This piece is part of Rolling Stone’s second annual Grammy Preview special issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting. We spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a nomination — or even a statue come January — and delved into the challenges facing the Recording Academy, providing a 360-degree view of what to watch for in the lead-up to the 2022 awards.
Eligible for: When It’s All Said and Done … Take Time, “Peaches”
Giveon’s “Like I Want You” is a guided tour of a relationship on the verge of collapse, a slow drip of deception and missed connection delivered in a distinctive, somber baritone. These ingredients don’t necessarily scream “hit” in 2021, but the track has racked up more than 100 million streams on Spotify alone. The singer mined similar territory on “Heartbreak Anniversary” which has become even more successful, thanks in part to its unexpected popularity on TikTok.
“What was great was, it had this moment — people stopped and listened to the song and decided they actually liked it,” Giveon says of the song’s viral attention. The singer spoke to Rolling Stone about his multiplatform success and making his own lane in R&B.
At a time when so much of R&B is trying to compete with hip-hop, how did you settle on an old-school-sounding ballad, “Like I Want You,” as your first big single?
This felt like my introduction to the world. I needed people to know that this is what I was [feeling]. I was learning how to cope with heartbreak. I’m 100 percent pretending in that song. Every feeling and regret is there, but you put on a mask. Sometimes putting on a mask speeds up the process. I was saying exactly what I was feeling at the time.
Where did you come up with the deflated-balloon imagery that starts “Heartbreak Anniversary”?
Let’s say it’s your anniversary, a good anniversary, what does that look like? You’re probably gonna bring some flowers. Probably gonna bring some balloons. Probably gonna bring some chocolate. But now, what would all those things look like if they had been sitting there for an entire year? That’s the image that starts the song. Balloons deflated, flowers would be withered, chocolate would be stale. And the balloon image really popped for me. That’s one of my proudest lines I’ve ever written.
A lot of the songs that get a reaction on TikTok are more danceable than “Heartbreak Anniversary.” Were you surprised when this slow, downer ballad started to be used in a lot of videos?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised. But I was pleasantly surprised. And it was beautiful to see where it started. The way analytics work now, you could see the trend start in Asia, specifically the Philippines. People would send me videos. It moved from Asia to Brazil to America and finally to my hometown of L.A. I got to watch it move around the world.
How did you end up on Justin Bieber’s “Peaches?”
People started appreciating [my 2020 debut EP] Take Time, and one of those people was Justin. That was end of 2020, early 2021. Here and there we would check in. One day I was working on something. I was getting ready to wrap up the session, and I get a FaceTime call and it’s Justin Bieber. I’m like, “You sound busy — where are you even at?” He’s like, “I’m shooting the cover of Vogue with Hailey in Italy.” I’m like, “You can call me back tomorrow if you want.” “No. I have this song, and I really want you on it. Please tell me if you like it — if you actually don’t like it, you can tell me.” Then he sent “Peaches.” And I thought, “Oh, wow, I haven’t heard Justin sounding like this for a while.” So I did my verse right away and sent it. He loved it. It was a serendipitous moment.
Your music became popular during the pandemic, and now you’re touring for the first time.
I just played my first festival ever. My last show [pre-Covid], I was the opener. So I’m in the mindset of, these people don’t know me and I’ve gotta win them over. Before I come out, and they started chanting “Giveon,” goosebumps run up my arm. I didn’t even realize it was goose bumps — I thought it was a spider and checked to slap it. I walked out to my song “The Beach.” They started going crazy, singing the words to that. Then they started singing the words to my song “Favorite Mistake.” I’m like, “How do they know this?” Then I started doing “Garden Kisses,” and they were even singing that back to me. “They’re not just here for ‘Heartbreak Anniversary.’ They’re here for me.”