Since supplying the sugary “u up?” chorus to Drake’s 2020 track “Chicago Freestyle,” Southern California singer-songwriter Givēon has become a force in modern R&B. Last year, his scorching 2020 ballad “Heartbreak Anniversary” became an unlikely TikTok sensation and a fixture of bummed-out playlists; that March, his cameo on Justin Bieber’s breezy stoner-pop smash “Peaches” gave him his first chart-topping hit.
Givēon had done all that without releasing an album — until now. The 15-track Give or Take doubles down on the contemplative romanticism that has made him such an appealing addition to this decade’s pop landscape. Give or Take is framed as a 45-minute conversation between the 27-year-old singer and his mother, who dispenses wisdom and support for her son’s musical success and romantic ups and downs. That structure helps Give or Take feel grounded — Givēon’s mother knows him too well for him to couch his insecurities in wild boasts or evasive platitudes, and she’s also caring enough to not berate him for any missteps he might make. “People make mistakes. People don’t always agree with each other. Keep that in mind,” she says at the end of the glittery opener “Let Me Go.”
The openheartedness Givēon’s mother instilled in her son gives his music a powerful emotional core. Give or Take has a slew of producers and co-writers — OVO Sound guru Boi-1da co-produced the regret-wracked slow-dance “Scarred” and the glassy closing track “Unholy Matrimony,” while “Heartbreak Anniversary” collaborator Sevn Thomas co-penned and co-produced the head-over-heels “Make You Mine” — but it feels like a cohesive whole because of Givēon’s tender baritone, which cuts through atmospherics and rides grooves with equal dexterity. His physical voice has a sweetly rubbery quality that gives its lower register added gravity and makes its higher notes soar. Combine it with his candid yet imagistic lyrics and it’s hard to not get invested in his journey, whether he’s brooding about being betrayed on the echoing “Lie Again” or outlining his wishes for companionship on the gauzy “Get to You.”
“Another Heartbreak” is particularly enhanced by Givēon’s all-in approach to love and songwriting. A piano-led ballad, it shows Givēon reckoning with the potential pitfalls of love’s flip side. Its lyrics are straightforward in a way that betrays his deep feelings — “Not saying that we’ll fail, girl/I just know that I’m scared,” he wails on the chorus — and the slowly building backing track, which includes a spectral choir and sweeping strings, adds to the feeling of unrest.
Givēon’s ascent to pop’s upper echelons has been rapid even by 21st-century standards, but Give or Take sounds like the work of an artist who’s been sure of where he’s going for a long time. It’s confident yet vulnerable even in its most blissed-out moments, making his songs hit harder and imbuing his voice with even more soul.