Pinned: Posts Resume As Normal Below
Usher unleashed his eighth studio album ‘Hard II Love’ on the masses last week. And though the final tally has yet to be counted, the official sales forecast sent the net into a flutter.
For, the set – led by singles ‘Crash’ and ‘No Limit’ – is on course to debut with 25,000; the lowest US numbers of the crooner’s career.
Given the unforgiving nature of today’s age and the fickleness of select fans, some have deemed it “the end” for the 8-time Grammy winner.
We’re not so sure about that, but can’t distract from the fact that something is…off.
Join us below as we unpack the problems and size up the solutions…
First up is his…
He Doesn’t Stand For Anything In Particular
Even at his height, there always existed this nagging feeling that Usher’s lack of iconography and definitive sound would become an eventual issue. Which it now has.
Let’s briefly examine his peers.
Beyonce, for instance, is synonymous with female empowerment, ferocious performances, and a sound that is rooted in live instrumentation. Rihanna, conversely, is the “bad gyal” whose island roots are ever-present in her output. While Bruno Mars manages to give a nostalgic nod to eras of past in the most contemporary of ways.
Usher, however, has glided by on good music and solid performances. A deluxe combo that worked once upon a time, but one that is simply not enough in isolation these days.
As this snowballed into a bigger issue, it led to a situation which saw the star become one who…
Chased fluffy hits that didn’t build a foundation for the future.
‘OMG,’ ‘Scream,’ and ‘DJ Got Us Falling In Love.’
All Pop smashes, yet are undeniably songs that helped hasten the predicament he finds himself in today.
To his credit, each track is tied to an LP that was solid and largely Urban flavored. Crucially, however, each song ended up as the face of their housing albums (thanks to their aggressive push and immense success). Thus, they collectively assisted in the rapid dissolving of his Urban core. Dangerous, as that group are the primary purchasers of his projects.
Indeed, so loud was the backlash from his R&B base that…
He Began To Second-Guess Himself.
The first draft of ‘Hard II Love’ was initially due in 2014 with a working title of ‘UR.’ Upon the launch of its campaign, the project delivered a strong one-two punch in the form of ‘Good Kisser’ and ‘She Came To Give It To You.’ Neither single pointed to perfection, but they did – with their cohesive sound – suggest he was on the cusp of turning in a funkified album; one that would finally gift him a lane he could call his own in the 2010’s.
Perhaps haunted by descending sales, Usher undermined the fact that both songs (though not smashes) provided momentum enough to tour the world. Instead, he delayed the album and toyed with two years. And now he has little to show for it.
The lesson here? Trust your gut and strike while the iron is hot, warm, or at the very least on. The frosty commercial response to ‘Hard’ suggests he hit the switch entirely too late.
So, What’s The Solution?
Put away the gavels and leave the black dresses in the drawer; this isn’t a funeral for his career. Think of it as a potential cornerstone. Much in the way ‘Charmbracelet’ was for Mariah and ‘4’ was for a certain Mrs Carter. A commercial dip for sure, yet one that provides a blank slate to repaint the picture.
It goes without saying that 20k is a quite the depth to climb back up from – but it is doable. The Diamond-selling days may have long lapsed, but hit songs and higher charting LPs are plausible should Usher make the right plays moving forward.
Musically, ‘Hard II Love’ is exactly the opposite of its title. It’s slick, hip, and a deliciously cohesive slice of contemporary R&B. In many ways and more than any of his post ‘Confessions’ efforts, the material this go round is not the problem. A stance many reviews of the album echo.
There is, though, an undeniable disconnect.
Thus far, there have been growing murmurs surrounding the LP’s lack of promotion – which is difficult to ignore. Especially given the major machines in Usher’s corner – both management and label side (see: Scooter Braun and Sony Music). Could changes on either of those fronts be on the horizon?
Pending answers, here are 3 adjustments he could and should make to rise from the ashes…
Get Personal Again…
We exist in an era where the record-buying mass want to know the artists they root for. This reality has seen even the most reclusive of stars begin to commoditise their truth.
Usher’s most profound success came when he did exactly this on ‘Confessions.’ And though subsequent attempts with albums such as ‘Raymond vs Raymond’ have felt half-baked, he’d be well advised to revisit this approach with increased vigour. He recently got married…so why not sing about it?! A useful way of doing this is to…
Hyper-masculinity has seen output from male R&B stars become increasingly mono. Like a lot of their Hip-Hop counterparts, the demand for a “harder edge” has seen themes of sexual prowess and fishing for females become the dominant subject matter. Usher need not fall further into this bracket of artist.
Sure we enjoy ‘No Limit,’ but hearing him sing about “that ghetto D” – while amusing – felt a little beneath him. Particularly at this stage of his career.
For many, the 37-year-old is cut from the qualitative cloth sewn by Michael Jackson. Hence, he should borrow a page from MJ and up the ante thematically.
Each project should see him commit to a concept and ensure that it’s threaded through everything from the lyrics to the outfits to the artwork.
Justin Timberlake achieved this flawlessly with ‘Suit & Tie’ and its parent project ‘The 20/20 Experience.’ A reality that grates because Usher could and would have delivered that era – musically and aesthetically – with an authenticity JT would not be able to rival.
Still, Mr Raymond is not above taking notes – be it from legends or contemporaries.
Above all, he needs to…
Remember He Is…Usher
So-so sales or not, the fact remains that Usher is one of the most successful male artists of all time.
In recent album cycles, it appears as though he’s used this as a crutch for complacency. When, in theory, he should be using said status to experiment and consistently up the levels for himself, his fans, and for the culture.
Having birthed the careers of Chris Brown, Trey Songz, and countless others, it’d be awesome to see Usher continue to serve as the blueprint for male R&B in the modern age. To do this, he’d need to successfully demonstrate how to mature in said arena. Something we hope he’ll be able to pull off upon his next swing of the bat.