Give GIVĒON A Chance

Nico Kartel

Give GIVĒON A Chance

Nico Kartel

Every time he opens his mouth to sing, GIVĒON commands attention. For the past year, he’s been getting more and more of it, and deservedly so. The 26-year-old Long Beach native has the kind of voice that would stir you from a stupor in any era, but the depth of his baritone especially stands out in an age when hot new R&B singers are often lithe tenors like 6LACK, Brent Faiyaz, and Daniel Caesar, Chris Brown remains a radio mainstay, and a wave of artists with chirpy processed vocals have blurred the line between rapping and singing. There’s an implied authority to a voice like GIVĒON’s; it can be smooth and velvety, but it also booms outward with a resounding voice-of-God effect similar to James Earl Jones. It stands out.

Among those who have noticed are Drake and Justin Bieber. Last year GIVĒON scored a major breakthrough with his appearance on “Chicago Freestyle,” one of the most popular tracks on Drake’s mixtape Dark Lane Demo Tapes. Over plaintive piano chords, the singer conjured the same kind of trembling, world-weary gravitas Sampha has provided for stars like Drake in the past — enough to inject pathos into an opening line as corny as “Two-thirty, baby, won’t you meet me by the Bean?” and layers of emotion into a closing line as basic as “Will I see you at the show tonight?” The song charted as high as #14 in the US and officially put GIVĒON on the radar.

If Drake put GIVĒON on, Bieber took him all the way to the top. “Peaches,” from Bieber’s recent blockbuster Justice, aligns Bieber with GIVĒON and Daniel Caesar. Over a loose, jazzy vamp that reminds me of neo-soul records from 20 years ago — or, less charitably, early Maroon 5 — the Biebs professes that he gets his peaches in Georgia and his weed from California, one of those choruses that will get stuck in your head regardless of whether you love or hate it. Between those refrains, Caesar and GIVĒON step in to show off their vocal prowess, their voices moving with a subtle grace to the groove. In the video, which premiered the same night Justice dropped, the three of them cruise city streets inside and outside a car while also hamming it up for the camera in various colorful settings. It was a winning formula: “Peaches” debuted at #1 and has remained in the top five ever since.

In the interim, GIVĒON has been making moves of his own. He released two EPs through Epic last year, March’s Take Time and October’s When It’s All Said And Done. The former nabbed a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album and spun off GIVĒON’s biggest solo hit so far, “Heartbreak Anniversary,” which has climbed into the top 10 of American Spotify and so far peaked at #22 on the Hot 100. Last month, Epic re-released GIVĒON’s two EPs as one 13-track, 37-minute project called When It’s All Said And Done… Take Time, which debuted at #5 on the Billboard 200 album chart. Statistically speaking, he’s having a very good couple years.

If his two hit features showcased GIVĒON’s range, the new double-EP fleshes out his persona and aesthetic. Over soft, shadowy production that often sounds ghostly and luxuriant in equal measure, he sings with the conversational looseness and melodic inflection of a guy who was in high school when Frank Ocean was blowing up. A song like the slow jam “Like I Want You” shows flashes of new-school pan-genre softie Khalid but also late-’90s balladeers like Donnell Jones and Brian McKnight and, of course, ’70s soul man Barry White. The depth of his voice comes through more clearly than ever when contrasted with Snoh Aalegra’s on “Last Time.” Yet despite the influence of acts across the history of adult-contemporary R&B, you can also clearly hear the impact of crooners like Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. GIVĒON told Rolling Stone he learned about the Rat Pack and such as part of a summer program he did at the Grammy Museum: “That’s when I discovered there were these really swaggy, charismatic, non-gimmicky baritone singers. I was inspired by that. And I wanted to modernize that essentially and make it more youthful and make it more me.”

The modernization has as much to do with his lyrical phrasings, which present recognizable characters in various phases of falling in and out of love. On “Still Your Best,” GIVĒON dismisses an ex’s new beau like so: “It’s almost disrespectful/ That’s a downgrade and you know it.” On “Vanish,” he’s caught in a conflict, dispensing analysis that could read as wise or condescending depending on your perdpective: “You said you hate me and you wish I would vanish/ OK, you love me/ Baby, I speak your language.” He is versatile enough to sing “World We Created,” a warm and elegant love song about commitment (“We fall deep into the bed/ We become the threads, intertwining”) and follow it up immediately with a tribute to illicit sex like “Favorite Mistake.” He delivers the contrast within a single song on “This Ain’t Love,” dropping stone-hearted bars warning a woman not to get attached in the context of a lush, radio-ready arrangement that feels like it would have been a straightforward love song in some other generation. On “Stuck On You,” he finds himself on the opposite end of a similar situation, bringing nuance to a narrator who might otherwise come off pathetic: “I can’t say I love you no more/ ‘Cause my friends gon’ judge me for sure/ It took some time but I realized/ You do me wrong but it feels right.”

GIVĒON’s signature hit so far is one of his most classic-sounding singles. On “Heartbreak Anniversary,” he passionately bellows about cold memories on a blustery day: “I get like this every time/ On these days that feel like you and me’s heartbreak anniversary.” Another exquisite arrangement undergirds the drama, enlivening a simple piano-led chord progression and surprisingly hard-hitting live drums with livewire electric guitar that almost serves as a duet partner. It sounds old-fashioned yet vibrantly alive, tasteful and approachable without tipping over into schlock. If GIVĒON can maintain this quality level for a few more years, his catalog may someday be as deep as his voice.

