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In 2019, Giveon, his producer, Sevn Thomas, and a friend entered a sports bar to watch the ­Toronto Raptors play the Milwaukee Bucks during the NBA playoffs. Upon arrival, their friend spotted a reminder of his ex-girlfriend, exactly one year after their split. The three were all going through breakups at the time, and after the game Giveon and Thomas decided to use that as inspiration in the studio. “That’s when the whole ‘Heartbreak Anniversary’ idea came about,” says Thomas.

At the studio, the two began reflecting on their own heartbreak. “It was almost like a therapy session,” recalls Thomas. “We let our guard down completely with each other and just talked about real-life situations.” The sessions resulted in Take Time, Giveon’s 2020 debut EP on Not So Fast/Epic Records. “I had just left a [five-year] relationship while working on this project,” says Giveon. “There were so many stories I wanted to express, and [‘Heartbreak Anniversary’] was one of my favorite ones [because] I’ve never heard this perspective before.”

Sifting through countless beats, Sevn landed on a loop from co-producer Maneesh. “As soon as I ran my mouse over it, it was like, boom, this is exactly what we’re looking for,” Thomas says. Laden with lyrical vulnerability and minimal, melancholy production — from the gentle vinyl quietly crackling in the background to the vivid imagery of deflated balloons and items left behind — both Giveon and Thomas knew the track was special from the moment the singer laid down his first vocal take.

“I wanted Giveon’s voice to be the main instrument,” adds Thomas. “That was such a powerful, compelling, captivating vocal performance, and it sounds vintage, like it came from a time before us.”

Thomas first discovered Giveon’s music in early 2019, six months prior to working on Take Time. The all-star producer — who has worked with Rihanna, Drake and Travis Scott, among others — was browsing through SoundCloud when he fell across Giveon on a random playlist.

“His voice stood out to me, so I had to find some way to get in contact,” Thomas recalls. Quickly, he welcomed the artist into his inner circle. “I was pretty much the first person who walked him into the door and introduced him to my entire network,” he says. “I wanted them to care about him in the same way [they care about me].”

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Giveon’s fanbase has expanded, too. After “Heartbreak Anniversary” initially broke out in Asia, the song gained traction on TikTok, where it has since been used with a set of choreography in over 2 million videos. Now, thanks in part to a March deluxe edition, When It’s All Said and Done… Take Time, the track has reached No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart and returned to the top 10 on Streaming Songs with 155.2 million on-demand U.S. streams through April 8, according to MRC Data.

“I love that people caught on late, because it just goes to show the staying power of the record,” says Thomas. “Maybe 10 years from now, we’re going to look back and refer to this song as a classic.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the April 24, 2021, issue of Billboard.

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