Jason Derulo has come under fire for sampling a piece of music by rising New Zealand musician Joshua Stylah (aka Jawsh 685), whose “Laxed (Siren Beat)” has become TikTok’s most explosive viral track — to the tune of over 750,000 TikToks a day and more than 43 million total views as of this writing — without giving proper credit or gaining official clearance.
The melody’s popularity comes partly from some famous co-signs, like influencers Addison Rae and Tony Lopez, and Hollywood stars like Jessica Alba, but also millions of regular TikTokers who connected with the song’s understated island vibe. Stylah, a 17-year-old high school student from Auckland, salutes his Samoan and Cook Island heritage with the song by referencing “685” midway through (the calling code for Samoa) which has sparked users to post “Culture Dance” videos in which they celebrate their heritage by dancing to the song and wearing costumes reflecting their roots.
The instrumental is what’s called a “siren jam” and Stylah’s unique sound comes from a New Zealand/Pasifika trend of creating beats to play through siren speakers, usually attached to cars or bikes. The island sound commonly draws from dembow and reggae music, and Stylah shared many other “siren jam” tracks prior to his TikTok smash blowing up. Reminiscent of Jamaica’s dancehall scene and Latin America’s embrace of reggaeton, it’s a musical point of pride.
So where does Jason Derulo fit in? Last Sunday, the pop-R&B star dropped a few bars of a new song, “Savage Love,” which uses the “Laxed” melody as the hook, to his 20 million-plus TikTok followers. Initially, he posted the clip without giving credit to the New Zealand teen. That sparked outrage from Stylah’s fans, and Derulo’s next “Savage Love” post credited Stylah and his beat in the caption. “Had fun remixing @jawsh_685 siren beat #SavageLove 🔥🔥🔥 summer vibes,” wrote Derulo, who also tagged Stylah in response to a fan on Instagram, writing, “@jawsh_685 killed this beat.” Between the two TikToks, Derulo garnered millions of views on his own and through others using “Savage Love” as its own track. The title was displayed as such: “SAVAGE LOVE. Jason Derulo – jasonderulo”
Simultaneously, Stylah was in the final stages of negotiating to sign with Columbia Records, the result of relentless efforts by the Sony Music label to locate him via his mother on Facebook — going so far as to track the young musician down through his boxing gym and high school — and he was also talking to artists about possibly jumping on the track, among them: Jason Derulo.
But as momentum for “Laxed” continued to build, Derulo didn’t wait for a sign-off and went “rogue,” says a source close to the situation. “Jason wanted the beat for a record — he wanted the song to be a Jason Derulo song with Jawsh as a producer. But Jawsh should make decisions of what he wants to do with it, not be bullied by a bigger artist into putting it out.” So far, no agreement regarding compensation has been reached though the parties are in touch. Stylah, now officially on the Columbia roster, is believed to be self-published.
Polynesian music communities throughout the region were incensed.
“Give credit to the NZ producer that made the original beat,” wrote one Twitter user.
“You not slick Jason Dorito, we seen you delete it the first time cos it was getting flooded with hate,” wrote another. “Make sure you give love ($) to jawsh365 for the beat you ripped.”
Other fans have come into bat for Stylah on his YouTube page in recent days. “I’m sad Josh didn’t get the recognition he deserves,” wrote one fan. “A shoutout in a comment section and in a caption is shit.”
“I just hate how jason derulo didnt give credit to you man,” added another YouTuber. “Our pacific islanders and other islands should be thanked for showing this sound especially jawsh 685.”
One fan accused Derulo of raining on Stylah’s cultural achievement and making the path of aspiring Polynesian entertainers more difficult. “Just in time for Pacific Islander history month, Jason Derulo honored the Polynesian community by completely stealing an entire beat from a teenage Polynesian artist,” Tik Tok user Lakewood Papi said in one post, adding, “Pacific Islanders have been trying to make it mainstream for years. But its’ [sic] hard when big artists like Jason have to steal stuff to stay relevant.”
Stylah himself took to social media days after Derulo’s post, reportedly sharing an Instagram Story in which he demonstrated how “literally anyone” could alter the description section of his original YouTube release so that the track appeared to be free.
Chalk up some of the disconnect to Stylah’s age and inexperience, but Derulo, who did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment or an interview, should know better. After all, one of the singer’s biggest hits, “Talk Dirty,” features the ethnic melodies of Israeli horn outfit Balkan Beat Box. Derulo also spent the last decade signed to Warner Records (after five studio albums, he and the Warner Music Group label parted ways amicably earlier this year) where clearances are a matter of course.
To be clear, permission is not needed from a music maker to soundtrack a TikTok video so long as properly credited, but passing a melody off as your own is a different matter. “This is about giving credit where it’s due,” adds the insider. “Here’s a new, young artist having an explosive moment and cultural success with the work he created. He’s been part of bringing a taste of New Zealand and the Polynesian siren sound to people all across the globe. Jason should either apologize or say this this piece of amazing music was made by this artist.”
Indeed, the melody of “Laxed” is the sort of engrossing piece of music — uplifting and wistful at the same time — that registers instantly. It’s one reason why labels competed to sign Jawsh 685. As one veteran A&R executive puts it: “It’s rare to have a record without a topline do this well.”
For Stylah’s part, he remains upbeat. “Feeling thankful for all of the support so far,” he said in a statement, before shouting out his South Auckland suburb. “Focusing on all the positive things to come and getting Manurewa 67 on the map! Keep it loud and styla.’’