. So you could go ahead and break your bones. Cause all I’ve ever been told, ‘Mo’ money, mo’ problems’ so I’d rather be broke.” He really thought outside the box by enlisting two artists from disparate genres to create a musical gem. That kind of originality is invaluable, and Derulo is capable of making fresh music. He just needs to do it on a more consistent basis in my opinion.

Jason Derulo has a keen ability to make entertaining music. He’s diligently cultivated a large fan base and should be commended for achieving his dreams. Derulo’s shown flashes of brilliance and his latest album seems like a step in the right direction. He’s still growing as an artist so the best may be yet to come.

-Elijah Yarbrough