Singer, Songwriter, and Digital Guru Jason Derulo — Future 25
This story appears in Rolling Stone‘s 2021 Future of Music issue, a special project delving into the next era of the multibillion-dollar hitmaking business. Read the other stories here.
TikTok, says Jason Derulo, has become “an extension of my life.” When doing anything he finds interesting, he instinctively gets out his phone and begins to record. Now the vertical-video app has, in turn, birthed a whole new empire for the life that it puts on display, creating a formidable feedback loop of content.
“I study myself and how I scroll,” Derulo explains. “We’re all very selfish scrollers, we’re looking for something that’s going to interest us. You have literally a fraction of a second to make people stop in their tracks… I feel like the things that are important are capturing people from the very beginning.”
Derulo — who was already a chart-topping artist well before he joined TikTok — decided to become a social-media star in earnest after just one meeting with TikTok’s music partnerships head Isabel Quinteros Annous (who appeared on Rolling Stone‘s Future 25 list in 2020) a few months ago. “After that meeting, I just went full force, learning through the things that I posted to see what worked for myself and what wasn’t working. Even to this day, when I post, everything is a learning experience,” Derulo says. “A lot of people feel like they understand TikTok, but it’s just ever-changing.”
The singer’s obsessive ethos and understanding of TikTok has led to a zany smorgasbord of content, which has given way to brand deals and viral moments galore. Derulo jumps on trends early; he’ll post videos of himself fighting giant water monsters one day, and wielding lightsabers, hitting the dougie next to his Lamborghini, or whipping up saccharinely sweet dessert recipes the next. He’s often corny or extravagant but he always scores views. Derulo’s 45 million and counting TikTok followers have taken him into lucrative brand partnerships with the likes of AT&T, Walmart, Got Milk, and Bounty. TikTok is also a vehicle to market Derulo’s own products, like Bedlam vodka, and to churn out new recorded hits; his chart-clinger “Savage Love” originated from a viral TikTok sound by Jawsh 685.
Now, Derulo is quite literally writing the book on virality: He’s publishing a title about social media strategy and creating a superhero comic book based on one of his TikTok characters. He says networks are also approaching him with offers for an in-development TV show. Last year, a rumor went around that Derulo makes $75,000 per paid post. But Derulo refutes this, claiming that it’s “not even in the ballpark” — because the real number is actually much higher.
Has it been enough to make up for the losses of a year without touring? “Oh, yeah,” Derulo says with little hesitation. “I would even go on to say that it’s made me even more than in the past.” (For reference, Derulo grosses $215,000 a show, according to Pollstar.)
While Derulo’s videos tend to be outlandish and over-the-top, he says that his team is small. He has one person he works with full-time, and outsources production work when needed. He also frequently collaborates with other popular TikTok creators. Derulo says he’s learned that what worked on TikTok just a few months ago may not cut it today, as users get a constant overload of content; videos and themes need to have quickly changing tastes to match the landscape.
“All of these other platforms have a specific DNA that you have to follow, and you see the same type of people that are successful on Instagram, the same kind of people are successful on Twitter,” Derulo says. “It’s a specific type. TikTok doesn’t have that. It’s all kinds of different people from different walks of life that are just doing them — and it works on a large scale.”
As live music comes back into play, Derulo says his TikTok output will have to slow a bit. But does that mean there’s room for another artist to try and come in to steal his throne? “I don’t think so,” Derulo says. “But I welcome anybody to try.”