ShortList magazine’s first cover star opens up about life-defining music, fanatic groupies and a near death experience ahead of his gig on September 23 at Dubai Music Week…
Jason Derulo is telling us a story about suggestive selfies when the line goes dead. Far from stopping the interview, or getting a member of his team to deal with the technical issue, he rings us straight back on his brother’s mobile phone. “Hey, what’s up?” he says with that cool Miami inflection for which he’s known, before carrying on with the story.
The casual, conversational delivery, though, does rather belie the 25-year-old’s status as the most important man in urban music. In 2014, for instance, he was the most played artist on US radio. In the UK, his single “Want to Want Me” has just been confirmed as the biggest selling single of the summer, shifting nearly 400,000 copies between June 1 and August 31. He now has no less than ten platinum-selling singles.
These numbers aren’t a reflection of a new-found love of slinky, late-night R&B. Instead, they signal Derulo’s ability to craft mega-pop songs with a huge dollop of “love me, baby” soul, bridging a gap last crossed by Usher, whose career offers the closet parallel. His 2014 single “Talk Dirty” has inspired a chartful of imitators, including Flo-Rida and pop’s newest princess, Ariana Grande. He’s even managed to attract bona fide critical acclaim: the usually unsympathetic reviewers over at Pitchfork said this of his “poetic” recent album Everything Is 4: “It’s not about nuance or distinction: it’s about impact, drawing the most inclusive and thereby, most powerful, emotion out of three minutes and change.”
Impressive stuff, sure, but what about those selfies? He has, as if we couldn’t guess, obsessive fans – fans who have very few filters when it comes to the pictures they send him. “Yeah I mean, I get a bunch of those,” he laughs. “It depends what you think is crazy… I don’t think that’s crazy at all.”
This is the modern world of celebrity, and it’s one Derulo seems to be managing to navigate with as much alacrity as humanly possible. Just before our interview, he tweeted an aggravated follower to apologise for ignoring her. “It’s a touchy situation,” he explains. “I never want anybody to feel like they’ve been slighted or like I think that I’m better than them in any kind of way. When situations like that come about, of course I can’t nip them all in the bud, but I try to send a message. It takes a couple of seconds and hopefully she forgave me.”
Although the subject of infatuated admirers is something Derulo clearly doesn’t want to delve further into, when asked about his major musical influences, the answer betrays the nature of his fame. His favourite song, he says, is “Dirty Diana”, a track Michael Jackson wrote about particularly belligerent groupies who would do anything to close to a star. “It was my favourite song before it spoke my life. And now it speaks my life so it’s even more of a favourite,” Derulo explains.
The audiences aren’t quite Jackson-esque yet. But they’re on their way. This year he’s playing arenas from the UK to Australia. The next time he gets on a plane, it’ll be to see the UAE contingent of Derulo devotees at Dubai Music Week. “Honestly it’s incredible to receive that kind of love so far away from home. It’s a love affair between Dubai and me,” he tells us with enthusiasm that seems genuine, despite a city-hopping schedule that probably makes it difficult for him to remember where he is or where he’s been.
“The parties are amazing, [Dubai] is one of my favourite party places in the world. It’s more about the vibe and the people. There’s lots of tourists and everybody’s there to have a good time. It’s really carefree because I feel like everybody is on the same page. For sure, I’m partying every single time.”
And he really is. Since breaking up with long term beau Jordin Sparks last year, Derulo has been off the wagon. Although he’s known for being obsessively healthy and dedicated to work, his Instagram reads like an Entourage series – friends, clubs, girls, celebrity pals, cars and plenty of late nights. Single-status and fame aside, he attributes his full-throttle attitude to something much more serious. In 2012, while rehearsing for a show, Derulo landed badly attempting a backflip and broke his neck. It was an accident that immediately halted his emergence, as well as put his life in jeopardy.
“I was at my lowest low,” he says. “I wasn’t able to do simple things on my own like take a shower or tie my own shoes.”
This was particularly difficult for the energetic star, whose “thing” has always been a twin assault of singing and dancing. The accident not only stopped him performing, but doctors feared he would never walk again, let alone perform another backflip on stage. “It really put things in perspective… Because you only have one life and you want to live it to the fullest. Life is too short to not enjoy every second, so I’m literally making sure that I enjoy every moment and spending time with my family when I can and partying till my head spins.”