It may not look like it on paper, but the pairing of Luke Bryan with Jason Derulo for CMT Crossroads is among the long-running series’ most natural. Ever since Bryan surprised fans on the social-media app Smule last year, singing Derulo’s “Want to Want Me” with the pop star, the two have looked for a way to collaborate in person. While the pair did share a stage in 2014 for a hot minute, opening the CMT Awards with Florida Georgia Line and ZZ Top, their appearance on Crossroads marks their first proper duet.
Recorded just south of Nashville in March, the concert connects the dots between Bryan’s pop leanings and Derulo’s own all-genre fandom — in 2015, the “Talk Dirty to Me” singer recruited Keith Urban to play guitar and banjo on his song “Broke.”
“I’m always looking for new inspiration. I’m just a music lover, man, honestly,” Derulo tells Rolling Stone Country. “The music I make depends on how I’m feeling that day. Like I may be in a super country vibe; I literally wrote the  song ‘Ridin’ Solo’ as a country song, and the backbeat came later. That’s always been something I’ve been into, dabbling in all kinds of music.”
Sitting next to Derulo backstage prior to the taping, Bryan says he looks to his Crossroads partner to help him push the country envelope without alienating fans.
“You can feel a lot of that stuff going on in some of my songs, and it’s derived strictly because when I’m on the road, hyping up my crowd before a show, and I play a Jason Derulo song [over the P.A.], it’s pandemonium,” Bryan says. “How can I take some of these things that artists like him do and make it work in country? It’s a tricky thing, not going overboard with it and keeping a country lyric, but progressing that beat or those sounds not too far over the top, but to where people accept it. Country is going that way now.”
“I think country music is in an amazing place right now,” echoes Derulo. “More and more, the fans are accepting and expecting it — what Luke has done has been incredible.”
While Bryan hits like “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” and “That’s My Kind of Night” received some of the biggest ovations during the packed-house taping, it’s the duo’s collaboration on Derulo’s “Want to Want Me” that best captures their innate chemistry (watch the video above). Bryan hits some impressive high notes, trading notes with Derulo, as well as a few dance moves.
The setlist also includes Bryan’s “Strip It Down” and “Move,” and Derulo’s “Trumpets,” “Talk Dirty to Me” and the new single “If It Aint’ Love.” Bryan says he can detect a country influence in the song, less so in its sound than in what’s not there.
“Jason’s new single is so simple, where the rhythms are driving it and there are few instruments. It’s not a wall of sound that you think about in pop music,” Bryan says, citing the song’s “truth.”
It’s a trait that Derulo identifies in Bryan’s artistry too.
“He’s really coming from a place of truth,” says Derulo, “and anytime you come from a place of truth, it’s going to be magical.”
Bryan and Derulo’s CMT Crossroads airs Saturday, May 21st, at 10:00 p.m. ET on CMT.