Monday, March 4, 2024

The Quantity Ones: Usher’s “OMG” (Feat. will.i.am)


In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Sizzling 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my means up into the current. E-book Bonus Beat: The Quantity Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the Historical past of Pop Music.

You most likely already know the story about Usher and T-Ache. T-Ache informed the story on the Netflix present This Is Pop in 2021, and I received into it within the column on T-Ache’s “Purchase U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’).” To briefly summarize: In 2013, Usher and T-Ache have been each on a flight to Los Angeles for the BET Awards, and Usher cornered T-Ache to inform him that he had “actually fucked up music for actual singers.” T-Ache was flabbergasted, and the dialog despatched him right into a depressive tailspin.

Usher is the clear asshole on this story, however after I take a look at it from his perspective, I perceive. It’s not that T-Ache’s brazen use of Auto-Tune actually bothered Usher. It’s that Usher all of the sudden discovered himself in a world the place the music that made him a megastar, the graceful rap-flavored R&B of his blockbuster Confessions, was not commercially dominant. As a substitute, Usher needed to hold himself related by making garbage-ass dance-pop. In 2013, Usher was three years faraway from “OMG,” his final #1 hit. If I’d recorded “OMG,” I’d be seeking to blame another person, too.

So far as I do know, T-Ache didn’t maintain a gun to Usher’s head and pressure him to document “OMG.” I’d as a substitute enterprise a guess that Usher was talking from a spot of bruised ego on that aircraft. His complete “OMG” expertise should’ve been so humiliating. The only is a textbook instance of a fading star chasing one other hit by aping the recent sounds of the time. Within the second of peak EDM, Usher discovered himself adrift. Usher may’ve made a terrific dance music. He did make just a few nice dance songs. A few of them have been hits. However on his largest post-peak observe, Usher turned to the darkish facet. He went straight to will.i.am.

The mathematics all checks out. Usher wanted successful, and no person was making greater hits than will.i.am. In 2008, Usher lastly launched Right here I Stand, his follow-up to the insanely profitable Confessions. Confessions was a lightning-in-a-bottle second, and Usher by no means may’ve equaled its influence. Within the years after that album, Usher married his former stylist Tameka Foster, and Right here I Stand was his try to current himself as a grown, mature R&B artist. It didn’t work. Folks didn’t need to hear that from Usher. The album’s most immature music, the sexy and trap-flavored Younger Jeezy collab “Love In This Membership,” reached #1 for just a few weeks, however Right here I Stand drastically underperformed expectations, promoting about one tenth of what Confessions had moved.

Usher and Tameka Foster divorced in 2009, and Usher moved to Las Vegas to work on his subsequent album. Usher additionally rehired his mom as his supervisor. Rumor had it that Usher’s mom didn’t like Foster, that Usher had fired his mom as a result of they couldn’t get alongside. When the wedding ended, he introduced her again to assist him return to his hitmaking prime. After the failure of Right here I Stand, Usher needed to return to what he’d performed with Confessions. He needed to make music that was private however common, and he needed to sing lyrics that have been assured and susceptible on the identical time. It was a tall order.

On most of Confessions, Usher locked in with a small group of collaborators, led by super-producer Jermaine Dupri. Usher’s 2010 album Raymond V. Raymond — get it, it’s like Kramer Vs. Kramer however with Usher — is a patchwork of various types. Usher recorded tracks with Jermaine Dupri and with the workforce of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, however he additionally labored with all of the producers who have been sizzling on the time: Polow Da Don, Jim Jonsin, the Runners, Danja, Bangladesh, Zaytoven. A number of the songs are nice, however there’s no central thought, no unifying feeling.

Usher’s rebuilding venture began with “Papers,” the inevitable divorce music that got here out 5 months earlier than Raymond V. Raymond: “I performed rattling close to misplaced my mama, I performed been by a lot drama/ I performed changed into the person that I by no means thought I’d be/ I’m able to signal them papers.” Usher had to handle his personal story earlier than he may get again to the enterprise of creating hits, and “Papers” was the mandatory step. Usher by no means formally launched “Papers” as a single, and he by no means made a video for the observe, although I wager he hoped it might take off the best way that “Confessions Half II” had performed. Even with out that push, although, “Papers” made it to #31 on the Sizzling 100.

Usher actually tried to reassert his dominance with the vaguely creepy midtempo intercourse music “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Residence).” That one received the big-budget video and the remixes from rappers like Plies and Jadakiss. Usher sounds easy and managed on the observe, but it surely’s simply not an excellent music. Usher couldn’t recapture his Confessions-era swagger at will, and by repeatedly calling himself “daddy,” he may’ve simply added to the impression that he was getting previous. (Usher was simply 31, however he’d already been well-known for half his life.) After just a few false begins on the Sizzling 100, “Daddy’s Residence” finally peaked at #24.

I actually thought Usher had one thing with “Lil Freak,” his subsequent single. The Polow Da Don beat is huge and cinematic, constructed round chopped-up Stevie Surprise synth-strings. It’s a proudly nasty music, all about asking a lady to carry one other woman to mattress, and on-fire guest-rapper Nicki Minaj brings her full weirdo charisma to her verse. She’d most likely been ready years to yell “all people loves Raymond” on an Usher music. (Nicki will finally seem on this column.) However “Lil Freak” fell flatter than “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Residence),” solely reaching #40.

Perhaps “OMG” was Usher’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency contingency plan. Usher had already labored with will.i.am on the forgettable Right here I Stand deep reduce “What’s Your Identify.” Will.i.am isn’t simply the guest-rapper on “OMG,” and he isn’t simply the producer, both. As a substitute, will.i.am wrote the complete music. Given the best way the Black Eyed Peas held the pop charts in a chokehold for all of 2009, it most likely made sense to show to will.i.am, however somebody ought to’ve actually stepped in earlier than letting him wrote all the lyrics. By that time, will.i.am had an extended historical past of writing deeply horrible lyrics, and somebody ought to’ve identified higher than to permit Usher to sing about how honey received some boobies like wow oh wow.

