INTERVIEW: Usher talks Raymond Vs Raymond With The New York Times:”When people buy my albums, they buy them for the connection”
Here is an interview of Usher by the famous and prestigious newspaper The New York Times.
I found this really interesting for many reasons…check it out!
The Rumors Say Usher’s Making a Comeback
ON a recent afternoon at an airy recording studio here, Usher Raymond IV leaned back in a chair and sang along as “There Goes My Baby,” a slow-burning ballad from his forthcoming album, “Raymond v. Raymond” (Jive), played over the sound system, occasionally picking up an unlighted cigar, which he rolled in his mouth. When the song ended, this 31-year-old singer, who records under his first name, motioned for an engineer to shut the sound system off and launched into an explanation of the tune’s origins.
“The feeling of it is if you have a true connection with somebody, no matter what happens in life, it will always come back,” he said. “No matter how long it takes to make it through whatever issues pull you apart, something pulls you back together. The rest is between the lines.”
Given that Usher was recently divorced, one might think he was contemplating life with his ex-wife. But when asked if a particular lyric — “Like waterfalls, your hair falls down to your waist” — was intended as a nod and wink to his former girlfriend, Rozonda Thomas, Chili of the R&B group TLC, who scored a career-defining hit with 1994’s “Waterfalls,” Usher smiled broadly.
“Rico’s crazy, right?” he said with a laugh, referring to Rico Love who wrote the song’s lyrics. “He’s a great writer. Real tricky.”
(Rico Love, in a phone interview, admitted the nod was intentional: “I always thought Chili and Usher were a great couple, so I did that to spark something.”)
Coming after a broken marriage and a 2008 album, “Here I Stand,” whose sales were roughly a tenth of the 10 million that his 2004 “Confessions” sold, Usher finds himself in the midst of an image makeover. Gone are the ballads about marriage and family that were the hallmark of “Here I Stand,” back are lyrics about seductions, reckless infidelities and bitter breakups that helped “Confessions” spawn four No. 1 singles, two Grammy awards and much gossip about how closely they mirrored Usher’s real life.
So innuendoes about his tempestuous relationship with Ms. Thomas — which was widely interpreted to be his inspiration for “Confessions” — are not only fair game, but perhaps helpful in returning to his role as coy, loose-lipped Lothario.
“With ‘Raymond v. Raymond’ I’m coming back to what people know me for,” he said. “If you bring back what people loved about you and remind them nothing’s changed, then they’re right back where they were before.”
But things have changed. Usher is not the 25-year-old superstar who made “Confessions.” He’s a divorced father of two, trying to rebound from his first major career setback.
He made his recording debut in 1994 as a baby-faced 15-year-old with an effortless, elastic tenor, and then over the course of the next decade grew into a successful, if sometimes bland, R&B heartthrob. His first three albums sold more than six million copies, but his fourth, “Confessions,” launched him into a new stratosphere. The album opened at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, scoring the highest first-week sales ever for an R&B artist, just under 1.1 million. In its wake Usher starred in “Chicago” on Broadway and started his own fragrance line.
By the time he released “Here I Stand,” his life had changed dramatically: He had married Tameka Foster, a stylist seven years his senior, who had given birth to their first son and was pregnant with their second. The album mostly eschewed the romantic drama and sexually suggestive, up-tempo dance tracks on “Confessions” in favor of songs hailing the virtues of monogamy and family. (Even when he took to the bedroom on “Trading Places,” lyrics about taking out the trash, renting a movie and waking up with a cup of Folgers felt dangerously close to self-parody.)
His marriage, meanwhile, became the subject of tabloid scrutiny. Ms. Foster was frequently portrayed as a fame-seeking opportunist, and Usher’s public defenses of her generally proved counterproductive.
“People say it’s my fault he made all those songs,” Ms. Foster said in a telephone interview. “It was saddening. For a man to find a mate and profess their love publicly, and then for fans to be mad at him just shows the immaturity in so many of them.”
The reaction to “Here I Stand” seemed as much a rejection of Usher’s evolution from ladies man to family man as it was a rejection of his new songs.
“People felt like I’d stepped away from the perception I’d sold for all the years I’d been doing this,” he said. “When people buy my albums, they buy them for the connection. ‘Here I Stand’ was very specific to where I was in my life. I don’t think everyone was there.”
According to Mark Pitts, president of urban music at the Jive Label Group and an executive producer on the new album and “Here I Stand,” “Raymond v. Raymond” was conceived as a return to the “Confessions” formula.
