Music News

Jason DeRulo Breathes New Life Into One Relationship and, Just Maybe, R&B

Hating R&B is more or less the default setting for the critically inclined nowadays. I mean, who has anything nice to say about the genre? As one of our freelancers argued not too long ago, R&B appears to be at a point where its acronym should stand for "Rap and Bullshit" because the best parts of contemporary R&B overlap with rap, with the rest being, at best, filler.

I printed that "Rap and Bullshit" piece because it was clever, and I more or less agreed with the writer. I mean, seriously, name a straight-up R&B artist you hold in anything better than mild contempt.

John Legend? Usher? Chris fucking Brown?

While The Office's tongue-in-cheek use of Brown's "Forever" in the Pam and Jim wedding episode did make me kinda-sorta like the song for a minute or so, I have to admit it's been years since I've really enjoyed hearing anything an R&B purist would approve of.

Ever since leading light R. Kelly pulled a boner of Jerry Lee Lewis-marrying-his-cousin proportions, it seems R&B's the only genre that's basically taboo to people without either a tribal tattoo or some sort of MMA sticker affixed to their automobile.

That's how I felt until a recent experience with 20-year-old Florida R&B singer Jason DeRulo's "Whatcha Say." The song, which samples "Hide and Seek" by British electronica/art rocker Imogen Heap (for whom local boys Miniature Tigers will be opening on an upcoming tour, BTW) is ubiquitous on urban radio at the moment and currently sitting at number two on the Billboard Hot 100.

Anyone who listens to Karlie Hustle's show on Power 98.3 will not understand the need for me to quote any part of it here, but chances are some of our readers haven't heard it, so here goes:

I was so wrong for so long,

Only tryin' to please myself.

Girl, I was caught up in her lust,

When I don't really want no one else.

So, no, I know I should've treated you better,

But me and you were meant to last forever.

So let me in, give me another chance

To really be your man.

'Cause when the roof caved in and the truth came out,

I just didn't know what to do.

But when I become a star we'll be living so large,

I'll do anything for you.

So tell me girl:

Mmmm whatcha say?

I was driving to work one recent afternoon when I realized I'd been making this exact same argument to my wonderful girlfriend over the previous week.

I'm loath to share too many details, but it all related to an unfortunate imbroglio in Las Vegas recently. Over the preceding months, my insecurities had driven me to nurture a flirtatious little thing with another woman solely because it made my girlfriend jealous. It got a little out of hand, and I tried to put the kibosh on it, severing contact and all that.

Then, when my girlfriend and I got into a big drunken mess in Vegas, I texted the other woman to complain about the mess, immediately regretted texting her, and deleted the evidence to cover it up, only to feel guilty, confess to my girlfriend, then bungle the confession by backpedaling, causing a whole new round of lies. Quite the mess.

Trying to convince my girlfriend that I did not, do not, and will not want to date the other woman and that, in fact, I don't really want no one else, was a pretty serious undertaking.

Just as Jason DeRulo knows.

Not knowing what to do when the roof caves in under the weight of a pile of lies?

DeRulo knows.

Promising a forever of better times ahead to an unimpressed audience?

Yeah, DeRulo knows.

As you probably assume, given the fact that I'm the music editor at an alternative weekly newspaper, the soundtrack to my life is indie rock. I listen to a little bit of everything, sure, but indie rock is the lingua franca of my kind. That being said, I'm hard-pressed to think of an indie-rock song that, in any way, speaks to my relationship situation. And, when I thought about it more, I realized most indie rock doesn't talk about shit anymore, relationship-wise.

Here's one indie-rock relationship song that springs to mind, named for our fair state by Seattle's Pedro the Lion:

Arizona curled up with California,

Then she tried to hide the whole thing from New Mexico.

Who knew before he saw them making out in Yuma,

That she had been loving someone new.

But California, not California.

How could you?

WTF, right? I guess it means something, but not really in the throes of a serious relationship problem. And Pedro the Lion's little explanation by analogy seems pretty easy to decipher — for all we know is that the principal characters simply hail from these states — compared to the other shit out there right now.

Let's look at The Decemberists' "The Rake's Song," a little ditty about girl problems from their newest record, The Hazards of Love.

What can one do when one is a widower,

Shamefully saddled with three little pests?

All that I wanted was the freedom of a new life,

So my burden I began to divest.

All right, all right, all right.

Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove.

Dawn was easy; she was drowned in the bath.

Eziah fought but was easily bested,

Burned his body for incurring my wrath.

All right, all right, all right.

And that's how I came, your humble narrator,

To be living so easy and free.

Expect you think that I should be haunted,

But it never really bothers me.

All right, all right, all right.

Creepy, right? It's all part of an epic story, I know, but it's also a little disturbing. Maybe The Decemberists are just going beyond the bounds of popular music at this point. Singing about infanticide through foxglove poisoning is arty, sure (and I can appreciate that), but their work is certainly not in any way useful to someone who drunkenly texted another woman in a vile attempt to make his girlfriend jealous.

If you think popular music should be escapist, taking you through stories far removed from your daily life, The Decemberists are doing a great job. If, however, you believe popular music should mean something to the people who hear it, you're going to have to concede that guys like Jason DeRulo are doing a great job by comparison.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that I can relate pretty much any relationship-based conflict I've ever had to an R&B song, though I'll mercifully spare you any other examples. I'll bet you can, too. Hell, I'll do it for you: Think of a fight with your significant other, e-mail me a synopsis, and I'll name your song — probably either R&B or country.

I'll be damned if I can think of much in the way of contemporary indie rock that means anything to me when it comes to the most important issues we face in our lives. A lot of it is willfully oblique; most of the rest is too emo for grownups.

The point is this: I'm over my aversion to R&B, thanks to Jason DeRulo. As should anyone who finds a catchy song that encapsulates life's problems as perfectly as DeRulo's did mine. Think about it: Is there an R&B song that describes your last serious fight with a significant other? If so, can you possibly not appreciate it on a deeper level than "The Rake's Song?"

Mmmm whatcha say?

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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar