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‘Tattoos’: How Jason Derulo’s Third Album Made Its Mark
In Depth

‘Tattoos’: How Jason Derulo’s Third Album Made Its Mark

Recorded after overcoming an almost fatal neck injury, Jason Derulo’s third album ‘Tattoos’, saw the pop-R&B star find a new lease of life.

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The Florida-born R&B singer Jason Derulo began working on his third album, Tattoos, while facing tremendous personal difficulties. Following a tragic accident that almost threatened to derail his career, Derulo channelled his recovery time into crafting playful party hits and heartfelt ballads, aiming to fuse his unique style of R&B with dance music and 80s-inspired adult-contemporary pop. This is the story of how Tattoos not only made its mark on the pop world, but also how Derulo’s triumph over adversity can teach us all a lesson about self-determination and personal resilience…

Listen to ‘Tattoos’ here.

The backstory: “I didn’t know whether I was going to walk again”

In January 2011, during dance rehearsals for his Future History World Tour, Jason Derulo was practising acrobatics when he fell awkwardly in a horrific accident. Landing directly on his head, he broke the C2 vertebra in his neck, in what is medically referred to as a “Hang Man’s Break”, fracturing the same bone which often proves fatal in hanging victims. “Lying on the floor I didn’t know whether I was going to walk again – let alone get on stage,” Derulo admitted in an interview with Time Out magazine. “It was a crucial time.”

Around 95 per cent of people who suffer the same neck injury reportedly end up paralysed or dead, but, miraculously, Derulo survived the accident. However, the long road to recovery was a difficult one. Spending the best part of a year learning to regain control over his own body, Derulo struggled with such daily activities as tying his shoelaces and taking a shower by himself. Regularly going to the gym to strengthen his physical fitness throughout the ordeal, he would later admit that his brush with death completely changed his perspective. “Everything happens for a reason,” he philosophically reflected in a Facebook post. “Traumatic experience can change you for the better. My outlook on life is so much clearer!”

During such a long period of recuperation, Derulo channelled his creative energy into writing new material for his third album, eventually amassing hundreds of song ideas that he planned to finish off following his recovery. When the time finally came to enter the recording studio to record what would become Tattoos, Derulo considered himself extremely lucky to have come out of the experience with a positive story to tell. “It definitely could have been a lot worse,” he told the Daily Mirror, “and amazingly I’m completely better. Now, it is like it was just a bad dream.”

The recording: “It was rough trying to choose 12 songs out of 300”

Having already laid the sonic foundation for Tattoos by fusing dance-pop with contemporary R&B on his previous album, Future History, Derulo was keen for his next effort to flesh out his sound with nightclub-ready beats and radio-friendly pop tunes nodding toward synth-led soft-rock and 80s power balladry. Working with top-tier producers such as RedOne, Ricky Reed, DJ Frank E, Jonas Jeberg, Martin Johnson and The Cataracs, Derulo was able to craft songs that ran the gamut from hip-hop to pop-rock, charting the course for a cross-genre odyssey for the ages.

In fact, the long period Derulo spent recovering from his neck injury meant he was truly spoilt for choice when it came to choosing material, making it all the more challenging to whittle down the best ideas to a concise running order. “It was rough trying to choose 12 songs out of 300,” Derulo said in an interview with Radio.com. “But we finally made it happen.” Released as the album’s lead single, in April 2013, The Other Side was an immediate commercial success, peaking at No.2 in the UK and No.18 in the US, and later going on to be certified multi-platinum by the Recording Industry Of America.

Co-written with Boys Like Girls songwriter Martin Johnson, The Other Side saw Derulo add an Avril Lavigne-like emo flavour to his Auto-Tuned R&B stylings via synth-heavy power chords that announced his comeback in impeccable style. Now aged 23 and keen to move on from his accident, Derulo sounded hungrier than ever for pop stardom, exhibiting a boldness that encouraged him to go further beyond the confines of his R&B and hip-hop comfort zones to refashion himself as a multi-faceted pop balladeer in the mould of some of the best 80s musicians, Michael Jackson and Madonna among them.

Tattoo’s second single, Talk Dirty, released in August 2013 and featuring US rapper 2 Chainz, was an even bigger smash – a speaker-shaking blast of strip-joint lasciviousness positively oozing with fun and cheekiness. Full of jaunty Middle Eastern horn samples, the song peaked at No.1 in the UK and No.3 in the US and would go on to sell more than four million copies stateside. Becoming by far and away Derulo’s biggest hit to date, Talk Dirty proved that the singer was less interested in being a po-faced presence on the pop scene than he was in infusing his music with playfulness and ear-grabbing hooks.

