Jillian Tries to Impress Ne-Yo
At age 24, R&B recording artist Ne-Yo is already one of music's most sought-after singer-songwriters. He has collaborated with several other artists -- from Beyoncé to Rihanna to Jay-Z -- to produce an impressive résumé of songwriting credits and chart-topping hits.
Ne-Yo's debut album, In My Own Words, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 2006 and was nominated for two Grammy Awards. He released his second album, Because of You, this Tuesday, and it has already received some critical praise. SmackDown's Jillian -- a wannabe singer, to the irritation of our fans' ears -- caught up with Ne-Yo and tried to make an impression on the young songwriter:
Jillian: I see you've had a very good response to your new CD Because of You. I was wondering how you feel about that and whether you care about what the critics think.
Ne-Yo: Well, I do. Any artist cares about acceptance from fans and the critics. Any artist that says they do it just for themselves is lying because if that was the case, you'd do it just for you, you know what I mean? You definitely want people to dig it, to see your vision. And when they do, it's a big deal.
Jillian: At a young age, you have already worked with and written hits for many artists in the music industry. You have also had some of the spotlight to yourself with last year's In My Own Words and now Because of You. Which do you prefer, writing for others or for yourself?
Ne-Yo: I like writing for myself because I know where I can and can't go with myself. Writing for other people has the tendency to be difficult, especially if you don't have the chance to talk to the person you're writing for, just to see where their head is at, what they will and won't say. I always know where I am and what I will and won't say. It's easier to write for myself, but it's a little more fun writing for other people. When I write for myself, the only person I can be is me. When I'm writing for other people, I can just be whatever I want or whatever you'd like [me to be].
Jillian: That sounds kind of fun … kind of how I am in my business.
Ne-Yo: Yes. An escape from reality, right?
Jillian: Yes. So what's the difference between Because of You and In My Own Words?
Ne-Yo: Well, In My Own Words … it was just a little somber in vibe. The majority of the songs were about "Oh we broke up," or "Oh we broke up, but I still love you" -- that type of thing. The album was mid-tempo-slow. This album [Because of You] is a complete opposite. There's a lot more up-tempo; it's more upbeat. It has a lot more of my personality. It's more of me putting me out there as opposed to [presenting] situations. For example, I did a lot of unofficial tributes throughout the whole record; just me paying homage to the people I look up to, the people I feel are responsible for my sound -- Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder. So, you'll definitely hear some songs in the realm of that sound on this record. That is not to say that I just went completely away from what my sound is. I am aware of the fact that I have a sound now. People want [to hear the hit single from Words] "So Sick." People want [Words'] "Sexy Love." So there are definitely some songs in that realm, too [on my new CD]. But being an artist, I've got to grow, I gotta move, I've got to expand. I gotta make new things happen.
Jillian: I just read an article comparing you to Michael Jackson. Quite an honor, huh?
Ne-Yo: Oh yeah. Probably one of the biggest compliments I'll ever get.
Jillian: He's amazing. So, tell me about the creative process. How do you go about writing songs anyway?
Ne-Yo: I'm very easy-going in all aspects of my life and writing is no exception. I don't need to clear the room and light a candle -- I don't need all of that. I can honestly sit in the midst of a wrestling match and write a song if I needed to.
Jillian: Well, you know I write songs, too.
Ne-Yo: Do you?
Jillian: I do. And my songs, they take about five minutes to write.
Ne-Yo: Five minutes? That's good. That means you're a natural.
Jillian: Yes, I know.
Ne-Yo: [Laughs] And she knows she's a natural.
Jillian: Who haven't you worked with that you'd love to collaborate with?
Ne-Yo: Above everybody, I'd have to say Prince. I would love, love to do a song with Prince someday. I don't know how realistic that is, given the fact that he writes his own music and prides himself on writing all his own music.
Jillian: Well, you never know.
Ne-Yo: Yeah. Not everything is likely, but anything is possible.
Jillian: So who's the favorite person you've worked with so far?
Ne-Yo: So far I'd have to say it's Beyoncé because she is such a professional. I don't think she understands how good she is at what she does.
Jillian: Yes! She is amazing.
Ne-Yo: She's the type of person who I can give her a song and leave and then come back 30 minutes later, and it's done. She's very self-contained. I don't really have to lead her.
Jillian: She's great -- and she's beautiful, too.
Ne-Yo: Oh yes. She's very easy on the eyes.
Jillian: Who are your greatest influences in music?
Ne-Yo: Well, we have Prince. We got Michael Jackson. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Sammy Davis Jr.
Jillian: These are the guys your album is kind of modeled after?
Ne-Yo: Pretty much … for the most part. I didn't get to delve too deeply into the Sammy Davis Jr. realm. I don't know if the world is quite ready for that yet. [laughs] Maybe the next album. Maybe the fourth album.
Jillian: Who do you like listening to?
Ne-Yo: Right now, I'm really feeling Robin Thicke's new album. I love it, love it, love it. I really like John Legend's new album. I love Amy Winehouse…. She's very motivated. Corinne Bailey Rae is another one I'm listening to right now. There's not a whole lot of hip-hop I'm digging right now because a lot of it sounds alike. But I listen to a little bit of everything. I'm a huge Coldplay fan; I'm a huge Fall Out Boy fan. Regina Spektor. The Fratellis.
Jillian: Are you a fan of American Idol?
Ne-Yo: Not so much. I checked it out last year and the year before that. But I haven't so far this year, largely because I've been so busy, but also I had no interest in checking it out.
Jillian: Some of our WWE Divas are just eye candy -- I'm sure you're familiar with that, huh?
Jillian: They're great to look at but have no substance. But, I am a singer; I have shown SmackDown's fans with my singing that I offer beauty and talent. So, Ne-Yo, what do you look for in a woman?
Ne-Yo: Well, those things that you mentioned go high in my ranking. Also, I like honesty. I like a woman who is not afraid to be who she is, even if who she is might rub people the wrong way.
Jillian: Is there a special lady in your life?
Ne-Yo: Not likely. No.
Jillian: A woman with my talent and ability clearly deserves to be in a video because I'm a better singer and dancer and am more talented than any of these Divas. Maybe we could collaborate. What do you think?
Ne-Yo: We just might have to make that happen.
Jillian: Because I am the singer and writer of the song "Hot Bread," which I wrote in five minutes. So you'll have to check it out.
Ne-Yo: Okay, I will.
Jillian: What's next for you Ne-Yo?
Ne-Yo: Well, I'm writing for a bunch of people still. My new album is out, so we'll see how that goes. I'm writing for Whitney Houston right now. I got some stuff coming with Britney Spears really soon.
Jillian: That's my [most] favorite [performer] ever!
Ne-Yo: Usher's coming back soon, and I'm doing stuff with him. Chris Brown is coming back with a new record really soon, and I'm doing something with him. Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls is coming out with a solo album, and I'm helping her out with it. Celine Dion, I'm doing stuff with her. And Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson is working on a solo project [and I'm helping her out with it].
Jillian: Well, thanks so much for your time. It was great talking to you.
Ne-Yo: Thank you. I'll check out that song [of yours].