“Usher had a rough couple years,” Mr. Pitts said. “The scrutiny of everything going on, he was worrying too much about what people were thinking. We felt like we had to get his swagger back. Dust off the bed and get it popping and young again.”
Beyond that, Mr. Pitts said, it was important for the new album to address rumors about Usher’s marriage that had been floating for the previous few years. “Based on what happened with ‘Confessions,’ why wouldn’t I feel like, ‘Let’s try that again’?”
As such, the album’s lead single, “Papers,” a slick, digitized slow jam that reached the top of the Billboard R&B charts in December, appears to be a reflection on Usher’s divorce. (The “papers” in question are divorce papers.) “I done damn near lost my mama/I done been through so much drama,” he sings in the song’s chorus, an apparent reference to the rumor that his mother, Jonetta Patton — who is also his former manager — disapproved of the union.
“I feel like based off what people had speculated about the relationship with my wife, and what they thought was going on between me and my mother, this would represent like an interview,” Usher said of “Papers.” “The first time I’m going to speak about it and the last.”
“Papers” was actually written before Usher filed for divorce, partly by Sean Garrett, who also helped write “Yeah!,” the Grammy-winning hit from “Confessions.”
“Me and Usher are friends,” Mr. Garrett said. “I could tell he was going through some very strenuous things. I thought it would be relatable to where he was at.”
Several other new tracks will likely be heard as ruminations on Usher’s failed marriage: “She Don’t Know,” a “did he jump or was he pushed?” tale of temptation that features declarative horn bursts and a throbbing beat; the sorrowful adulterous confessional “Foolin’ Around”; and “Guilty,” a wildly catchy, synth-fueled defense of the louche life. The album’s title — inspired, according to Usher, by the 1979 divorce film, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ — will undoubtedly further this story line, even though the singer himself disputed its significance.
“This album isn’t specifically about my marriage,” he said. “It’s about the tug-of-war between man and woman, and the honesty a man has to have.”
But songs like “Papers,” “Foolin’ Around” and “Guilty,” will inevitably become the de facto public history of his marriage regardless of how true-to-life they were intended to be. And because Ms. Foster has no real platform to present her side, she has to live with that narrative.
“There have been a lot of really unfair pictures painted of me, and I don’t think this helps,” she said. “But he has a team of people in place, some of which probably have more to gain from creating that drama.”
Usher insists he has tried to draw boundaries to keep some of his private life private, but it’s a constant balancing act.
“Creatively, I’m left to tell the story I think people will connect with,” he said. “Some of it’s fantasy and a lot may be pulled from real experiences. This is what I do as an artist.”
To be fair, many of the new songs have nothing to do with relationships. Two recently released singles, the sleek, seductive, if relatively bloodless, “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home),” and “Lil Freak,” a stuttering, thunderous dance floor grind, appear more concerned with convincing fans that his days of domestic tranquillity are a thing of the past.
Usher is hardly the first artist to exploit his personal history for commercial gain. The promotional ramp-up for Rihanna’s 2009 release “Rated R” didn’t shy away from allusions, both covert and overt, to her assault at the hands of the R&B star Chris Brown. Justin Timberlake’s 2002 hit “Cry Me a River” was widely assumed to be an account of his breakup with Britney Spears, complete with a Spears look-alike in the song’s video.
“Fans want to know more about artists nowadays,” said Ebro Darden, program director at New York’s influential urban radio station, Hot 97, WQHT-FM. “We’ve learned over the last decade from reality TV and the Internet that people have problems, and they want to know they’re not the only ones. Also because Usher did that on “Confessions” and had so much success, that’s his brand. The more vulnerable he is, odds are his album sales will be higher.”
The album’s early singles have performed well on radio but none have yet become the kind of genre-busting hits that flowed regularly from “Confessions.” Mr. Pitts considers it “make-or-break” time for what type of artist he’s going to be.
“Do you still have it in you to compete with the young artists or are you leveling off?” he said of Usher. “If we get past this and have some success, that will build his confidence back and we can focus on just making great music.”
Generations of R&B stars — from Michael Jackson to Bobby Brown to D’Angelo — have struggled to come to terms with outgrowing the public’s initial images of them. Few have made that transition successfully without acknowledging, at least implicitly, that some sort of “leveling off,” as Mr. Pitts put it, is not only inevitable, it’s healthy. Usher seems to know that too, even though his current album may suggest otherwise.
“Hopefully at 40 I won’t have to be on a stage,” he said. “I’ll choose to be on a stage if I want. But in terms of future albums, I’ll just get there when I get there.”