By now it was clear that the no-frills gratification and old-fashioned merrymaking of Derulo’s third album was going to shake up the pop world. Alongside rappers such as Miami party-boy Pitbull barking his way to a beach rave (Fire) and The Game adding a touch of street cred (Side FX), other guests on Tattoo included Derulo’s then girlfriend, Jordin Sparks, who was waiting to pop up on piano ballad Vertigo, echoing the dizzy sense of anticipation that preceded the album’s release. After such a long period out of the spotlight, Derulo was finally ready to take centre stage once again.

The release: “This album is a direct representation of who I am as a person and how I speak”

Released on 20 September 2013, Jason Derulo’s third studio album, Tattoos, peaked at No.5 in the UK, with its US version, renamed Talk Dirty, later climbing to No.4 on the Billboard 200, following its belated release on 15 April the following year. “This album is a direct representation of who I am as a person and how I speak,” Derulo announced via Associated Press. “If I was talking to my best friend, you know, this is how I would explain it.” Combining his intoxicating mix of rap, EDM and contemporary R&B with a touch of 80s-inspired pop-rock leanings, the album refreshingly placed Derulo in pop culture’s sweet spot with all the power of a sugar rush on a summer’s day.

Released in the same month the album hit the shelves, second single Marry Me saw Derulo summon his inner romantic to craft a piano ballad tailor-made for wedding parties. Like Bruno Mars’ Marry You before it, Marry Me was heartily embraced by pop fans, who sent it to No.26 in the US. Still played at weddings across the world, it’s a canny masterclass of songwriting that’s forever destined to be spun by DJs as they coax the bride and groom to open the ball.

From promising to put a ring on it on Marry Me to the Genie In A Bottle-style wish fulfilment of Stupid Love, the songs on Tattoo were undeniably catchy and positively glowed with Derulo’s optimism and conviviality. Most of all, they effortlessly distilled the real-life trials Derulo faced into a form of gleeful escapism that’s all but guaranteed to bring a smile to listeners’ faces. “Tattoos are permanent and they are a piece of art,” Derulo told Billboard magazine of the album’s title. “We put them on our bodies and they remain on our bodies for the rest of their lives. And that’s what this album is – every single song is a part of my life that will never go away.”

Released in November 2013 as the album’s fourth single, Trumpets was yet another cross-generational hit that flaunted Derulo’s charm. Peaking at No.4 in the UK and No.14 on the US Hot 100, it’s a tongue-in-cheek piano-led ditty that stretches credulity in a way that’s both endearing and witty; after all, the idea of Derulo imagining a fanfare while witnessing his girl undress is waggish yet oddly fitting. Selling over a million copies in the US alone, Trumpets became a global sensation, once again showcasing the singer’s irresistible charisma.

The legacy: “I utilised that recovery time to work my ass off and ended up making my most successful album”

Eventually selling more than a million copies in the US and over 100,000 copies in the UK, Tattoos remains one of Derulo’s most successful releases. Proving that he could compete with the likes of Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran, Derulo’s affable outlook and likeable personality no doubt helped to establish him as one of the humblest and most-deserving pop stars of the 2010s. Better yet, unlike many of his contemporaries, Derulo refused to take himself too seriously and always embraced a goofy sense of fun that instantly set him apart.

In fact, when the album was issued in the US, as Talk Dirty, Derulo even released a quirky new single with Snoop Dogg. Called Wiggle, this new cut was a dance-pop anthem that featured a rump-shaking collection of outlandish sound effects, from toy flutes to peanut wrappers. Peaking at No.5 on the US Hot 100 and No.8 in the UK, Wiggle once again demonstrated how pop-rap and EDM were near-perfect bedfellows, with Derulo and Snoop revelling in racy lyrics like naughty schoolboys giggling behind the bike sheds (“Hot dammit/Your booty like two planets/Go ’head and go ham sandwich”).

When all is said and done, what made Tattoos so remarkable is how Derulo overcame a life-threatening injury and emerged triumphantly against the odds. “That could have easily ended my whole career,” Derulo wrote in his book, Sing Your Name Out Loud: 15 Rules For Living Your Dream. “But I utilised that recovery time to just work my ass off and ended up making my most successful album as opposed to soaking in my misery.” By emerging from a near-death experience with such good cheer, Derulo brought both his sense of humour and his commitment to catchy hooks to carve out his own unique space in the pop charts. His story should serve as an inspiration to all of us.

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