So Whatever Happened To Usher’s Comeback, You Guys?

His EDM collabs were successful, but they also stripped Usher of the R&B that made him a star.

-by Michael Arceneaux

Usher is the most successful male R&B artist of the past 20 years – actually, one of the most successful artists period – yet he often feels left out of the conversation when it comes to our generation’s premiere stars.

Much of the narrative about his success now focuses majorly on the juggernaut that was 2004’s Confessions, which sold more than a million records its first week. However, the entertainer had already cemented himself as crossover smash with 2001’s 8701. In fact, I recall being frustrated that Rolling Stone crowned Justin Timberlake “The New King of Pop” in 2003. Clearly that honor should have gone to U. But even with accolades –including Billboard naming him the Top 100 Artist of the 2000s– we’ve been undervaluing Usher for years now.

Some of this is his own fault. It’s no secret that it’s harder for R&B artists now that it’s been in year’s past (unless you’re white), but unlike Beyoncé, Usher tried to keep up with the times. He grabbed a glow stick and joined the EDM kids, resulting in songs like “Oh My God” and “Scream.” Usher also began to collaborate with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias, which is not wrong in theory but is in its subsequent end result. All of those overly pop-dance singles were cynical attempts to maintain Usher as a radio mainstay.

They were successful in that sense, but they also began to strip Usher of what made him so successful. He stopped being the consistent great album maker. He began to rely more on clichés with only glimmers of forward-leaning R&B such as “Climax.” He essentially didn’t own that he is Usher, thus above that sort of music making. Even if I loathed R&B’s brief but no less painful flirtation with EDM, I understood why many felt compelled to do so. I will never understand why Usher felt such pressure.

Even so, considering his catalog and the millions upon millions it sold and hit after hit it produced, you would think he’d have more capital to quickly recapture past glory.

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