Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Just like Michael Jackson in the 80's and Mariah Carey in the 90's, Usher is officially the most successful pop artist of the 00's. He has the second most successful single of the decade under his belt with "Yeah!", (behind Mariah's "We Belong Together") has become a pop culture icon, and was resposible for shaping R&B this past decade more than anyone else. In other words, he's pretty much as big as you can possibly get.

There's also no denying that Usher is the prime example of the way radio has changed since 2005. During the 00's, pure R&B/hip hop influenced music dominated the airwaves more than anything else. Though rock bands like 3 Doors Down and Linkin Park found success on the airwaves, the Lilth Fair type musician that dominated the late 90's was almost completely absent.

In the fall of 2009, Usher released the divorce ballad "Papers" almost a half year before the heavily anticipated "Raymond Vs. Raymond", and shot to #1 on the R&B charts with ease. However, the song was noticeably completely absent from pop radio. Like multi-week reigning R&B smashes such as Maxwell's "Pretty Wings" or Monica's "Everything to Me", its entire chart performance on the Hot 100 came solely from heavy play on R&B stations. There's never been a time period in pop music where the Hot 100 and R&B charts have been so synonymous than in the 00's, but the signs started to show that R&B was all of a sudden an endangered species on pop radio.

The second single released, "Lil Freak" featuring a pre-superstar Nicki Minaj wasn't as successful on the pop or R&B charts, which still puzzles me today as it was undoubtedly one of the best singles released in 2010. By this time, L.A. Reid must have been shaking in his boots. "Hey Daddy (Daddy's Home)" was slightly more successful around the time the album was released- then one of the most pivotal points in Usher's career happened.

"OMG" was released and rocketed to the top of the charts. As a club-ready anthem, the song was a complete departure for him and unlike anything he'd done before. It became one of the biggest hits of 2010 and is still played regularly on top 40, while his next single, "There Goes My Baby" became one of the biggest R&B songs of 2010, being mostly ignored by top 40. It was now fully realized that the entire pop music paradigm had shifted. It's not because the songs were subpar- hell, they were some of the best singles released in 2010- but because pop music had officially replaced R&B with club-ready house inspired music.

This obviously sparked an idea- if he can measure his unprecedented 00's success and all he has to do is change his genre of music, than why not? That fall, the EP/companion album "Versus" was released as quickly as possible with an almost as successful lead single, "DJ Got us Fallin' in Love". Usher went as far as to go on the record saying that his focus now would not be R&B, but this newer shift that fit the current pop music landscape, much to the dismay of his loyal fans that had been there for years.

If anything, the guy still has it all- the looks, voice, dance moves, and proven track record. It's just a shame that he (well, more or less L.A. Reid) would put the precedence of completely changing his sound in a desperate attempt to stay relevant over pleasing his fans. R&B still supports him more than pretty much any other artist, and the format will be losing one of its crucial voices from the airwaves. Perhaps once pop music comes down from its cocaine binge we'll get the real Usher back. However, let's remember that the downfall of Michael Jackson came when he stopped innovating and started following.

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