Billboard’s year-end issue is all about one question: What makes a hit now? So we asked some of the biggest names in music — like Jason Derulo — for their thoughts. The singer topped the Billboard Hot 100 in October with “Savage Love (Laxed — Siren Beat),” a TikTok-friendly team-up with New Zealand producer Jawsh 685 and K-pop stars BTS. It’s Derulo’s first No. 1 on the chart since 2009’s “Whatcha Say.”
I write songs every single day. I’m constantly on the prowl for something that stands out, whether it’s a horn sound or a really interesting drum pattern — just something that feels left of center and special. Sometimes it can start off with a concept, and the concept leads the entire way. [2015’s] “Want To Want Me” started with the lyric. But finding that defining ingredient is the main goal.
There’s a very free-form style that’s pretty popping in urban music these days, but I just don’t come from that school. I continue to write songs like I’ve always written songs, and that’s having a format. It’s pretty much the Max Martin school of songwriting — even though I’m not a part of his camp, I really live and die by those sets of Swedish songwriting elements: a specific amount of bars for a verse, a specific amount of bars for a pre-hook, a hook, maybe a post-hook. I do believe there is a basis for a hit, but just because you go by that doesn’t mean your song is good. I may be doing the same form as Steph Curry, but that doesn’t mean my jump shot is as wet. You still have to sound amazing.
I mean, I never write bad songs. Like, ever! I’ve been writing songs my whole life, so it’s not like I’m going into the studio to write a bad song. When I’m writing, I’ll do anywhere from nine to 16 melody ideas for a verse. Same thing for the hook. At the end of the day, the most powerful melody is going to win each section. It’s almost like a puzzle, really, just trying to fit the pieces in together. But it’s also about making people feel something, whether it’s making them want to get up and dance, making them want to sing along or saying words that people want to say — just making them feel something. The song has to become the words for us when we don’t have the words. Those are the most powerful songs: when you can relate them to a certain instance in your life.