When Jason Derulo broke his neck in 2012, he saw his career flash before his eyes. He had spent years building a name for himself in the music industry by winning the 2006 season finale of the TV show Showtime at the Apollo, writing songs for the likes of Diddy and Lil Wayne, and starting his own record label. But after he fell rehearsing acrobatics for a dance routine, he feared it would all come crashing down.
“I thought of giving up…I thought it would be my demise,” the 33-year-old singer says. The grueling seven-month recovery process challenged his resolve and left him questioning his self-worth. “I couldn’t tie my shoes. I couldn’t take a shower by myself. It was a really kind of a debilitating place to be in, as you can imagine.”
But he got through the darkness using positive self-talk and gradually building his mental and physical strength through daily routines, which resulted in him creating some of his biggest hits to date. “I wrote songs like ‘Marry Me’, ‘Talk Dirty’, ‘Other Side and ‘Wiggle’ during that time period. I was writing a lot of songs that were uplifting to kind of lift me out of the negative space that I was in.”
Jason eventually made a full physical recovery – and his career followed suit. He’s now sold more than 250 million singles and released his first book, Sing Your Name Out Loud, which shares his 15 rules for artists and creators to start their own path of success. And with more than 58 million TikTok followers, he’s clearly reached the level of global superstar – something his younger self would have never believed.
“The first time I felt insecure was when I was a kid,” he says. “I was like, ‘Why am I fat?’ Why do I have asthma? Why do I have acne? Why me?’ I felt like I was alone. The only thing that could get me out of that place was working towards not being in that place. I started studying about health and jogging with my siblings in dry cleaner bags… now I know what it takes to be the best version of myself.”
When Jason became a father in 2021, his perception of the world changed yet again – and he shifted his focus from himself to his son, Jason Jr.
“He is my world. Everything is for him,” he says. “I didn’t get enough time with my dad as he was always chasing a dream. I want to break the mold in that perspective. Yes, I’m chasing my own dream, but my son needs his time – and I need my time with my son.”
We interviewed Jason Derulo for Question Your Perception Box, a Big Think interview series created in partnership with Unlikely Collaborators. As a creative non-profit organization, they’re on a mission to help people challenge their perceptions and broaden horizons. Often that growth can start with just a single unlikely question that makes you rethink your convictions and adjust your vantage point. Watch Jason’s full interview above, and visit Perception Box to see more in this series.
Words: Jamie Carson
NARRATOR: In what aspect of your life do you not feel good enough? When is the first time you remember feeling that way?
JASON DERULO: I wish I had one end of that. I have a ton.
Hey, what's up, people? I'm Jason Derulo, entertainer and now author.
As somebody who deals with all kinds of insecurities. You know, I have a long list. Let's talk about the first time that I felt like that. I remember being a kid. I was like, why am I fat? Why do I have asthma? Why do I have acne? Why me? I felt like I was alone in this situation. Like, all of these things were wrong with me. I just wasn't satisfied. You know, I wasn't happy. The only thing that could get me out of that place is working towards not being in that place.
We used to literally put the dry cleaners bags on. We didn't have sweat suits. I would put it on my brother would put it on my sister and put it on and we would all go on, jogs together. Slowly, I started to see my health get better. Nowadays, that little kid rears its head every so often. I guess is in a totally different kind of form. I've sold 250 million records. I have over 75 platinums within my career. I've done a ton. But I just always feel like I can do better. I always feel like there's more. It is a bit of an obsession and it's a tough place to be in as well because, you know, there's never a destination. I never arrive anywhere.
NARRATOR: Who are you still trying to please?
DERULO: I'm trying to please my mother still. My mother has always been my rock. She's always been the person in my corner. Never led me to believe that my dreams were impossible. I always want to make my mom proud, except releasing Talk Dirty. She didn’t want me to release that one. She was like, “This not you.” I was like, “Mom, this is me.” So ended up releasing Talk Dirty. It did do very well for me.
My son is someone that I want to please. He is my world. You know, he came in and shook everything up, and now everything is for him. I didn't get enough time with my dad, and my dad was always chasing a dream of his. That's the one thing that I want to kind of change, you know, break the mold from that perspective, because, yes, I'm chasing these dreams. I'm chasing, you know, all that stuff is all good. But at the end of the day, my son needs his time and I need my time with my son.
NARRATOR: Where has pain served a purpose in your life?
DERULO: One of the ways I actually talk about in my book, Sing Your Name Out Loud, is when I broke my neck in 2014. I broke my C2 vertebrae. It was one that could have left me either paraplegic or worse. It's called a hangman's break, the break that I had. The moment that the doctor told me that I was going to be out for a significant amount of time. And that moment, yeah, I couldn't hold back the tears. It was a seven, seven-month process where I couldn't tie my shoes. I couldn't take a shower myself. That seven-month process was pretty dark at times and I thought of giving up and what if I'm never able to get back? Did I save enough money? I was worried about this being my demise. I just tried to shut all of the darkness out of my mind and just focus on the day's goals. I relied on the everyday routine and my plan and tried to win each day. And I guess I was writing a lot of songs that were uplifting to kind of lift me out of the negative space that I was in. Songs like Marry Me and Talk Dirty and Other Side and Wiggle. All kinds of songs in that time period.
The human body is really resilient. You have the proper thoughts and you speak to yourself in the right manner. You can really get through anything. I say it all the time. You should speak to yourself like you speak to your very best friend. You would never tell your best friend that you can't do this because I feel like we are so hard on ourselves and so down on ourselves, but we're so much more positive to the people around us. And if we just treated ourselves half as good as we treat other people, even if we're lying, we would have such an easier time in general.
NARRATOR: What do you feel like you're not allowed to share?
DERULO: I used to try to balance my musician persona and my personal persona and try to turn it on when it was music time and kind of keep my true self kind of in the back burner. But that all changed during the pandemic when I decided to do social media. People had a real inside of who I am, where I am, who the people around me are. That was an eye-opening experience. You know that music and your personality go hand in hand. And I don't think you should have one without the other. Once I finally figured it out, I feel like all of the stars started to align and everything started to come together in a beautiful way.