Ne-Yo Talks ‘R.E.D.’ Album, Fatherhood, Artists vs. Celebrities & More During Sessions Q&A
“It’s so easy to be a celebrity nowadays,” Ne-Yo tells The BoomBox, sitting down for an interview following his exclusive Sessions performance in our New York studio. “I feel like the essence of what it is to be an artist has been lost … The work ethic of some of these younger artists that I’m coming across is embarrassing.”
He’s reminiscing about a time before showbiz shortcuts like Auto-Tune and viral YouTube videos. Still, as he releases his fifth studio album, ‘R.E.D.,’ out today (Nov. 6), the 30-year-old entertainer admits the effort is an attempt to make up for his own previous shortcomings.
“My last album [2010's Libra Scale] was not as commercially successful as my previous three and that’s 100 percent my fault,” he reveals, explaining the motive behind the decision to delay his ‘R.E.D.’ album release. “I didn’t pay as much attention to the music as I normally do, and I feel like I let my fans down.
“So with this fifth album, I have to make sure that everything is as right as humanly possible before I put it out there. I don’t want to say that this is my apology album, but to a degree it’s like I got a little too cool for the room with the last one.”
With the new LP, the singer-songwriter vows to “bring back” the Ne-Yo his fans know and love. Yet, the new album marks a lot of firsts for Ne-Yo, with this being his first release since moving from Def Jam to Motown Records and being appointed Senior Vice President of A&R at Motown. It’s also his first LP since becoming a father to daughter Madilyn and son Mason.
Check out Ne-Yo’s exclusive Sessions Q&A, performance and photo shoot below.
Your album title, R.E.D., is an acronym for “realizing every dream.” You’ve accomplished a lot in your career, but what dreams haven’t you realized yet?
Well, I’m a rather multifaceted person — or at least I like to fashion myself as such — so my dreams are multifaceted. For example, I had a dream of winning a Grammy, right. I’ve done that three times over. However, Stevie Wonder has done that in double digits, so, I got a little more work to do, you know what I mean. I dreamed of one day starring in a film. I’ve done that twice. Denzel Washington has done it countless times, so I still got some work to do. So with that being said, with every dream realized there’s another piece to that dream that has yet to be realized. So, you know more growing to do, more learning to do, just more dreams to realize.
Watch Ne-Yo’s Interview With The BoomBox
This is your first album since becoming a father. How that has that influenced your music and songwriting?
The birth of my children hasn’t so much changed my music; it’s just kind of put a magnifying glass on something that I already knew to be true, but now really, really hits home. As an artist, you know as a person in the public eye, period, you kind of have a responsibility to the younger kids that are watching and emulating what you do. Whether you like it or not, you’re a role model of sorts. So I kind of pride myself on making the kind of music that a 4-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 40-year-old can all listen to.
Now, on the other side of that same card, I am a grown man, so there are some songs that I’m going to do that pertain a little more to my adult audience. That’s when you as a parent have to step in and go, “OK, [track] No. 5 is not for little Susie. We won’t play that one for her.” But now that I have kids of my own, it just really nails home the fact that you’ve got to be careful with the power. You have to be careful.
Do your kids listen to your music?
Yeah! Daddy’s the best in my house. What are you talking about? They don’t listen to nothing else … except for the Fresh Beat Band. They love the Fresh Beat Band.
What’s their favorite song of yours?
Well honestly, there’s a song on my album R.E.D. that I dedicated to my daughter. It’s a song called “Alone With You.” The first night that we brought her home from the hospital she was just inconsolable. She was just crying her head off, screaming her head off and we couldn’t figure out why. We didn’t know what to do. The bottle didn’t work, changed the diaper, rocking, nothing worked right. I remember hearing the pediatrician say at one point that music helps to calm babies, helps to soothe. So her mom just hit random on the iPad and the song popped up and the second the song started, she was quiet. So to this day, whenever she gets in that place where it’s just crying and there’s nothing that we can do, we turn that song on and it mellows her out. So, I put that song on the album, dedicated to her.
Your lead single “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself),” which you performed for The BoomBox during your Sessions set, is about someone who hasn’t had positive examples of love in their life. Is that a subject you have personal experience with?
What I’ve learned over the course of time is that love is not something that can be defined with a single definition. It’s hard to tell a person what love is, but once you get to a place where you understand what it is to love yourself, then it makes loving another person that much easier. It’s like a “How can I help you if I can’t even help me?” type situation. That’s kind of what it speaks to. “Let Me Love You” is about being brave enough to let a person get close enough to you to teach you how to love yourself, to teach you the importance of loving yourself.
How has starting your own production company, Compound Entertainment, and being on the business side of the industry affected your ability to maintain a sense of creativity as an artist?
If you let it, the business side of the music business will completely destroy your creative vibe. It will murder it if you let it, because art is not about practicality — or at least not from the school that I was taught at. It’s not about practicality; it’s about vibe, it’s about emotion. It’s not about one plus one is two. In the world of art, one plus one is 99 if you feel like it. That’s just what art is. And then to take an artist and put them in a world where everything is super-duper practical and it’s about the numbers and it’s about forgetting what it feels like, and thinking if it’s going to sell — that’s a whole other language to learn. It’s the other side of the brain to learn how to use and I’ll be honest, it’s not easy; it’s not easy for me.
I feel like the essence of what it is to be an artist has been lost a little bit. It’s so easy to be a celebrity nowadays. All you’ve got to do is get on YouTube and do something crazy and all of a sudden the whole world knows your name. It’s not something that you really have to work for anymore. The work ethic of some of these younger artists that I’m coming across is embarrassing. Like, “No I don’t have to sing on key. Auto-Tune it.” I’m trying to bring back that hunger, that thirst that by any means necessary I’ve got to get it. And not because I want to be famous, and not because I want to make some money, but because I love music, I love the craft, I love to sing, I love to dance, I love to write, I love to play my guitar. Whatever it is, it’s coming from a place of love. It’s coming from a passion for the art. That’s what I’m looking for.
You spoke earlier about starring in more films, but you recently turned down the chance to play Martin Luther King, Jr., due to scheduling conflicts. If you had the chance to portray another famous figure in a biopic, who would it be?
Man, that is a great question. I would play Marvin Gaye. I think Marvin Gaye’s story is incredible. I got the opportunity to sit down with Barry Gordy not too long ago and just talk to him about what it was like back in those days. Marvin Gaye was a drummer. He wasn’t even an artist, he was the drummer for everybody else and then they decided to give him a shot. I just feel like his story is really incredible. If given an opportunity, I would love to attempt to play Marvin Gaye.
Watch Ne-Yo Perform “Lazy Love” for AOL Sessions