(February 10, 2024). On Friday (Feb. 9), R&B superstar Usher Raymond, known to us all as simply Usher, released a new album called Coming Home.
Today, I listened to it.
It’s a 20-track set with a mix of traditional R&B ballads, Afrobeats influences, features from current hip-hop A-listers, trademark bedroom burners, some midlife introspection, a little regret, and a few ass-shakers guaranteed to have his most diehard fans clicking on repeat to see what sounds the A-Town resident is putting down these days.
It’s already the No. 1 LP on iTunes. It also has a chance to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in just over a week from now when it’s eligible (chart date Feb. 24), barring a huge turnout for Kanye West’s just-released Vultures album (Feb. 10).
And before you check, my friends, with both Usher and Kanye releasing competing albums in the same week, the current year is not 2004. It’s 2024!
But you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise after reading the above (with the exception of the Afrobeats reference), all of which could’ve been ripped straight out of a 2004 news article.
That was when Usher solidified his status as the biggest musician on the planet — particularly for that year — and he would remain R&B’s “king” for the better part of the ‘00s decade, with R. Kelly slowly falling out of favor and newbies like Chris Brown and Trey Songz still on their come-ups.
At the time, Usher was already a ten-year chart veteran at the age of 25. He’d first appeared in 1993 with the song “Call Me A Mack” from the motion picture soundtrack to Poetic Justice, followed by his 1994 self-titled debut album.
You’ll recall Poetic Justice was the first movie vehicle for another superstar, Janet Jackson, the icon who just happened to be the halftime headliner during the 2004 Super Bowl.
At the time, Jackson was arguably the biggest R&B star of the previous two decades, while Usher, who had just released the blockbuster song “Yeah!” with Lil Jon and Ludicris as the lead single from his fourth studio album, was about to have a year that would change his career trajectory forever.
It was also the year before a certain unknown teenage country singer had signed her first contract with Big Machine Records, launching an unprecedented recording career that would eventually change the music industry forever, a career that has literally shifted world economies, and one that has now gone beyond music to grow the NFL’s bottom line by a reported $300 million dollars this past regular season, merely by her attendance at games.
Now, on the eve of this year’s Super Bowl, Usher, 45, will be the game’s halftime performer, and Jackson is back in the news after announcing new dates for her ongoing concert tour (and on the 20th anniversary of the infamous wardrobe malfunction from ‘04’s show).
And that up-and-coming country superstar?
Well, her name is Taylor Swift, now a record-setting pop phenom who will be attending this year’s big game in a private booth cheering on — to borrow from an Usher 2004 song title — her “boo,” Kansas City Chief’s tight end Travis Kelce.
For better or for worse, like it or not, it is she, T-Swizzle — Queen of Swifties — not Usher, who will be the biggest star musician under the lights at Allegiant Stadium in Vegas on Feb. 11.
Many cameras will be pointed her way, trying to catch whatever celebratory gestures — impromptu or otherwise — she has in store for when the man in the crimson and white uniform wearing No. 87 does something extraordinary on the field.
The prospect of her presence alone is expected to make this the most watched Super Bowl in history (just like SB 38 had been at the time Jackson performed in 2004).
And while I’m sure Usher won’t mind the added exposure his performance will likely receive as a result of the larger-than-ever viewership expected for this year’s game — after all he’s got a new album to promote — his setlist will likely take us back to a time when he, not Taylor, would’ve been music’s biggest draw on the NFL’s grandest stage.
Usher is a formidable performer in his own right who should be able to make this show one to remember (and make us forget about Taylor for a minute… unless, of course, the cameras tilt to her booth while she rocks out to some of Usher’s greatest hits; I’m placing the over/under at 3 for the number of times that happens during the halftime show, by the way).
But who among those with a pulse wouldn’t be rocking out? After all, Usher is the current King of Las Vegas (having just completed his 100th show there as part of a residency) with an iconic discography that formed the soundtrack of a generation. Never mind that the pop princess’s looming presence has relegated the upcoming halftime show to being a mere footnote to the story that will surely dominate the Super Bowl — Taylor and Travis — just as it has the NFL ever since news of their romance first went public in September.
But with all this Taylor talk, it seems folks might just need a refresher course on what would have made Usher’s show the A-story at this year’s game under more normal circumstances.
So let’s go back in time 20 years — to the year the halftime show, sadly, marked the beginning of another pop queen’s downfall — and relive Usher’s astronomical ascendancy, a time that saw him achieve the kind of chart feats not seen since the Beatles 40 years earlier, and a year that, without which, Usher likely wouldn’t be on this Sunday’s stage.