CHART WATCH

At this point we might need to get Oprah to point and exclaim, “You get a #1 debut! You get a #1 debut! You get a #1 debut!” Streaming has so fundamentally changed the Billboard Hot 100 that new singles are entering atop the chart with startling frequency these days. Before today, 51 songs had debuted at #1 in the 63-year history of the chart. Sixteen of them arrived within the past year, dating back to Drake’s “Toosie Slide” 366 days ago today. The previous 16 premiered within the past decade. Clearly a #1 debut does not mean now what it meant 10 or 15 years ago.

That said, entering at #1 remains a huge deal, especially for an artist like Polo G, a rapper who has not historically been known as a pop crossover success story like Drake or Travis Scott. “RAPSTAR,” which begins its Hot 100 run at #1 today, is his first song to even crack the top 10 — though he came close with his sublimely bleak Lil Tjay collab “Pop Out,” which peaked at #11 two years ago. “RAPSTAR” becomes the 52nd song to debut at #1. Polo G is the first Chicago rapper to appear on a #1 hit since Chance The Rapper guested on DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One” in 2017, and he’s the first to hit #1 as a lead artist since Kanye West’s “Stronger” in 2007.

Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” holds steady at #2. Last week’s chart-topper, Silk Sonic’s “Leave The Door Open,” falls back to #3, followed by Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar, and GIVĒON’s “Peaches” at #4. Following the Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” at #5 and Dua Lipa and DaBaby’s “Levitating” at #6 comes a #7 debut for Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More.” Per Billboard, it’s Doja’s second top-10 hit (after the #1 smash “Say So”) and SZA’s fourth, matching her chart peak with Kendrick Lamar on 2018’s “All The Stars.” Cardi B’s “Up,” Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License,” and Masked Wolf’s “Astronaut In The Ocean” round out the top 10.

Over on the Billboard 200 albums chart, Taylor Swift scores her third #1 album in under a year by taking Fearless to #1 for the first time in 13 years. Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Swift’s faithfully re-recorded edition of her Grammy-winning 2008 blockbuster, enters atop the chart with 291,000 equivalent album units and 179,000 in sales, Billboard reports. It’s the biggest first-week total of 2021 so far, surpassing Morgan Wallen’s 265,000-unit debut for Dangerous: The Double Album. Swift’s new old album also boasts the biggest streaming week ever for a country album by a woman, as well as the biggest debut by a country album since Luke Bryan’s Kill The Lights in 2015.

The original Fearless also debuted at #1 and spent 11 nonconsecutive weeks atop the chart. Taylor’s Version follows Swift’s #1 debuts with folklore and evermore last July and December, respectively. She’s the first woman to ever score three #1 albums within a year. Her latest becomes Swift’s ninth #1 album overall, tying Madonna for second overall among women. Barbra Streisand holds the record with 11, while the Beatles lead all artists with 14.

The Best Of DMX, which previously peaked at #73 upon its release in 2010, rockets up to a new #2 this week in the wake of the rapper’s death. The compilation sold 9,000 new copies last week but mostly saw a huge surge in streaming, its 88.56 million on-demand track streams translating to 59,000 units. It’s the late Earl Simmons’ best chart position since 2006’s Year Of The Dog… Again debuted at #2. The rest of the top 10 comprises Justin Bieber, Morgan Wallen, Rod Wave, Ariana Grande, the Weeknd, Lil Tjay, Pop Smoke, and Dua Lipa. Brockhampton’s Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine just missed the top 10 with a #11 debut.

POP FIVE

Regard, Troye Sivan, & Tate McRae – “You”
Troye Sivan and Tate McRae on a briskly luxuriant electro-pop beat? I am in favor of it.

Julia Michaels – “Love Is Weird”
This song, like love, is weird in a good way. I appreciate how much these new Julia Michaels songs have been surprising me despite standing completely on brand for her.

Bebe Rexha – “Sabotage”
Oh my God, it’s a mirage! I’m tellin y’all, it’s… a middling-to-decent pop piano ballad!

Emotional Oranges – “Down To Miami” (Feat. Becky G)
I appreciate this low-key depressive spin on R&B-tinged Latin pop.

Almost Monday – “hailey beebs”
This could be such a solid 1975-esque synth-and-guitar pop song if it wasn’t named after Justin Bieber’s wife, and yet I probably wouldn’t have listened to it if it wasn’t named after Justin Bieber’s wife. A true conundrum.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Olivia Rodrigo revealed the artwork, tracklist, and title — Sour — for her debut album, out 5/21. [Instagram]
  • “We are truly disappointed. I speak on behalf of the family,” says the late Maurizio Gucci’s second cousin Patrizia of Lady Gaga’s forthcoming movie The House Of Gucci. [AP]
  • Charlie Puth is teaching a month-long songwriting class. [Monthly]
  • Madonna bought the Weeknd’s Hidden Hills home for $19.3 million. [Rap-Up]
  • Demi Lovato and Drew Barrymore discussed their challenging experiences as child stars. [YouTube]
  • In other Lovato news, her eating disorder sitcom got a pilot order at NBC. [THR]
  • On that note, Lovato called out a frozen yogurt shop for advertising diet options. [TMZ]
  • BTS are the latest act to get their own McDonald’s meal. [USA Today]
  • Country stars Eric Church, Darius Rucker, and Ashley McBryde appear in a new vaccination PSA. [YouTube]
  • DaBaby says he’ll have a new album in July. [Billboard]
  • Doja Cat revealed a new collection with fast fasion retailer Pretty Little Thing. [Pretty Little Thing]
  • Mark Ronson will host Watch The Sound, a new docuseries examining audio technology for Apple TV+. [Deadline]
  • Pooh Shiesty made his TV debut on Fallon. [YouTube]
  • Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez officially announced their split. [Today]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

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