R&B star Ne-Yo promises a memorable Dubai performance
Gentleman: A man of calm demeanour, intellectual thinking, polite yet meaningful speech and a good upbringing.
If the mark of the skilful lothario is the one who knows to always tell his lover what she wants to hear, the cynics among us would surely say RB sensation Ne-Yo is one of the greatest of them all.
A master at writing love songs, he has done so for lads and ladies including Rihanna, Beyonce, Celine Dion, Carrie Underwood, Anastacia, Ciara, Corbin Bleu, Enrique Iglesias, Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, to name a few.
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However, a lothario singer-songwriter Shaffer Chimere Smith (as Ne-Yo is known to his mum) is not.
My first clue: an apology. No, wait. A MAN openly apologising. The Beautiful Monster singer didn’t hesitate.
“I’ll apologise to my fans,” he said, talking about his last visit to Dubai. Fans were left disappointed after Ne-Yo’s club appearance was billed as somewhat more than that, and punters expecting a full show handed over the cash to warrant it.
“I was upset when I found out everyone was mad with me because when I say I’m coming then I’m coming. I was supposed to show up and that’s it. Obviously, I was going to sing but that was a bonus. It was never meant to be a concert and that wasn’t fair. People were misled.”
Moving swiftly on, Ne-Yo isn’t one to dwell on a negative subject and had a “thumping” message for all his fans. “Let me tell you this,” he said slow and loud. “This time I am coming to wow Dubai and I won’t stop until I’ve done that. It’s going to be a full show and it will not disappoint anyone. None of this ‘flash-in-the-pan’ stuff. You will all be so tired of me that you’ll be asking me to leave,” he said with a nervous laugh. He performs on Friday at Dubai Sports City as the headline act at the Atelier Live Dance Arena festival. Other acts include Taio Cruz, Jay Sean, Natasha Bedingfield and Leona Lewis.
“I’m a man who isn’t afraid to show emotion,” he said with so much pride, his chest-puffing was almost audible down the line from New York.
“I think as men we are taught to hide our emotions and it becomes something which can affect us in many ways. For some reason I have always had the strength and confidence to believe in my emotions and let them show. I don’t think it makes me weak to show what I’m feeling. I am proud to be so in tune with what makes me feel. I truly believe I have a hand up on the average man because I express my emotions. I’m certainly not ashamed of it. Or my songs,” he added.
Ne-Yo couldn’t have chosen a better title for his third album The Year of the Gentlemen — a heartfelt and downright catchy love note to the female sex.
Chatting happily about working on his fifth studio album while simultaneously “breaking his back” over tracks for Latina shaker Shakira’s latest offering, chatting to Ne-Yo was full of Ps and Qs, his manners impeccable.
“Shakira is wonderful to work with,” he said, revealing that not all the people he has penned for are quite as desirable once locked in a studio.
“There’s a fine line between wanting to be in charge and being a total control freak and understanding who you are and what you are trying to achieve,” he laughed — a knowing laugh, as if picturing the faces of folk he was too polite and professional to reveal.
“It’s one thing I respect about Shakira. She is very hands-on and she wants to be a part of it all, right from beginning to end, but only from a musical sense. She takes the reins. She wants to know she can believe every note and every word so when she sings a song she can make people believe in her. In her music. I have no issue with that. It’s when people change things for no reason and argue the toss when they don’t even know why or what they are arguing. That’s frustrating and there are definitely people I will not work with any more because they have become too big for the music. Or so they think anyway.”
Born in Camden, Arkansas, to a musical mother and father, Ne-Yo says since the age of nine he knew “nothing other” than music. “It was all I lived for and I knew there would never be anything else”.
Ne-Yo emerged on the recording industry scene as member of the quartet Envy, which disbanded in 2000 at which point the 20-something started to get noticed as a songwriter.
His big break came in 2005 when Mario’s Let Me Love You reached No 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and remained there for nine weeks. Ne-Yo was the writer and before long L.A. Reid and the then-CEO of Def Jam, Jay-Z, were knocking at his door.
“There are two sides to the music business,” he said with clarity. “the fun side, and the practical and calculated side. Sometimes one side messes up the music. I’ll let you decide which. I won’t say more than that,” his annoying discretion ever apparent.
The RB gentleman said he learned a lesson from last year’s concept-heavy album Libra Scale. “I’m definitely gonna make this one a little more simple. I feel like with Libra Scale, I got a little too cool for the room. So this one is gonna be more about just listening to the music. It’s taking Ne-Yo back to a place he’s happy and comfortable.”
It was well reported Ne-Yo had been contacted by producer will.i.am to work on what would have been Michael Jackson’s new album but due to the King of Pop’s untimely death, collaborations with him had yet to move past the writing stage.
At the time Ne-Yo admitted writing for Jackson came with obvious pressure.
“I had to take off the thought of, ‘OK, I’m writing a song for Michael Jackson’. Because, if you go in the studio and think, “I’m writing a song for Michael Jackson”, all of sudden, everything you do sucks. Nothing is good enough.”
Ne-Yo has transformed himself from a songwriter to the stars to one of the most successful singers in the world in his own right. However, this gentleman says he’ll never stop writing for others.
“I just have so much to give,” he laughed. “I used to think writing for others and writing for myself were different but now I know they are not. We are all emotional-strung and we all want songs which touch other people. As long as the person believes what I write then it will work. Getting into trouble, the bad things in my life have helped shape my songwriting. I’ve never been someone to ignore the bad things. I take the negative and apply it to my life to find the positive. The bad things which happen give us our merit. They show how strong we really are.”
I found myself left speechless by a man I was not expecting to meet. “Are you OK?” came his voice. “Am I boring you?” And then the final nail in the coffin. “Thank you so much for taking the time to call.” That came from him, not me. A true gentleman to the very end.
Don’t miss it
Ne-Yo performs at the Atelier Live Dance Arena festival on Friday at the Dubai International Stadium, Sports City. The event from 2pm-3am is open to all ages. Tickets are Dh250, Dh450 (premium) and Dh650 (VIP) at Virgin Megastores or call 055-7050581.
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