Jason Derulo: Changing the rules

By Chris Schulz

Returning to New Zealand on tour this month, R&B star Jason Derulo took a year off to recover from a neck injury, and kept himself busy by focusing on creating his hit third album, complete with accompanying choreography, writes Chris Schulz.

Lying motionless on his back, staring at the ceiling with his neck in a brace after an acrobatics accident, Jason Derulo didn't know if he'd ever walk again.

Just weeks before the launch of his biggest tour yet, the R&B star had fallen on his head during rehearsals, fracturing his C2 vertebrae in what doctors call a "hangman's break".

It was January 3, 2012 - and it took Derulo, now 24, a full year to recover.

"Lying on the floor I didn't know whether I was going to walk again - let alone get on stage. It was a crucial time. It was a year's total recovery," he recalls to TimeOut.

"But after that I feel like a changed man. It really helped me to grow up. It's been a really focused time. I got a lot done during my recovery."

Derulo spent his down time writing the songs that wound up on his hit third album Tattoos - including the inescapable horn riff of his sexed-up pop smash Talk Dirty.

Sitting by his pool in Miami, Derulo says - with a hint of his trademark arrogance - Talk Dirty helped fans put "two and two together" to realise how many hits he had already crafted across his first two albums.

"It made people realise who's making all these songs," he says. "One thing that I get a lot is, 'When I see you perform, I forget how many hits you have. When I see them back to back, I'm like, 'Wow'.

"Talk Dirty is one of those ones that helped tie the knot and put everything together."

The video, a colourful, globe-trotting mashup with dance moves influenced by 80s hip-hop, also helped with its success.

Derulo is a performing arts school graduate with a background in tap dance, jive and ballet. He helps choreograph all his videos, and he says the Talk Dirty routine came from "freestyling with his dance crew".

"We just chose dance moves that were fun to do because that's what the song is and we wanted the dance moves to be fun as well. We didn't want it to be super-choreographed. We thought that would take the fun and street out of it.

"We did it pretty quickly with a freestyler's mentality rather than a choreographer's mentality."

But Talk Dirty's not the only standout song on Tattoos. Marry Me - in which Derulo promises to one day propose to his girlfriend, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks - has become a soundtrack for budding romantics.

The song was never meant to be released, but Sparks persuaded Derulo to release it as a single.

"She was shocked - she really wanted the world to hear it. I wrote it just for her, and she was interested in other people hearing it. She said other guys would be able to play it for their loved ones and it would speak for them."

YouTube is full of wedding clips soundtracked by the song - and in one, Derulo even crashes a wedding himself to perform for a starstruck bride.

"It's crazy," he says. "It's unbelievable to be a part of so many lives and such a special moment - that moment is a lasting moment in most people's lives."

Marry Me is a sort-of follow-up to one of the first songs Derulo wrote - a love song for a girl he had a crush on at school aged eight.

He called it Crush On You - and while it's never been released, Derulo sang the lyrics "Seven days of the week / My mind is on you / And I got a crush on you" down the phone to TimeOut.

"I had a crush on this girl in my class - her name was Amy. I wanted to do something for her, I didn't have any money, I didn't know what to do, I was like, 'Hey, why don't I write her a song?"'

That's how Derulo kicked off his career - writing songs for other people. His biography includes tracks for Lil Wayne, Diddy, Cassie and, as he calls it, "a bunch of randoms".

"I was in Miami trying to build a name for myself and a lot of producers didn't want to work with me because I didn't have a name. So I became a songwriter, basically saying, 'Let's write a song for this person, let's start writing for that person.' Oddly enough, they started getting placed with big artists across the world."

His break came once he was signed by JR Rotem, a big-gun songwriter who produced Derulo's 2010 self-titled debut, helping push sales well over one million.

With Derulo's second album Future History released just a year later, everything was going smoothly - until that bone-crunching accident.

Now, in the middle of his Tattoos world tour, with an April 24 date booked in Auckland, how is Derulo's injury now?

"I'm back to 100 per cent. I'm not nervous at all, I feel like I'm more ready now than I've ever been in my life. I actually have taken the acrobatics to another level.

"It's a very high energy show, it's a new age show, it's DJ and dance-driven, it has tonnes of sexual moments, state of the art lighting, it takes you on a journey, and there's a lot of fitness involved."

When Derulo says, "The fact that I get to go back on the road is really exciting," he's not kidding.

Who: Jason Derulo
Live: Vector Arena, April 24
Key releases: Jason Derulo (2010), Future History (2011), Tattoos (2013)

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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