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Jason Derulo: Meghan Trainor ‘Insisted’ on Singing My Name

12 minute read

Jason Derulo is getting ready for a hot summer.

The 25-year-old R&B singer has two new projects in the offing: His gig as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance, which premiered June 1, and his new album, Everything is 4, out June 2. That album has already generated one hit single, “Want to Want Me,” in keeping with Derulo’s record of ribald songs about love and lust.

Derulo’s in a time of change after his breakup last fall with American Idol winner Jordin Sparks; he’s no longer, for instance, singing “Jason Derulo” over his own songs, and he’s cultivating an interest in fashion. But certain things—his interest in writing songs about girls—haven’t changed since he was a kid.

In conversation with TIME, Derulo talked about his new album, which features collaborations with everyone from Meghan Trainor to Stevie Wonder, as well as why he believes he’s a trendsetter and his favorite summer jams.

TIME: Your album is called Everything Is 4. Who is everything 4?

Jason Derulo: Everything is for a reason. Everything is for my mother. Everything is for my fans. Everything is for my family. Everything is for my future family, everything is for my future love. Pretty much everything is for a reason. Also, the number four is a number that follows us around. A few of those things kind of inspired me, like, four legs on a chair, four legs on a table. It represents a strong foundation. Four seasons represents change and being able to accept change, which is very relevant in my life right now.

Beyoncé and One Direction both have albums named 4 or Four. Why does it keep coming up in album titles?

Like I said, four is a special number. I could go down the list, it being so relevant in music. In music, four is the number that every measure is—four by four, four beats to every measure. The number four is a sense of completion, almost. This is that time in my life, it’s a new beginning, the sense of completion of one chapter and the beginning of another. I didn’t want to call it 4, because that didn’t tell enough of what the meaning was to me. It’s everything is 4. It’s very special.

You have a song on your album, “X2CU,” about an ex-girlfriend. Do you write songs with specific individuals in mind?

Every single one. Every single song on this album is real talk. Yeah…

Do you worry that opens your personal life up to scrutiny, given that some exes might be well-known?

I’m the kind of person who lives my art. It’s not that I want to necessarily do it, it’s that I have to. It’s always been that way, that’s how I write songs, and it’s always been this way. It just comes out more relatable. We’re all human. Through my experiences, people can find themselves and are able to relate and enjoy the music for different situations in their life. A lot of the songs are about newfound lust or love or the possibility of finding something new—there’s a song called “Trade Hearts” that’s about, Maybe if we were able to trade hearts, maybe this would have worked. Sometimes, men don’t understand women, and vice versa. Women don’t understand men. And, maybe if we could trade hearts I could understand why you lie to me or why you’re crying, or maybe you’d understand why I’m silent and why I can’t stand to be around you. If we trade hearts, we could really understand how each other felt.

You’re known for singing your own name on your songs, but on “Painkiller,” your duet with Meghan Trainor, she sings it. Was it nerve-wracking to give her control?

I didn’t give her the control, she insisted! She was like, “Please, please, please, please, let me do it!” And I was like, “Nah! I’m done with that!” She said, “But it’s me singing it, not you!” I was like, “All right, cool, but I’ve got to sing your name.” She said, “Good, of course!”

Did you give her tips on how to sing it?

No. Everybody kind of knows how to do that!

So you’re no longer singing your own name on songs?

I’ve outgrown it. It was a time in my life, and it was cool while it lasted, but it’s not my thing.

You used to have an umlaut in your last name, too. Is that something you shed over time?

A lot of things just go away with time, and you kind of change and rearrange things in your life. Some things remain, but a lot of things get a facelift. Even with the way I dress, I’m slowly wearing more dress shirts and I never used to wear low-tops at all, and I’m starting to wear low-tops. I don’t know—with time, we kind of evolve and change naturally.

Trying to be more grown-up, or more sophisticated…

I really think it’s just more grown-up! I was 19 when I came out with my first album, and I’m 25 now. It’s a totally different perspective. Writing a love song when I was 19 is very different than writing a love song when I’m 25. You’re more sophisticated, you can elaborate and pinpoint special things a little clearer. It’s just me growing up as a man has forced my music to do the same as well as grow artistically.

You’ve taken on these collaborators for your new album, including Stevie Wonder, Keith Urban, and Jennifer Lopez. Do you have a dream collaborator for the future?

That was definitely Stevie Wonder, he’s at the top of the list for sure. The legendary Stevie Wonder. He’s probably one of the most influential musicians of all time. Same for J.Lo, she’s probably one of the most influential female musicians of all time. It was definitely a pleasure to make that happen. The future—who knows what the future holds? I’m just excited as hell right now.

What’s the process of convincing Stevie Wonder to work with you?

