Taio Cruz: Comes clean
Having recently seen his BRIT-nominated single ‘Break Your Heart’ repeat its UK chart-topping success by prestigiously making a record-breaking leap to Number One in the US Hot 100, London-raised singer/songwriter/ producer Taio Cruz now returns with the darker, synth-driven grooves of his naughty new UK Top 10 single ‘Dirty Picture’. Which - taken from his Top 15 LP ‘Rokstarr’ - also features vocal input from internationally-chart-topping new American pop princess Kesha.
Dubbed by critics “a toss-up between Babyface, Justin Timberlake and John Legend”, Taio was born in April 1983 in the UK to a Nigerian father and Brazilian mother. Going on to attend school in rural Sussex, his love of the Eighties pop/dance of Madonna and Michael Jackson soon became evident during music classes where he’d spend his time picking out tunes on the piano. Recording his first demos as a teenager, Cruz began taking his songs and productions more seriously during his college years - resulting in him impressively signing a US publishing deal at just 18 years old!
Meanwhile, with his talents by this time already acknowledged by such high-profile US producers as Dallas Austin (Madonna/TLC) and ‘Tricky’ Stewart (Rihanna/Mariah Carey), 2006 saw an ever-ambitious Cruz setting up his own company Rokstarr Music (hence the title of his current LP!), through which he released his debut single ‘I Just Wanna Know’ .Which in turn led to him signing an unprecedented joint-venture record deal with two Universal Music companies (Island in the UK; Universal Republic in the US), following which he eventually released in Britain his 2008 debut album ‘Departure’ - which impressively spawned three UK Top 20 singles (‘Come On Girl’; ‘Like A Star’; ‘I Can Be’).
Meanwhile, with his impressive past CV also including a BRIT Award for co-penning British pop idol Will Young’s chart-topper ‘Your Game’ plus ongoing US writing/production work for the likes of Britney Spears, Usher, and Justin Timberlake, 2009 found Cruz solidifying his emergence as one of Britain’s most in-demand producers further by writing two UK Top Three smashes for grime MC Tinchy Stryder (‘Take Me Back’; plus the Number One ‘Never Leave You’).
Accomplished all-rounder Taio now reacquaints himself with Pete Lewis. As he happily discusses, in soft-spoken tones, his aforementioned new single; its accompanying current album ‘Rokstarr’; his chart-topping US success; plus his Rockstarr fashion and accessories brand.
PETE: Let’s start by discussing your naughty new Top 10 single ‘Dirty Picture’
TAIO: “Funnily enough, it’s like it kinda came outta nowhere really. I basically just wanted to create a song that had a fun, electro-sounding beat. So I started producing a track with Fraser T. Smith, and it came out with this really cool, dirty bass-line. So I started saying ‘dirty’… And, as I was mumbling this line - like I do when I’m trying to write a song - the words ‘dirty picture’ just CAME to me! So, because I thought that was kind of a cool topic, I just started writing the song AROUND it. And that’s how ‘Dirty Picture’ came into existence!”
PETE: The song features now-chart-topping US pop princess Kesha, who was unknown at the time you chose her for the track…
TAIO: “Well, I heard her single ‘Tik Tok’ before it was released, and I just really liked how she sounded. I felt her voice was very unique and easily identifiable, and that she was going to do really well. So I thought I’d put her on ‘Dirty Picture’ - and she just fitted PERFECTLY! To me she sort of made the song come to life, and we were just happy all-round with it. And then, when she called and said she wanted to put a version of it on her OWN album (‘Animal’) as well, I just thought for that version it would be awesome for her to sing the first verse. Because it would give her fans a little bit more of HER on the song. And, as I expected, she did an amazing job!”
PETE: So how do you feel about your record-breaking, chart-topping US success with ‘Break Your Heart’?
TAIO: “I mean, the record-breaking thing I can’t explain at all. But, in terms of the record itself being successful, I really just think it’s down to it being a good song that people liked, enjoyed and went out and BOUGHT! And, as far as getting (US chart-topping rapper) Ludacris on the American version, he’s on Def Jam - which I am now too in America. So we called him and asked him to be on the track. And he called us back saying that he really loved it, that he thought it was a hit song… And so he decided to put his VOICE down on it! Simple as that!”
PETE: What’s the experience of cracking America been like?
TAIO: “I was over there for a month just recently and I’m going back again next month. And I’d say there’s at least quadruple - if not QUINTUPLE - the amount of work to do over there compared to the UK! There’s just so many more radio stations, so many more people to meet and speak to, so many more shows to perform… So we’re doing as much work as possible and trying to fulfil our obligations as best we can. I mean, the album we’re releasing over there as ‘Rockstarr’ is a bit of a mixture of the first album (2008’s ‘Departure’), the UK version of ‘Rokstarr’, plus a couple of new songs. So yeah, it’s really cool - and hopefully the US will enjoy it and go out and buy it!”
PETE: So what are the plans currently for your Rokstarr brand - best known to date for its sunglasses?
TAIO: “We’re currently looking to expand the brand and possibly go into things like watches. I’ve also got a new subsidiary of Rokstarr called ‘Rok By Rokstarr’. And we’ve just started doing things like jeans and T-shirts, and stuff that more of the fans of Taio Cruz can buy. Because, with Rokstarr in itself being quite expensive, a lot of the kids out there who want to buy Rokstarr things can’t actually AFFORD them. So we’re bringing in stuff that’s a little bit more High Street and more affordable. Then, with regards to the Rokstarr record label, we’ve signed some producers called The Arcade who feature on the song ‘Best Girl’ on the ‘Rokstarr’ album. You know, they’re awesome producers who are definitely doing some amazing things. Plus we’re also always looking for new ARTISTS. It’s just that we haven’t found anyone yet that we think is like that unbelievable or amazing.”
PETE: With your music being so diverse, how do you feel about still being generally labelled ‘an R&B artist’?
TAIO: “I just personally like to call things exactly what they are. So, while to me the music that’s on ‘Rokstarr’ isn’t R&B music, it seems easy for people to put it into that box for whatever reason they choose to DO that. I mean, I feel like if I made the same music as Kesha, they’d still call what I’m making ‘R&B’ and what Kesha makes ‘pop’. Which to me is silly, because it’s all the same MUSIC! You know, if you listen to ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ by Rihanna, then to ‘Just Dance’ by Lady GaGa, then to ‘Break Your Heart’, and then to ‘Tik Tok’ by Kesha - you’ll hear those records are in the same GENRE. Yet for various reasons, they all get called different things. Whereas in my opinion, the music that’s popular at the moment - the music that I’ve made, and that Jay Sean’s made, that’s rocked America - is basically just a very dance-influenced sort of pop music.”
Taio’s single ‘Dirty Picture feat. Kesha’ and album ‘Rokstarr’ are both out now through Island Records Group. The single ‘Dynamite’ follows on August 23
Words PETE LEWIS