Landing a feature on Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes is one thing, but to actively draw attention away from the Toronto legend on his own “Chicago Freestyle,” is something else entirely; where Drake hits his verses hard, Giveon’s rich vocals absorb the shock and send it right back in the form of a filtered flow.
Based on a legendary first impression, it’s clear Giveon has raw talent. As an R&B singer inspired by Frank Sinatra, the depth of his vocals were initially thought to be those of Sampha, who previously offered his talents on Drake’s “Too Much” and “4422.” But Giveon began to make his own identity with the instant TikTok virality of his 2020 single, “Heartbreak Anniversary,” pushing a uniquely sensitive persona up the steep incline of his skyward trajectory.
But the cracks in the Giveon façade began to show. Back in December of 2021, R&B singer Justine Skye accused her then boyfriend Giveon of cheating. Skye adressed the controversy in her single “What A Lie,” where she tears into her ex-lover. Accordingly, the lyrics match up with Skye’s live story about finding incriminating messages on Giveon’s phone. “Saw the messages in plain sight,” she recalls before taking things one step further and singing, “My poison was your peaches” – evidently packing in a clear reference to Giveon’s feature on “Peaches” by Justin Bieber. A week later, Giveon responded with “Lie Again,” a track that didn’t help his cause, nor match up to the specificity of Skye’s claims. Where Giveon was vague with his narrative, Skye was specific. When held up side-by-side with “What A Lie,” the narrative of “Lie Again” becomes that much harder to believe.
This lack of writing chops and faux bids for empathy continue to plague Giveon on his latest album Give Or Take, an indistinct retread of his past work that falters further under self importance and desire for ambition that falls flat. The album tries to find its fundamental footing through the backbone of a narrative. From start to finish, the tracklist is framed by snippets of a phone call between the singer and his mother. As sweet as the sentiment may seem, the framing grows stale and falls apart into an uncompelling contradiction because of Giveon’s obvious desire to control how every aspect of his redemption arc is perceived. Giveon’s attempt to start anew doesn’t exactly achieve its desired effect. In reality, his unwillingness to address the tabloids with Give or Take only draws more attention to his past.
A bid for empathy is set with the first song; as the airy synth of “Let Me Go” dissipates, Giveon’s mom fills the unsettling silence with words of advice, “People make mistakes/People don’t always agree with each other/Keep that in mind, Giveon/You hear me, son?” By the time the track fades out, the notorious heartbreaker has unfairly rid himself of his past mistakes through a mother’s unconditional forgiveness.
Featuring a guitar lick that could virtually belong to any one of his songs, “Get To You” sees Giveon driving past an ex-lover’s achingly familiar street. “You wanna show me off, had to keep it low key/ Blame it on the old me,” he suggests, implying that he’s far removed from the actions of his younger self.
“Remind Me” follows suit thematically with the same unjustified mix of pride and self-contempt. Swimming in the cold eyes of an inattentive lover, Giveon claims to see a reflection of his old self staring back, “You remind me a lot of myself/Back when I didn’t care how she felt/So maybe I should run far, far from you.” Giveon cruises above the crawling tempo of the stripped down track until a snapping snare punctuates the atmospheric instrumental; the baritone responds in kind by upping his octave. Despite such an impressive showing of vocal range, his obvious talent falls flat when positioned above the same instrumentals over and over again. The rare use of a higher octave in “Remind Me” stands out to serve as a reminder that the production of Give or Take is mostly a retread of his other bodies of work.
With so many unnecessary twists and turns in the album’s tired narrative, Giveon begins to run into problems on “Tryna.” Facing the lonely life of being on tour, the singer entertains the idea of seeing two women at once; prioritizing one woman over the other, he croons directly to his number one, “I told them I’m in love with you/But they’re okay with being number two.” His logic rests on his own loneliness and the idea that any woman would willingly be secondary just to be with him. “They all wanna be number two,” he muses on the post-chorus, mistaking a casually cruel bluntness for sensitivity.
For a song so fully situated in the aftermath of his personal transformation, “Tryna” comes across distastefully similar to Giveon’s “Favorite Mistake” – an old song about cheating, off of TAKE TIME. Although he now admits to struggling with loyalty on Give or Take, Giveon does so in a way that he is a victim of temptation and not a perpetrator of it – meanwhile “Dec 11th” is a track about falling for a fan in the crowd, all without ever knowing anything about her. More often than not, Giveon’s insubstantial claims contradict one another; where “Get to You” and “Remind Me” place blame on the person he once was, “Tryna” and “Scarred” find Giveon acting out on the same behaviors he was supposed to have let go of long ago.
To some degree, Give or Take does reveal a change within Giveon; but only in the sense that he was never the hopeless romantic that “Heartbreak Anniversary” portrayed him to be. While Giveon does admit to having flaws, his confessions lack substance and actual consequence. “Scarred” sees him facing heartbreak and then consciously inflicting the same pain onto another, “Dry your eyes, this is hard, but it’s okay/I just don’t want you same way you want me/I can’t give you my heart ’cause it’s broken/But still come home with me.”
Give or Take is the means by which Giveon attempts to align his actions with his words; essentially, his intentions are molded into a compact medallion of tangible proof – one that will only suffice for his liege of loyal fans. For the rest of us, Giveon’s debut studio album is merely a reminder that raw talent is not enough when compared to those who possess the same talent and also provide more specificity, insight and versatility to harness it.
Giveon said "Fuck relationships, let's just fuck" on lost me
— Kentucky Fried Chicken? (@Hunny_Karamel) July 25, 2022
Falling in love with @giveon’s album
— Mariah? (@Riadaleo) July 25, 2022
I randomly think about this GIVÈON song and just get annoyed.
Men ? manyos ?♀️??? pic.twitter.com/GfPeARdm8j
— Mwiza Sophy ???? (@MwizaSophy) July 26, 2022