I had met him before, and we were both at a White House dinner, and I got to talking to him. I thought in the back of my mind, I had a song called “Broke.” The lead part was the harmonica. I thought it’d be crazy to get Stevie to do it. I said, “Stevie, would you like to go on my song?” He said, “Of course, man, we’re family!” I was like, “You should sing on it, too!” And he was like, “Man, if I hear that song on the radio and I’m not on it, I’ll whup your ass!” It was an incredible dream—to have one of your heroes be a part of what you created.

The Keith Urban collaboration makes me wonder—are you interested in potentially dabbling in any other genre? Do you want to move into other lanes?

I’ve always been a lover of music. I think, through my love of music, experimentation has always been the case. Through my collaboration with Florida Georgia Line on “This is How We Roll,” that was coming from my love of country. Me personally, I think all the barriers that are put up between genres are so easily broken. People just love music that moves them. I noticed that when I performed at the CMT Awards. When “Talk Dirty” came on, the whole crowd went nuts! I didn’t know what to expect, because it’s a totally different audience, and the country audience is very passionate about their music. So I didn’t know what to expect, but people went absolutely crazy. At that point, I considered myself right. Music is music, and it transcends—if it moves people, then that’s what matters.

What songs have you been into lately?

I love the Fetty Wap song [“Trap Queen”]! I think that’s a crazy record. I love the “See You Again” song. Charlie Puth is the producer on “Broke.” And he also co-wrote another song on the album called “Pull Up.” He’s a good friend of mine, and the song is amazing. He played it to me long before Wiz Khalifa was on it, and I’m glad to see him do his thing. Those are my two favorites right now.

You were part of a big trend, recently, when your song “Wiggle” came out. It was one of many songs considered part of a year of songs about women’s rear ends, with J.Lo’s “Booty,” and a couple others—

Don’t forget “Talk Dirty” was the first.

“Talk Dirty” was the first, and “Anaconda,” too—

“Talk Dirty” came out before all of those songs!

You set the trend, and you saw it coming before anyone else did!

Not just that, but the trend of instrumental hooks, that started with “Talk Dirty” as well. Then you had Ariana Grande, and you had “Worth It,” and Flo Rida, a bunch of songs kind of came and did the instrumental breaks. That was really cool to watch.

Do you consider yourself a trendsetter?

Do I consider myself a trendsetter? Yeah, of course! I do. I think to be lasting in this industry, you have to set trends. Otherwise, you’re one step behind the curve.

Why were songs like “Talk Dirty” and “Wiggle,” though, so hot at the moment they were, and why was that same subject matter resonating across the industry?

Why was it hot? It was fun! It was not anything that you necessarily had to—it was dance music. It was in the club, something you can turn up to. We need those too. We need those to have a good time. When Flo Rida dropped “Low,” it was massive, because people just want to have a good time. And a song that allows you to do that, with a great beat and a great melody, it will always be huge if it’s able to get people to get up and dance.

Between all your obligations, do you ever go to the club and have fun?

Work hard, play hard. I love the club, I love loud music, I love alcohol, the mixture—I love loud music, alcohol, and the ladies. That mixture is amazing. I do love the club.

You’re going to be a judge on So You Think You Can Dance. Would you have done well as a reality TV contestant?

Yeah, because I always would have known how to write songs. The contestants that don’t succeed don’t have all of the goods necessarily. Just because you win a show doesn’t mean your future’s secure. There’s a lot that goes into being in this industry. For me, being a songwriter is, at the end of the day, the biggest gift. If you can’t write a song, you’re at someone else’s beck and call, and you may never get another hit! And if someone doesn’t write you one, you’re kind of stuck. So being a songwriter is my greatest gift.

So many artists are in the position you describe, of relying on writing teams. Lucky you!

Of course! I’ve been writing songs since I was eight years old. It’s a part of me, and it’s how I got into this business in the first place. So if I was on one of those shows, I think that I would do well, and I think that I would continue to do well. At the end of the day, great songs are what people care about. People want to be moved. We all want to go see a great movie because we want to be moved. We want to laugh, we want to cry, we want to feel something. Just like with music—we want to laugh, we want to cry, we want to dance, we want to fall in love, we want to be independent when we’ve fallen out of love. We need all of those kinds of songs to help us through life.

What does an 8-year-old write songs about? Recess?

My first song was called “Crush on You,” and it was about my crush on a girl in my class. Her name was Amy, and I wanted to write her a song because I didn’t have any money. So, you know, I wanted to get her to like me, but I didn’t know what to get her, so I thought I’d write her a song. I never sang it for her, but it started a long journey of songwriting. My second song was called “True Love.” I thought I’d found true love at that time. They were always for some girl.

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