That year’s Super Bowl kicked off the month of February in a game that included Jackson’s breast snafu (well, her bra was actually ripped off by a man but she got the blame) and featured the then-dynastic New England Patriots defeating the upstart Carolina Panthers, 32-29.
By February 28, Usher had the No. 1 song in the country with “Yeah!,” the smash that combined the worlds of R&B, crunk and hip-hop and which had been climbing steadily for nearly two months. It would remain perched at the top of the Hot 100 for 12 consecutive weeks, longer than any other single that year.
While “Yeah!” was locked in at No. 1 on the singles list, Usher released his fourth studio album Confessions, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with more than 1.1 million physical copies sold in its first week. To this day it is the last album by an R&B singer to move more than a million units in a single week — physical, digital or otherwise.
In its second week at No. 1, Confessions held off the expected big debut of Janet’s new album, Damita Jo, to a No. 2 peak, her first studio album to fall short of No. 1 since before her Control breakthrough 18 years earlier.
Meanwhile, the singles from Confessions kept coming. The song that displaced “Yeah!” from the top? It was none other than Usher’s followup single “Burn,” a breakup ballad that itself spent eight non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 (interrupted by a one-week stint for American Idol’s third-season winner Fantasia and her coronation song “I Believe”).
Between them, “Yeah!” and “Burn” had spent a total of 20 of the year’s first 29 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100.
But Usher wasn’t done.
With “Burn” peaking and “Yeah!” in its inevitable descendancy, the newly minted megastar released the third single from Confessions — its title track (Part 2) — which raced up the Hot 100 in time to catch and topple its immediate predecessor (“Burn”), making Usher the first act since the Beatles in 1964 to displace himself at No. 1 twice in the same year — and with consecutive singles.
By June, all three of those songs were in the pop top 10 simultaneously, still a rare feat in 2004 when streaming wasn’t yet a thing and paid digital downloads were just beginning to impact chart positions.
But Usher still wasn’t done.
Before the summer ended, ATL’s biggest artist had teamed up with that year’s most successful R&B female Alicia Keys on the trendily titled love song “My Boo.”
By Halloween, “My Boo,” which was added to deluxe versions of Confessions, was the No. 1 song in the U.S., where it would hang out for six weeks.
All told, the four No. 1 songs Usher achieved in 2004 were the most in a single year by any artist since George Michael had four toppers from his album Faith in 1988.
Those four singles totaled 28 weeks on top of the Hot 100 in 2004 — also the most for a single calendar year by any artist — easily making Usher the No. 1 artist of the year in Billboard’s annual tally that December.
Usher had started the year already a big star, with three prior albums and a slew of No. 1 singles already under his belt. By the end of 2004, he’d padded his total to seven No. 1 smashes, with both an album (Confessions) and single (“Yeah!”) that were named the biggest of the year in their respective pop categories.
In short, Usher had the kind of year in 2004 that hadn’t been seen by an R&B artist since Michael Jackson more than two decades earlier. It was the kind of year that most artists can only dream of having, one that proved hard for even Usher to duplicate.
As for the Super Bowl, Janet’s halftime show proved too much for CBS (and MTV) to bear — especially with the FCC breathing down their necks to crack down on what was perceived as inappropriate content for younger viewers.
As a result, the NFL went with much safer fare — Paul McCartney — for the following year’s halftime show.
In the years since, the halftime performers have fluctuated between the risqué (Rolling Stones, Beyoncé, Madonna, Eminem, Prince) and the risk-free (Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, the Black Eyed Peas).
Meanwhile, Usher continued to crank out the hits, with classics like “OMG,” “Love In This Club,” “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home),” “Lil’ Freak,” and “Climax” joining his already substantial song catalog that included earlier R&B staples like “Nice & Slow,” “My Way,” “You Make Me Wanna…,” “U Got It Bad,” “U Remind Me,” and “U Don’t Have to Call.”
As a final exclamation point, Confessions remains the biggest-selling R&B album of the 21st century (with 20 million copies sold worldwide, and counting).
And now it’s Usher’s turn — some 20 years after he reigned as the biggest artist on the planet — to entertain fans on what will be the grandest stage yet for Las Vegas’ latest royalty.
Over/under: He’ll no doubt be performing at least two-and-a-half of the iconic No. 1 hits from Confessions that helped propel him to that historical success in 2004.
And, in all our excitement to go back in time and relive the aughts as well as the other decades in which Usher’s been giving us timeless hit music, his most devoted fans will enjoy it thoroughly!
Even if he won’t be the most famous singer in the stadium that night.
Take a listen to his new album, Coming Home, below.
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.
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