I’m sure I think about Usher more than the average person. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert a few years ago and while I was an Usher fan growing up, I was in awe of how well preserved his voice was. Impeccable and pristine are the words that come to mind when I try to describe it. I still talk about that concert because it reminded me how great he was and still is. Unlike so many once-great vocalists, his instrument is still intact.
Then, a few years after that concert, there were allegations that Usher had spread herpes to women he slept with. More than the unfair stigma surrounding STDs, there was a question of his morality. Was he having unprotected sex with women without disclosing his health issues, not to mention cheating on his wife at the time? It wasn’t a good look.
So I asked myself and a few other people—more than once—if they believed his career as an RB singer could withstand this type of scandal at this late date? Would he be able to bounce back from this? Would people still be interested in his music?
And today, with the release of part one of his latest project A, I got my answer. A resounding yes.
But what is tragic is that while the interest was there, Usher failed to deliver.
When I learned that Usher would be releasing an album at Midnight, and I saw the tracklist:
LINK IN BIO.
A post shared by Usher (@usher) on Oct 11, 2018 at 9:03pm PDT
I thought, this really could be interesting. From the titles of the songs, it looked like he was really going to be talking about something.
But an hour before the music was released, I saw this promo for the album.
“MIDNIGHT EST” Video By: @diegobenjaminandrade
A post shared by Usher (@usher) on Oct 11, 2018 at 7:20am PDT
And for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why Usher, a man with two kids, two divorces under his belt, a man who will turn 40 this Sunday, was singing about material goods (“Treat a Gucci store like a gift shop.), using phrases like “You know I don’t do fugazi” and racing around in cars. I understand the evils of capitalism, but more than a critique of his content, I’m just surprised that Usher, someone who has had money and access since his early teenage years, would still be so enamored with these things— to the point that a car is the cover of the album. I was confused as to why images of him eating at Waffle House and throwing money in the strip club were chosen as the visuals for this project. He’s been there and done all of that…probably more than a few times over. Why was this the message he decided to send at this point? I was almost expecting that he was going to employ the Confessions formula. Where he capitalized off the drama in his personal life to shape our perception of the music he released. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, we get a song about a woman spreading her legs into a “Peace Sign,” and another where Usher encourages a woman to bounce dat ass on her “burtday.” After over a year of virtual silence in the media, it would have been nice to hear him say…something.
In the era of unnecessary reboot and disappointing sequels, it’s clear that people are craving nostalgia. Oddly enough, what we remember so well about our beloved Black shows, was the fact that so many of them featured our favorite musical artists performing their hit songs. I’m not saying Usher can’t grow and evolve with the times, but I think if anyone could have gotten away with leaving a mark with a solid RB album in 2018, it would have been Usher. He could have updated the sounds like he did with “No Limit” and “Good Kisser,”–which performed well for him–but he should have given us something that harkened back to the Usher we fell in love with. As I said earlier today, it’s cuffing season. Black folk want something they can cuddle and slow dance to.
I can’t imagine the pressure Black RB artists feel, knowing that people aren’t buying their music. But a flop album that was consistent with your musical identity would have been better than getting dragged on social media for trying to appeal to a generation who likely wouldn’t have been checking for an Usher album in the first place.
Today, as Usher’s name continues to trend on Twitter, hours after the project was released, it’s clear that he missed an opportunity. People were interested. Aside from Beyoncé’s self-titled project and Lemonade, I can’t recall the last time an RB album from a Black artist was trending on Twitter. Usher was able to do that…but not in the way he would have hoped. While people love to jump on a bandwagon to bring celebrities down, I think more than anything we’re seeing people who are disappointed, people who were expecting substance and got shallowness.