My Night Without Ne-Yo

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If I were Ne-Yo; if I had an intriguing concept album due out on October 5; if I'd already dropped a couple of terrifically promising songs and video from said album; if I was, under those circumstances, booked on a seven-city promotional tour with a champagne company that took me to a deeply mediocre club in Washington, D.C. If all those things were true, then I probably wouldn't show up when the party started, or three hours into it either.

We live in a world where we're accustomed to waiting on musicians. No opening act actually makes it on stage at the hour a show is supposed to start. An hour, or an hour-and-a-half between sets is entirely unsurprising, even if—from the perspective of an audience staring at an oft-empty stage, unable to understand the technological fiddling of the crew who flickers back and forth across a stage—they delay feels inexplicable. Yearning is part of the experience: we hope, we get annoyed, we hope again, and finally, He or She arrives.

But at a club, as part of a crowd, the dynamic isn't the same. Ne-Yo was supposed to be there to give us a taste of his new record, Libra Scale, and maybe sometime after 9:45, he made it to the Josephine, where the rest of us had been drinking Moet for two hours and 45 minutes. Credit to Moet & Chandon, who kept the Nectar Imperial Rose flowing in that odd interstitial hour before we had the critical mass that let us pretend we were having a good time.

But instead of pressing up against a stage, jockeying for position, the crowd in a club has to simulate pleasure without expressing impatience. Girls shake their hips sarcastically in between empty reserved couches, a party photographer urges us to clink our glasses together, and we're the only ones who don't ask to review our snapshots. A bottle girl in a corset lights a sparkler strapped to a bottle of Hennessey, but there aren't any whales at the table where she's headed, just a girl in a very short dress who is going to be awfully dehydrated if she drinks all that Red Bull by herself.

And the thing is, it's not like we have to show up at Josephine's to get a sneak peak of Libra Scale. "Champagne Life," the theme song for the promotional tour? A video's been up on YouTube since July 15. Ditto for "Beautiful Monster," the first video that nods to Libra Scale's narrative of garbagemen-turned-heroes--as long as they surrender on love. Last week brought us the best yet, the exquisite "One In A Million," for which Ne-Yo recruited dancers like Columbus Short to pursue his lady love through Europeanized wide streets and town squares, armed with ardor and extraordinary powers. Listening to the songs this way doesn't put a girl in Ne-Yo's presence, but the audio quality's certainly better.

And how much does being in that presence actually matter? There are a few artists who have so profoundly influenced my life, like Robyn and Spoon that to be in the crowd at their feet is a form of worship. But on a night like last night, in a club like Josephine's, Ne-Yo's working, and I'm just another girl in a Vena Cava dress and too much eye shadow. Neither of us was going to have transcendent experience. But by leaving early, I got sober, and got some sleep.

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Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

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