For many folks, R&B music is about emotions: love and heartbreak are often the primary focuses of the genre. But for Toronto crooner PartyNextDoor, it’s always been an outlet for him to address his lack of attachments, which can read at times like a stubborn refusal to allow himself to become attached. When he first emerged on the scene in the early 2010s which his unromantic version of anti-R&B, he helped spark a revolution (along with his countryman The Weeknd, who also recently released a coldhearted project earlier this year, albeit one with more polished pop leanings) in the sound. He and his fellows redefined the genre for a generation who suddenly had access to Tinder and a whole new vocabulary for relationships, including FWB, situationships, and ghosting.
With his long-awaited new project, PartyMobile, PND doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. He instead makes tweaks to the formula that has long served him as one of the frontrunners of this newer form of anti-R&B: Ambivalent, arms-distance ballads, dancehall-inflected ruminations on his inability (or his refusal) to form emotional bonds, and filtered-vocals on fractious f*ckboy anthems warning potential paramours of the dangers of getting too attached to him. Its mileage may vary based on how well you relate, but ironically, he may have crafted the perfect project for our socially-distant times — whether mandatory or voluntary.
Take “Savage Anthem,” the divisive album closer. “Don’t hold your breath,” he croaks over downtempo production by fellow OVO Sound OG, 40, “Don’t wait on my love.” It’s sort of thing his boss Drake sings or says all the time. But where Drake usually offers at least a halfhearted justification for why you should not wait on his love — he’s busy, he’s out of town, he’s working, he can’t trust you because of his stardom — Party’s thought process is much more cutthroat: “I put the dirt into dirtbag,” he either boasts or laments (or maybe it’s both), “Gave me your heart, watch me break that.” For Party, heartbreak is just part of the game — a part he has no intention of playing himself.
Speaking of Drake, the original sadboi crooner shows up on “Loyal,” which does double duty as the album’s lead single and its thesis statement, if there is such a thing. “We get it on and then you go” is tucked into the bridge in an otherwise sappy come-on. “I just don’t wanna let go.” PND is lonely (as is Drake), but while he fully expects availability, he doesn’t want anyone to expect reciprocity. Remember when Lauryn Hill sang about that on “The Ex-Factor” 20 years ago? It’s easy to imagine she was singing it to PartyNextDoor — or at least to a man who similarly subscribes to PND’s half-in, half-out philosophy of love in the 21st century.
“Trauma” is as good of an explanation for this behavior as any. Over a deceptively upbeat, almost tropical backdrop, Party speaks to the “trauma” of losing out after investing heavily in a lover who winds up leaving. “Traumatized, I can’t sleep at night,” he worries, “Traumatized, I need you by my side… I’ll never meet a girl like you again.” Isn’t that why we all spend our nights swiping until the wee hours? We all just want some company, but the risk of being hurt always feels way too great — especially when there are so many options out there and so many apps designed to feed our appetites for something quick, something easy, something that feels like something, but won’t feel like losing everything when it turns out to be nothing. We’re all just picking through the wreckage of our most devastating breakups and hoping we never have to go through them again.
Which is why Party makes the perfect music for the moment. It’s upbeat and it’s catchy, with the dancehall influences at its foundation giving a veneer of fun and frolic. It’s never enough to cover up the melancholy at each song’s center. The party next door is just a smokescreen for the loneliness of the neighbor throwing it. Party’s relative lack of evolution in this regard belies his institutional role in the music of today — does he sound like Gunna and Young Thug in the moments when he switches from crooning to rapping, or do they sound like him because of his early genre pioneering for hip-hop and R&B? While it’s easy to wish he’d switched up a little, picking livelier production or pushing his topical boundaries just a little — it’s nearly impossible to deny that this is the world we live in now. Everybody’s afraid to commit, everybody’s afraid to evolve, and we’re all just a little both lonely, hoping to connect with someone but always with one foot out the door.
PartyMobile is out now on OVO Sound/Warner Records. Get it here.
PartyNextDoor is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.