How do you follow up the longest-running Billboard Hot 100 hit ever? For Jason Mraz, the answer is try and save the world.
After “I’m Yours” lit up the Hot 100 with its easygoing ukulele licks and unapologetic optimism for a record 76 weeks ending in October 2009 (peaking at No. 6), the singer/songwriter headed to the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2010 to help with efforts to clean the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Next was a trip to Ghana to fight child slavery alongside the nonprofit Free the Slaves; a year-and-a-half later, Mraz was in Antarctica, spending time with Al Gore and learning about climate change aboard the National Geographic Explorer.
In between his activist outings, Mraz wrote and recorded his fourth album, “Love Is a Four Letter Word” (out April 17 on Atlantic), with producer Joe Chiccarelli ( Young the Giant, Christina Perri). First single “I Won’t Give Up,” a slow-burning ode to making a difference, became his second top 10 on the Hot 100. (It’s No. 57 this week.) But Mraz says he’s less interested in following up his biggest hit than using the power that “I’m Yours” gave him to fuel positive change.
“Thanks to ‘I’m Yours,’ I’m probably set for a really long time,” the 34-year-old says. “The pressure I put on myself, or what I hope my ‘I Won’t Give Up’ does, is to make a difference in people’s lives . . . With ‘I’m Yours,’ I got to go out and set my feet on different continents, and expose myself to different cultures and causes. I wanted to see who I was, outside of music.”
Mraz’s upbeat pop-rock stylings have caught listeners’ ears for a decade. Before “I’m Yours” went from a hastily released demo to a live favorite to the first single from 2008’s “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things” to the ninth-biggest-selling digital song of all time (6.1 million copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan), his bouncy 2002 debut, “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry),” peaked at No. 15 on the Hot 100, and “You and I Both” topped the Triple A chart in 2003. “I Won’t Give Up” features a slower tempo and a sparse arrangement, but became a favorite when it was unveiled during Mraz’s 2011 tour and inspired viral covers by YouTube stars like Christina Grimmie and Tyler Ward before its official release.
When a studio version of “I Won’t Give Up” was issued in January as a preview of “Love,” it immediately blasted onto the Hot 100 at No. 8, selling 229,000 downloads in its first week, according to SoundScan. That number has swelled to 906,000, and “I Won’t Give Up” has posted top 25 slots on Adult Top 40, Triple A and Adult Contemporary-not bad for a song that, like “I’m Yours,” wasn’t meant to be a single.
“We were going to release an acoustic version of that song — it was really meant as a fan piece, just a reminder that the album was coming soon,” manager Bill Silva of Bill Silva Management says. “What surprised us is how the fans reacted. We didn’t pre-promote the single, we didn’t go to radio with it, and this song did 229,000 units its first week in the U.S. There was clearly something resonant about the song, and . . . it immediately shifted the strategy for what the rollout of the album was going to be.”
Accordingly, “Love’s” release date moved up from May 8 to April 17, and Mraz performed “I Won’t Give Up” on “Today” and “Late Show With David Letterman” in February. A music video was released Feb. 17, and has racked up 3.2 million YouTube views. The singer also launched the #IWONTGIVEUP Instagram contest, in which fans could submit their own artwork for the single using the popular photo app.
Like “I’m Yours,” “I Won’t Give Up” will remain the focus of Atlantic’s marketing campaign long after the album release. In the April 14 issue, the track debuted at No. 75 on Hot 100 Airplay, up 6% with 15 million audience impressions, according to Nielsen BDS. The May 15 episode of “Glee” will include a cover of the song, and Mraz has appearances on “Ellen” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” scheduled for release week.
However, Atlantic Records Group chairman/COO Julie Greenwald stresses that Atlantic isn’t promoting “Love Is a Four Letter Word” soley through its lead single. A four-song, digital-only EP, “Live Is a Four Letter Word,” which featured acoustic versions of Love tracks, arrived Feb. 28 and debuted at No. 56 on the Billboard 200.
And when Mraz brings his new material out on the road — during a world tour that starts June 8 in South Korea — he’ll continue spreading a subtle environmental message by offsetting the 56-date trek’s carbon footprint.
“This spring we’ll plant saplings that, based on an equation, equals the amount of carbon emissions that I release into the atmosphere with all my flying and traveling with my entourage,” Mraz says. “Our tour would be carbon neutral and/or go above and beyond that, and leave a trail of green in our wake.”