Greeting me with a “Hey mate”, in an exaggerated Aussie accent, Derulo is warm and engaging, charming even, as he looks back on a glittering, decade-long career. It’s one that’s seen him sell 50 million singles and rack up over three billion streams on YouTube and Spotify, to propel him into the upper echelons of the pop music pantheon.
How did he get there? There are two reasons, he says, as his ride weaves through the heavy Friday afternoon traffic. First, he’s obsessed with music. “Having that love for making music, for creating, for writing songs and performing is what drives me to work on it at every waking moment,” says the 30-year-old, who grew up in Florida. “Even when I’m listening to other people’s music, I’m not really listening, I’m studying. It’s the same when I watch a movie. I see everything in a creative way. I think that just comes from my love of it.”
Love alone can only get you so far, though – your garage, perhaps, maybe even a gig at your local pub. Which is fine. But to achieve world domination you need something you normally associate with sportsmen rather than pop stars: a competitive mindset. “I’m constantly trying to get to the next level, whatever that level is,” Derulo says. “I’m competing with myself. Every day is a battle to try to better myself as a man, as a performer, actor, director, choreographer, all these different facets. I’m constantly trying to grow and it ends up being really fun, man. I really, genuinely enjoy my life.”
Why wouldn’t he? What’s not to like about making a living from something you love? What tops the feeling of betting on yourself and succeeding? Perhaps it’s no wonder that for years Derulo sang his own name before launching into songs.
But just as he’s beginning to sound as sunny as the LA weather, his trajectory as assured as a greatest hits album, it all comes to a crashing halt when I ask what his biggest fear is. A full 23 seconds pass in silence as Derulo seems to probe and assess each individual fear he might have for the one that gnaws most persistently at his soul. “Not being able to grow anymore,” he says finally. “I’ve just been on this precipitous road and anything that impedes that is really scary to me.”
As it would be to anyone who’s achieved superstardom. The thing is, Derulo already knows the fear intimately. He’s felt its gravity, experienced its fallout. Back in 2012, a neck injury sustained in a dance rehearsal put his career on hold for seven months. “That’s why that period of time was so pivotal to me, because I was able to make it out of that,” he says.
Suddenly Derulo’s calm self-assurance and obvious determination make a lot of sense. The thing about guys who nearly lose it all? They tend to come back stronger.
To read the full article, pick up a copy of the November issue, on sale Monday 7th October