An interview with Jason Derulo, the muscled pop singer responsible for a string of unavoidable Top 40 radio hits over the past half-decade, now starring as a judge on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance.”
LOS ANGELES — Jason Derulo knows that when performers agree to appear as judges on televised competition shows — “American Idol” and “The X Factor,” for example — it’s because they’re likely “on a downward spiral and they’re trying to pick themselves back up.”
But Derulo, the muscled pop singer responsible for a string of unavoidable Top 40 radio hits over the last half-decade, was hardly circling the drain when he was offered a spot on the current season of “So You Think You Can Dance” (8 p.m. Mondays on Fox). His lewd 2014 single “Wiggle” had just been certified for sales of more than 2 million copies, and his latest track, “Want to Want Me,” was well on its way to becoming one of the songs of the summer.
So why’d he take the gig?
‘So You Think You Can Dance’
8 p.m. Mondays on Fox.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 26, Washington State Fair, Puyallup Fairgrounds; $40-$65 (thefair.com/concerts).
‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Season 12 Tour
Top 10 finalists will appear Dec. 26 at The Paramount, 911 Pine St., Seattle. Tickets go on sale Friday, Aug. 28 (fox.com/dance).
“Two reasons,” said the 25-year-old. “No. 1, I’m in love with dancing, and hopefully these dancers can take what I say and come back better than before.” (Well, OK.) “And also I thought it would help give people, y’know, an idea of who I am.”
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Ah, yes — that. For all the chart success he’s had since debuting in 2009 with “Whatcha Say,” Derulo hasn’t exactly established himself as a charisma machine a la Jay Z or Taylor Swift. The songs were well-constructed but felt as if they could’ve been by anyone, even if Derulo, a lifelong songwriter, co-wrote them.
Derulo’s manager, Frank Harris, who has overseen the singer’s career since Derulo was a kid growing up in Miami, said hits like “Whatcha Say” and “In My Head” exploded so quickly that “The records got out ahead of Jason. It became about the song, not the artist.”
That began to change last year with “Talk Dirty,” a bawdy and much more distinctive track featuring the rapper 2 Chainz that framed Derulo as a willing sex symbol with a frisky sense of humor. He put additional personality into “Want to Want Me,” a song that Taylor Swift brought Derulo out to sing at a recent stadium show.
“Jason’s catching up to himself, putting a face to the voice,” said Lars Murray, an executive at the popular music-streaming service Pandora. “I’m sure his record label would say they wanted that to happen all along. But now we’re really feeling it.”
Sitting in an air-conditioned trailer outside the “Dance” studio as a barber shaped up his hair, Derulo acknowledged that his early material (which followed songwriting work he’d done for acts including Lil Wayne and Pitbull) emphasized catchy hooks over point of view. The singer said his initial blankness was partly a product of youth.
“It’s not easy to jump into something and just be yourself, as weird as that sounds,” he said. “You need experience, and I feel like I’m getting more comfortable with it as time progresses.”
His growing confidence is apparent on “So You Think You Can Dance” — the hit Fox show that just announced a live tour with a stop in Seattle on Dec. 26. At the beginning of the season, Derulo had little to say to contestants beyond bland variations on “Good job.” Recently, though, the singer told one dancer attempting an unfamiliar hip-hop style that he “wasn’t even in the ballpark.” The studio audience was quick to boo.
“Oh, trust me, I get hate mail,” he said. “But I welcome it, man. It just comes with the territory.”
His music is getting livelier too. Derulo’s latest album, “Everything Is 4,” which came out in June, bounces from slick pop tunes like “Cheyenne” to harder-edged R&B tracks like “Love Like That.” And then there’s “Broke,” a deeply wacky country-rap mash-up that features Keith Urban and Stevie Wonder. In the future, he says, he’s interested in moving further into electronic dance music (EDM).
“The EDM world is absolutely crazy, man, and I feel like I belong in that craze,” he said.
Derulo will appear at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup on Sept. 26.