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Written by Adam Robson
"This new belt is really digging into me" is hopefully not the biggest insight we are going to get from Taio Cruz today. UKMix has been invited with a select group of journalists, bloggers and tweeters to an acoustic set and chat with the 'Break Your Heart' hitmaker, recorded especially for Capital FM's Big Top 40 show.
I must admit to being in two minds about how the performance will come across. Having been very impressed with Taio's set at the 2008 V Festival, I am wary of how the energy, big beats and earth-shaking bass are going to be able to present themselves in an acoustic environment. To my mind, Taio Cruz has always been about catchy hooks and exciting production above vocal ability. Though ask Taio which of his producer-songwriter-vocalist ambitions is his favourite and he won't pick - "If you had three kids, you can't say you love one of them the most".
That answer doing nothing to dismiss my misgivings, I am admittedly very impressed with the controlled, smooth vocals of his first number, the UK and US No.1 hit "Break Your Heart". It all looks like it comes very easily to him and the falsetto notes are a lot stronger than I had expected, in a number that is impressively as catchy on the guitar as in studio.
Having had success with this number both sides of the pond, it's a good time to put to Taio why he thinks it is that UK talents are succeeding in America more frequently. "I .. just think that the sound they're going for is quite European, some of them quite dance orientated", a case in point being Ke$ha, the "Tik Tok" starlet with whom Taio collaborates on his latest single, "Dirty Picture", This one doesn't work so well acoustically, try as the musicians might, it's very hard to recreate the 'dirty' club sound of the track in an acoustic setting.
Taio seems to be having a harder time of it too - as he correctly identifies "Ke$ha isn't here right now" - he has to be two artists at once, his pitch flying up and down as he tries to imitate his female counterpart's vocals along with his own. While his singing again proves a triumph - albeit in a not especially hard song to master - his talking slash rapping combo is less convincing. The next Jay-Z he is not. Still, it's a brave effort of a song that was probably never destined to make a Live Lounge CD.
So, with Ke$ha, Tinchy Stryder and Luciana duets under his belt, who is Taio's dream collaborator? "Ideally it'd be Michael Jackson" he muses, "but that's not possible now". Not that it's stopped others, someone might want to tell him. Pressed about whether there is anyone still alive on his hit list, he continues, "Anyone making great music. Beyonce is up there, Justin Timberlake is up there, GaGa is getting up there. But none of them are Michael". His benchmark must have risen following his US success then, given that he's been in the studio with Shayne Ward, a competent popstar perhaps, but not exactly the new King of Pop.
With Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls also taken under his production wing, who was his favourite and who the most difficult? "They were all fantastic and no-one was difficult" he replies, in what can be looked at as a very diplomatic, or a very boring response.
Luckily, his last track, owing to having the same years of rehearsal as that last answer, is far from dull. "Come On Girl" does suffer from the lack of Luciana - I am half hoping he'll start screeching out her verse - he doesn't - but is otherwise absolutely epic for an acoustic track. It's the kind of moment you feel you can really dance to, despite the lack of the production values that made it a hit initially.
If one thing was always clear, it is that Taio Cruz is a master at writing a radio hit - he knows exactly what is catchy and what people what to hear. What I've learned today is that behind the diplomacy, where it really matters - the vocals - he has the skills to pull it out of the bag. This surely makes him one of the UK's brightest young prospects - providing he just lets his music do his talking.
WEBSITE: Official Taio Cruz site