Jason Derulo got really lucky. He rose to fame with an odd Imogen Heap sample–the idea of “Whatcha Say” becoming a hit sounds just as improbable now as it did then, no matter how much music J.R. Rotem raids for clips–and stayed there because he, Iyaz, Jay Sean, Sean Kingston and company collectively filled the hole Chris Brown left in pop-R&B. Then Brown came back with predecessor Usher, making their services obsolete. What has Iyaz or Jay Sean done lately, anyway? (Kingston has extenuating circumstances.)
This puts Derulo in a challenging spot for his upcoming second album, but you can’t say he’s not trying to distinguish himself or at least recap his career. “Don’t Wanna Go Home” was the “Whatcha Say,” a glue-trap collage of disparate samples that worked, but barely. That wasn’t quite the hit he needed, peaking at No. 14, so now we’re at plan B: dock the “Banana Boat Song,” gimmicks and vocoders in favor of acoustic guitar and whooshy sounds to signal that Derulo is all lovey-dovey and poised to woo you. But can “It Girl” become a hit and make Derulo it? (He punned it, we pun it.) Listen below:
The original It Girl was the flawed-yet-flawless Clara Bow. Nobody involved in the songwriting process seems to remember this, choosing the phrase because it’s vaguely trendy despite being decades old and can be rhymed with all sorts of fun things like “hit girl,” “fit girl” and “the shit, girl.” (The comma is required, if not quite sung.) Over a backing that’s competent but unremarkable–the whistling is pleasant, we concede, and Derulo’s singing’s improved massively since album one–Derulo gives his chosen girl a cornucopia of nonpliments like “a TV show playing reruns” (those had better be MTV or Nickelodeon shows and not, like, the umpteenth Golden Girls) and “much more than a Grammy award–that’s how much you mean to me.” You know who else won a Grammy? Train! Also, this seems more self-promoting than anything, kinda like “hey, I mentioned the Grammys, hint hint.”
Not that “It Girl”‘s likely to show up at the Grammys except maybe as between-spectacles filler. “Don’t Wanna Go Home” might’ve been bizarre and overstuffed, but it at least made an impression; here, Derulo and his producers have blended everything that’s sorta worked in the past into something diluted. The song’s acoustica could be any songwriter’s, and the lyrics crib the same girl-as-hit-song metaphor that the Gym Class Heroes and (more damningly) Iyaz have done in the past few years, to take the narrowest view, as well as “love drunk” from the Boys Like Girls hit that wasn’t romantic. The song doesn’t have “it” so much as all of those, and if you’re trying to make a case for yourself as a lasting artist and personality, there will always be more of those out there.