You should be careful what hat you wear. Their meanings are many and diverse. And who better to guide us through this minefield of symbolism than Ne-Yo, at Number One again this week, who’s only ever seen without a hat on pain of death.
When we first meet Ne-Yo in Stay he’s expressing his humble roots and hard songwriting graft in a series of brightly coloured baseball caps. By So Sick he’s moved on to a woolly white beanie, which I’m not sure symbolises anything other than it looks fucking cold. In When You’re Mad a daring straw donkey’s hat comes into play, a reminder perhaps of Freud’s assertion that hats represent the male genitals. Mind you it’s often quicker to list the things that Freud DIDN’T say represented the male genitals. Later in the video a black beret appears – a clear statement from Ne-Yo, in the wake of his first flush of success, that he has fully become an artist.
It’s back to a plain black cap in Sexy Love, which sees Ne-Yo snogging girls and ignoring eviction notices in a dank apartment. In the same video there’s a sudden switch to a black fedora – the rags-to-riches narrative is clear. Because Of You is a greatest hits of hats so far but the one that catches my eye is the ‘tea-cosy’, presumably representing the security he feels in his nice new relationship. Then in Do You it’s time at last for a soft flat cap, imbued with all the wistfulness for days gone by that’s redolent in the song.
It’s a holiday fedora (!) for Can We Chill, in which Ne-Yo’s on location and chatting up every girl in sight. I think you can get those from machines on Blackpool Prom. Go On Girl seems to feature a plastic trilby – a comment no doubt on the superficiality of modern relationships in celebrity America. As a reaction perhaps, Closer launches Ne-Yo’s ‘Year of the Gentleman’ with a selection of gutter-dented fedoras, representative of a golden age of manners and romance. I like the cream one.
Miss Independent is an ode to female empowerment so we see Ne-Yo working in an office that’s otherwise staffed entirely by, er, leggy lovelies. Consequently his hat stays rakishly bent, perhaps expressing the angle of his penis. In Mad Ne-Yo has DIED and wears the sombre black hat appropriate to that state while regretfully haunting his lover and dwelling on that row they had. In a rare moment of equality his girlfriend gets to wear a hat too, but of course it’s a widow’s veil that she sports while clawing hysterically at his freshly dug grave. Part Of The List is a beautiful song and has a classy video to go with it. The hat is almost immaterial. I don’t mean that it’s flimsy. I mean it doesn’t matter.
Ne-Yo has all sorts of superpowers as part of the baffling theme for his last album – in Beautiful Monster he’s all force-blasts, icy rays and slow-mo tussles. But that’s besides the point; in his fight with the beautiful monster herself his hat gets shockingly blown off. As, presumably, does Ne-Yo after the cameras have rolled. Thankfully the hat’s back in Champagne Life – a fetching brown one to symbolise the richness and decadence of a millionaire lifestyle. Then it’s a shorter, almost porkpie hat in the lovely One In A Million, symbolising brutishness as he sex-pests his way around the city in pursuit of an understandably grumpy Galen Hooks.
So, the final stretch. And finality’s on everyone’s mind in Give Me Everything, an existential look at the last night of your life delivered in a reassuring Gatsby cap from the halfway-up-the stairs position favoured for bleak explorations of mortality since the days of the Muppets. I can’t even screencap most of Lazy Love as it’s basically soft porn in a hot tub, but you can see from the image above that the cap visor is as hard as everything else. And now there’s Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself), a frankly terrible song in which Ne-Yo dons a sober black fedora for a shameful bit of mansplaining. Honestly, I used to say that you could stick on anything from his catalogue for an example of how to write the perfect middle eight – well not any more, this one’s a repetitive shower of shit that nothing can redeem. Go back and listen to Part Of The List to find out how it’s done. And for the rest of this album campaign the solution for Ne-Yo is obvious. More hats. New hats. Let’s see a Balmoral. A tin helmet. An ushanka even. The symbolism need never end.