On September 23rd, Ne-Yo released his first new single of 2021, “What If.” This track “follows Ne-Yo’s 2020 collaboration with Jeremih, ‘U 2 Luv.’” On “What If,” Ne-Yo returns to his heartbreak bag to ask the very loaded question of “What if?” Though not as memorable as his other main heartbreak song (“So Sick”), “What If” takes that heartbreak in new directions and leads to Ne-Yo’s return to dance pop.
“What If” features production from Ebenezer and Magnus Klausen, as well as vocal production from Curtis “Sauce” Wilson. Ebenezer is a London-born producer and songwriter who is known for melding R&B, pop, trap, and drill. Magnus Klausen is currently relatively unknown, though his work on this track is sure to net him more attention. Curtis “Sauce” Wilson has been working with Ne-Yo for practically his entire career, which explains why Ne-Yo always sounds like Ne-Yo – that is to say, fantastic.
The song itself is very much a song of its era. The production sounds like the “island pop” of the 2010’s and early 2020’s (of which we’ve had two years), but it fits Ne-Yo’s vocal style so well it’s easy to forget that this is not “prime” (re: mid-2000s) Ne-Yo. Lyrically, the whole of the song is about wondering what would have happened if the singer had tried harder to keep a relationship moving instead of giving up on it, and it’s pretty standard stuff.
The whole concept of “What If” (the question, not the song) is uncomfortable because everyone has “What If”s about every aspect of their life. Yet when it’s portrayed in media, it’s always about heartbreak, which sets an unfair standard towards legitimizing the “What If”s of the brokenhearted over the “What If”s of everyone else. That’s not to say those “What If”s of the brokenhearted are less legitimate, or even that this Ne-Yo song is bad (it’s not), it’s just something this song has triggered in my brain.
The fact that a normal heartbreak song from Ne-Yo can trigger those kinds of thoughts should say something about the power of the song. Though it’s concept may seem simplistic, the execution is far more complex, and that complex execution leads to complex thoughts. Be sure to check out the song and music video below, and let us know what the song makes you think about!