Ne-Yo is only on his third album, but already he has established a couple of themes that run through all his work. The R&B singer/songwriter has decided that each album has to have at least one tribute to his first love and one song that pays homage to his musical icon, Michael Jackson.
"Anybody who has been following Ne-Yo from the start knows that I'm a huge, huge Michael Jackson fan," the singer explained. "And love is one of the few things on the face of this planet that will never go out of style."
The MJ tribute on Ne-Yo's forthcoming album Year of the Gentleman, due in August, is called "Nobody." It's a club-thumping follow-up to his current single, "Closer." (Read what Ne-Yo had to say about whether his remix of Lil Wayne's "A Milli" is a dis of Chris Brown in the MTV Newsroom.)
While "Closer" is about a dancefloor hookup between two strangers, "Nobody" presents a different scenario. "Say she didn't give you anything, but instead she just started dancing, and it was the most amazing thing you've ever seen," Ne-Yo said. "It's like she's untouchable, like it would be a sin to touch her or dance with her, with what's going on with her right now."
When Ne-Yo played the track for Jackson, with whom he's currently working, he got a positive response. "He told me that he likes the way I do Michael Jackson," Ne-Yo beamed. "I asked him what he meant by that, and he said, 'When you do that, it doesn't feel like you're trying to copy me or trying to be me. It feels like you're complimenting me.' And that's what I'm doing. It means the world that he liked it."
Another new track called "Stop the World" is a piano ballad about falling in love so hard that you believe those feelings could literally stop the world from spinning. "That happens to me a lot," he said. "I'm a bleeding heart, ladies and gentleman. But the first time it happened for me was when I was 16 years old."
In the song, Ne-Yo sings, "Now I brace myself for the fight/ Something must go wrong because it's way too right/ I'm light as a feather tonight."
Ne-Yo took "Stop the World" to the woman who inspired it, as well as "So Sick" and "Do You" from his previous albums. "I talk to her from time to time," he said. "She knows she's responsible [for those three songs]. Her man knows, her daughter knows, and they're flattered. She makes for great song lyrics, but she better not ask for 10 percent!
"The crazy thing about the song is that whenever you're in a blissful situation, you can't help but think about when it's going to end," Ne-Yo said. "I think deep down, everybody just wants to be sad. That's when you feel you're most alive. Not when you're happy."
That melancholic feeling also motivates the ballad "So You Can Cry," which Ne-Yo wrote after a female friend called to ask him to console her following a break-up that made her lock herself in her apartment for two weeks. "If there's something you don't want to become a song," he warned, "don't tell me, because I'm going to use it. I'm a heartless bastard."
Well, not quite. Instead of just consoling his friend verbally, Ne-Yo's song is meant to cheer her up as well. "I'm calling on God to tell Him to shine the sun the other way so she can cry all day long," he explained. At the same time, he refuses to attend her "pity party," because he doesn't have much patience for people complaining about situations of their own making, which he also addresses in a separate song called "What's the Matter."
"What's the Matter" is a be-careful-for-what-you-wish-for warning, and unlike most of Ne-Yo's material, it isn't purely romantic. The first verse addresses a woman who wants to be with a bad boy and then gets upset that he doesn't treat her well. Verse two addresses a man who wants to be a drug dealer but then gets upset when he gets caught and is sent to prison. Verse three addresses people who don't vote but then get upset about the political system.
"They ask for something, they get it, and then they don't want it no more," Ne-Yo said. "You don't vote but complain about who the president is? Be mad at yourself. This is what happens.
"All my albums are so relationship-oriented," Ne-Yo added, "that I wanted to get away from doing only that. Nine out of 10 times, what I sing about is what happened to me or what I observed. That's why I go back to the points in my life that were the most painful or the most sad, and for whatever reason, they make the best songs. Everybody loves drama."
Ne-Yo's label rep noted that a final track listing for Year of the Gentleman has yet to be determined.