Big changes are afoot in Jason Derulo’s life.
The singer is halfway through an exhausting world tour — his biggest to date — and months away from hitting pause on the tour circuit to pencil in his Hollywood debut and release a Michael Jackson tribute track where he collaborates with some top names in K-Pop.
‘Gulf News tabloid!’ caught up with the versatile singer a day after his concert at London’s O2 Arena, where he performed on the same stage as Rita Ora, Liam Payne and Ellie Goulding for the ‘Jingle Bell Ball’. Sounding tired, but excited, Derulo was mere hours away from catching that flight bound for picturesque Bali.
By the time his travels lead him to Dubai’s Global Village gig on December 14, the singer would have already made history being one of the first few artists to perform in Saudi Arabia, as the country rides a wave of social reform under the guidance of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
“It is very exciting to be in Saudi right now. Obviously, it will be my first time there and it’s definitely exciting for me to get in touch with my fans there for the first time,” enthused Derulo in an exclusive chat. “To have your feet on the soil is a really big deal. It’s an incredible thing. You know, as the world continues to change and becomes a more comfortable place, it is important that we show love for each other; and part of that comes from music.”
His passion for music is perhaps why Derulo refuses to conform to a textbook interpretation of a hip-hop artist. His collaborations with some of the biggest names in the business have given rise to musical sub-genres where it is commonplace to see Derulo officiate a marriage between country and R’n’B or simply recreate an operatic hook into an EDM chartbuster.
How else can one elucidate the instrumental drops heard on ‘Broke’ (2015), where Derulo paid homage to hip-hop with a little help from country singer Keith Urban who comfortably took a back seat and let his guitar and banjo riffs do the talking? That same track also deployed the legendary Stevie Wonder to emote the southern twang with the aid of his harmonica as Derulo channelled his emotions.
The instrumental drops would be heard again on ‘Try Me’ (2015), where Jennifer Lopez and Matoma gave voice to a collaborative track which ‘The Spin’ described as a ‘Caribbean update of the ‘Sexual Healing’ chords’. Needless to say, Marvin Gaye got his due credit here.
“You know it comes from being a fan of all music,” said Derulo. “That’s where it stems from. You know when I’m in the studio there are no barriers. It keeps it exciting for me and for the fans as well. I try to keep it fresh.
“It is not necessarily pushing or stretching myself but it’s about experimenting with a genre that has been a part of me somewhere or another.”
The 29-year-old’s latest song ‘Goodbye’ is yet another innovative collaboration, this time with David Guetta and Nicki Minaj. Here, Derulo gleefully takes the Carnival-themed reggaeton dance track and turns it on its head to borrow its chorus from Italian opera singer Andrea Boccelli’s ‘A Time to Say Goodbye’ — a funeral song by many standards.
“The Andrea Boccelli sampling was simply to satisfy the classical part of me,” laughed Derulo, when asked about his latest experiment. “The sound you get is classical, semi-classical in a way, but colourful. That to me was important.”
While Derulo is unsure whether he would ever produce a full-fledged opera album in future, the collaborations, he described, was his way of bringing people together through an amalgamation of different sounds.
“David [Guetta] and I had been meaning to work together for a long time and we jumped at the first opportunity we got,” said Derulo of the ‘Goodbye’ collaboration. “Nicki [Minaj], well, she’s family at this point.
“‘Goodbye’ is one of those songs that brings joy and gets people on their feet. There’s so much craziness going in this world that in some little we are bringing people together and making them forget their problems.”
The ‘Talk Dirty’ hit maker is now shifting focus to his next track, which is already being touted as a monster hit — a Michael Jackson tribute song that will Derulo collaborate with K-Pop boy band NCT 127, and Lay Zhang, a member of Exo.
Derulo has long been an admirer of K-Pop, having praised breakout acts such as BTS for their dedication to their art, telling British daily ‘The Metro’ in the past: “I’ve always been a fan of K-Pop because of the performance aspect. I’ll be completely honest, I am so over lazy artists and the world is full of these non-performers and it’s a little sickening to me as I’m a huge fan of performers who can take the stage and light the stage on fire.”
When asked, about his upcoming collaboration, Derulo stated: “Right now I am working on an exciting new project with Exo’s Lay Zhang and NCT 127. We are doing a super epic video as a tribute to Michael. It’s a really cool project. You gotta wait a little longer to get more information.”
The homage to the King of Pop is one of four singles, with Derulo confirming the video of ‘Let’s Shut Up and Dance’, which he has co-written by Derulo, Ant Clemons, and Bongo (Bong Bytheway), will drop soon.
“We still have some work to do on the video, but I would say the video should be out in a month or month and a half,” he added.
The self-confessed Jackson fan further admitted the late singer was his inspiration to follow his chosen career path.
“He’s the sole reason I got into singing and dancing in the first place. He’s the guy,” said Derulo, who, in the past, has revealed that he would spend hours in front of the TV as a child, trying to emulate Jackson’s signature dance moves.
Decades later, Derulo is now also ready to embark on a new career that is beckoning him towards the bright lights of Hollywood. The singer is poised to play a special role in the film adaptation of the beloved musical ‘Cats’, which is set to release in December 2019.
“I have been very careful about jumping on to anything and everything I see. ‘Cats’ is a classic and for me it was the perfect introduction to that world [Hollywood]. It combines music and theatre, which is perfect,” said Derulo, before continuing: “I have couple of films lined up after that as well, but ‘Cats’ is very exciting. I have been a fan of that musical since I was a child. It’s one of the top three greatest musicals of all time.
“And to say the least, the cast is unbelievable — Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson, Idris Elba, James Corden, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson…. I am really excited about working with all these people. There are some people that have never danced before, some have never sung before, some have never acted before. So to bring all those worlds together, to bring such talent together is really crazy.”
Derulo was hesitant talking in detail about the Tom Hooper-directed film, but he did have this nugget to share about his role.
“I play Rum Tum Tugger, who’s actually the most nefarious cat. He doesn’t necessarily follow the rules, much like me in real life,” he said, laughingly.
This year has been one of firsts for Derulo and not just in the creative arena; earlier this year, the singer also launched his charity foundation that works on rehabilitation and education initiatives across the world.
“The start of the Justice For You foundation has stemmed my mother [Jocelyne Desrouleaux]. It’s really something close to our hearts,” said Derulo. “The first project, of course, is supporting my hometown Haiti. We just raised $1 million [Dh3.67 million] at the recently held Heart of Haiti gala [in Los Angeles]. What’s incredible about the platform [is that] I am using is my voice and the stage for change. It’s really exciting that I am doing some good for the world.”
Jason Derulo on his Dubai gig
“It’s going to be a ton of fun. I have some of the best dancers in the world. The best musicians. It’s going to be one of those insane shows and yet, we have made it affordable for everybody to come,” said Derulo. “It is important for us [as artists] to do reach out to as many fans as possible.
“When I was a kid I couldn’t afford to attend concerts myself. I would have loved to have such an opportunity to go to my favourite artist’s concert or to any concert for that matter. I couldn’t afford it. In all likelihood, many can’t now either. This is my way to make some dreams come true.”
Don’t miss it!
Jason Derulo will perform live at Global Village on December 14. Entry tickets are priced at Dh15.