Suddenly, it's a new world for Ne-Yo.
The 23-year-old R&B not-so-newcomer, who has spent years in the shadows penning songs for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans and Mario, is finally getting his chance to bask in the spotlight.
"Things have definitely changed," Ne-Yo (real name: Shaffer Smith) said recently, grinning about the sudden success of his debut single, "So Sick," which at press time was #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. "Before, I'd always been the guy in the background, like the proud parent cheering on his child.
"For example, with Mario [and 'Let Me Love You'], I was happy for the success for him, but with ['So Sick'], it's surreal," he continued. "I've been trying to do this for so long, and to see all the hard work coming to fruition, it's a blessing and I'm happy. I'm literally waiting to wake up from this whole thing."
Everyone knows the best love songs are born of heartbreak, and that was indeed the case with "So Sick," which the singer wrote about the first time he fell in — and out — of love.
"I was 18, and when you're that age, you tend to let your friends dictate your life a little more than they should," Ne-Yo recalled. "And I let them convince me that cheating on this girl — who I was so madly, deeply in love with — was not a bad idea. But being the cat that I am, I confessed and hoped and prayed she would [forgive me]. Instead, she declared her utter hatred of me and left. At the time, that was the most pain I had ever felt.
"I remember sitting in my room, staring at the ceiling and listening to the tape of her and me on the answering machine, over and over again, just torturing myself," he continued. "So this song was very therapeutic. 'OK, you messed up. Now get up and move on with your life.' "
The singer admits that hearing the song on the radio still stirs up a roller coaster of emotions, but he's no longer wallowing in his sorrows. "I will say it is a little easier to talk to the opposite sex now," he laughed.
Famed video director Hype Williams helmed the clip, which was shot in the winter wonderland of Aspen, Colorado. "I'd never been to Aspen, and the house we rented out was ridiculous," Ne-Yo recalled. "The walls turned, and there were heated floors. It was crazy."
Williams brought his wife and children along for the shoot, while Ne-Yo spent his days attempting to surf the slopes. "I don't ski, but I tried," he said. "I mean, there was a lot of flailing and falling, but it was cool, and the video turned out beautiful."
Back home, things are heating up as the singer prepares to drop his debut album, In My Own Words, on February 28.
"It's just 12 joints of quality music, man," said Ne-Yo, who wrote each of the songs on the album. "I didn't try to save the world with R&B or change the sound of music. I just tried to do the best R&B record, and honestly, I feel that I have. Hopefully the rest of the world will agree with me."
The singer, whose nickname was inspired by Neo from "The Matrix," can hardly contain his excitement about finally putting his baby out there for fans to hear.
"I'm trying to [control] the 4-year-old inside of me that's jumping around, because anything I get really excited about tends to go wrong," he said. "But I've been trying to do this forever. Everything I've gone through up to this point was meant to be a learning experience to get here. And now it's all happening."