2019 has been the year of focussing ‘YOU’ but not in the way Canadian up-and-comer Ali Gatie is referring to it. Ariana Grande began the year declaring independence after a string of breakups on Thank u Next, Lizzo has done a great job promoting self-love with her record ‘Cuz I Love You’ and Summer Walker told everyone she’s ‘Over It’ when it comes to dealing with relationships. While it’s been fun, it’s not time to cancel heartache just yet.
Gatie’s debut project ‘YOU’ is a classic breakup record that has him in his feelings for the entirety of the nine-song record. Coincidentally, it also shares a release day with another, albeit very different, heartache record by FKA twigs which also runs for nine songs.
It’s been a big year for Gatie. He was originally born and raised in Abu Dhabi before relocating to Canada when he was around nine years-old. As a reflection of his multi-cultural background, he strived for inclusiveness in his music, including different languages on his music covers and striving for diversity in his videos. The reason for it is that he wants people to know these songs are for everyone. They may be written for a particular person but they’re also for “you”. That duality of the album title shines through as these songs are deeply personal but also frank enough that they’re universal.
His aim to connect with as many people as possible has been working so far. The project starts on It’s You, a largely acoustic love song that’s become his biggest hit yet. It cracked the all-important Billboard Hot 100 and flew up the charts in Australia reaching a peak of number 15. Emotionally, it’s the high-point of the record as the relationship takes a dive as the project progresses.
By Used To You he’s singing, “How am I supposed to be alright/Ever since we split apart I’m not doing fine.” His voice is present, blaring above the instrumental as an unapologetic declaration of emotion. At points his voice warbles with Post Malone-effect as if he’s on the verge of tears. It’s not an easy listen but you get the feeling that Gatie’s fans aren’t on board for light-and-breezy tunes.
That’s not to say that you can’t turn-up to any of these songs. Say To You in particular rides a club-ready vibe, merging trap and acoustic flavours to create something both dark and slippery. Sunshine also offers a danceable beat that sits somewhere between dancehall and emo-rap. It’s clear that he pulls some sort of influence from the emo influence in hip-hop right now but there’s also an honesty and presence to him that recalls the superclass of emotional R&B from The Weeknd and Frank Ocean.
‘YOU’ feels like it’s caught in a moment that comes before resolve. Gatie is heartbroken and he’s not finding any solace in much. On Holding On he sings, “I keep holding on, I won’t lose you, I won’t give up,” as drums thunder in the background. By the closing moment Lost My Lover he seems to have accepted his fate. “Lost my lover, lost my friend, lost my start and lost my end,” he sings over a beat that feels nihilistic. “You’re my worst nightmare and favourite dream,” he continues reflecting on good times while also juxtaposing them with the present moment. It’s one of the darkest album closings you’re likely to hear on an album this year.
If you read through the YouTube comments on any of Gatie’s videos you’ll find a bunch of people of different nationalities sharing heartbreak stories and memes or writing things like, “I felt that.” While we’re all focussing on ourselves this year, part of that process is really going through it when it comes to a breakup. Like Adele has proved time and time again, people love a breakup anthem and Gatie is writing them with the same kind of sincerity that has made her a household name. Stylistically, there’s no comparison but there’s definitely a lyrical parallel.
While It’s You is still racking up streaming numbers, it’s likely that there’s a few more hits to come from this record. Current single Say To You has all the markings of a hit and even Lost My Lover has legs if the mainstream is really ready to go there. Gatie’s ‘YOU’ is this year’s breakout breakup record, the type that people are going to tweet, “damn, who’s going through it,” anytime it re-enters the charts.