I’d not be remotely stunned to study that “OMG” began its life as a rejected Black Eyed Peas observe. The observe is precisely the kind of throbbing stadium-electro that introduced will.i.am’s group a lot chart success. It has a melody, but it surely doesn’t have a lot of 1. Will.i.am sing-raps on the observe, and it’s not at all times instantly apparent which voice is which. Given the huge gulf in singing expertise between Usher and can.i.am, that’s not ideally suited. However the two voices on “OMG” aren’t the point of interest. As a substitute, the beat dominates all the things.

In the beginning of “OMG,” will.i.am samples his personal “let the beat rock” line from “Increase Increase Pow.” The beat itself is filled with swollen trance keyboards and house-music kick-snare patterns. It’s constructed with dancing in thoughts, but it surely’s curiously skinny and inert. The loudest a part of the beat is a crowd’s whoa-oh-oh chant. That half might be sampled from the Deep Purple in-concert album Dwell At The Olympia ’96; it’s the gang getting hype on the finish of an extended rendition of “Pace King.” (Deep Purple’s two highest-charting singles, 1968’s “Hush” and 1973’s “Smoke On The Water,” each peaked at #4. “Hush” is a 9, and “Smoke On The Water” is an 8.) However you’ll be able to’t flip a observe right into a stadium anthem simply by placing some stadium-style chanting on it.

Perhaps “OMG” is meant to evoke the identical heightened feeling that Usher delivered to “Yeah!” six years earlier. As soon as once more, Usher is within the membership, on the prowl, pushed to distraction by a lovely girl. However “OMG” has none of that music’s panache. There’s no emotional depth, no trace that Usher’s attraction may trigger him to do one thing that he’ll later remorse. As a substitute, the “OMG” lyrics are simply unspeakably silly.

On “OMG,” Usher describes this girl in essentially the most childish phrases attainable: “Honey received a booty like pow pow pow/ Honey received some boobies like wow oh wow.” She’s received him drunk, drunk off her humps. When “OMG” got here out, just a few individuals seen that this half, in each lyrics and melody, sounded a complete lot like a Christmas music that Homer made up in a 2003 episode of The Simpsons: “Christmas in December, wow wow wow/ Give me tons of presents now now now.” That’s most likely a coincidence, however that Homer music is supposed to be dumber than grime. It’s not speculated to be the stuff that #1 hits are product of. (Later within the episode, Homer writes a Ned Flanders diss observe that is speculated to be the stuff that #1 hits are product of; possibly will.i.am ought to’ve ripped off that music as a substitute.)

The “boobies like wow oh wow” line is the bit from “OMG” that everybody clowned, however each different line on the observe is simply as dangerous. Contemplate the pre-chorus: “Child, let me love you down/ There’s so some ways to like you.” My eyes glazed over simply typing that. There’s additionally so many phrases you might use there as a substitute of simply spamming “love” again and again. On his closely Auto-Tuned pseudo-rap verse, will.i.am rhymes “my oh my” with “fly, so fly” after which “my oh my” once more. Even the title is fucked up. By 2010, everybody on the planet knew that “OMG” stood for “oh my god,” however Usher subs in “oh my gosh” as a substitute. Why? Is it a non secular factor? Does Usher not need to take the Lord’s identify in useless? As a result of any deity worthy of your devotion could be means madder in regards to the boobies line.

No person concerned with “OMG” was attempting to make a basic. It’s clearly only a music for the golf equipment, made by individuals who had already made a lot, significantly better songs for the golf equipment. I can’t get too offended on the existence of “OMG,” however its reputation actually does dance music a disservice. An important dance music generally is a lovely, liberating factor, however that’s not “OMG.” Usher sleepwalks by the whole observe, by no means even placing any mustard on the melody. He’s received no chemistry with will.i.am, and he comes off like he’s dissociating within the studio. Perhaps Usher was already planning what he’d say to T-Ache when he was laying down his “OMG” vocals. Usher doesn’t even do any notably memorable dance strikes within the “OMG” video; my one takeaway from that clip is will.i.am’s try to carry again Hammerpants.

Regardless of its huge and overwhelming shoddiness, “OMG” turned out to be the hit that Usher wanted. One way or the other, the mix of Usher’s starpower an the fumes of the Black Eyed Peas’ sizzling streak pushed “OMG” to #1 for a few weeks. Perhaps radio programmers figured that they might break up their blocks of Black Eyed Peas tracks with this, a music that may as nicely have been a Black Eyed Peas observe. However “OMG” didn’t actually assist Usher’s business fortunes. His follow-up “There Goes My Child” is a nice music, but it surely solely reached #25. Raymond V. Raymond went platinum as soon as, which was precisely what Right here I Stand had performed a few years earlier.

A number of months later, Usher launched Versus, the EP that was speculated to be the Raymond V. Raymond model of The Fame Monster. That EP’s lead single confirmed simply how good an Usher EDM observe could possibly be. Max Martin and Shellback produced “DJ Acquired Us Fallin’ In Love,” which has the identical fundamental club-lust lyrical thought as “OMG” however which is so significantly better that it boggles the thoughts. The manufacturing on “DJ Acquired Us Fallin’ In Love” is pure cheese, with its Euro-house keyboards and its huge bass-drum thump, however its melodies are mathematical marvels.

The opposite evening, I received excessive and listened to “OMG,” which was a particularly disagreeable expertise. Then I placed on “DJ Acquired Us Fallin’ In Love,” and I used to be enthralled. It’s a kind of tracks have been you notice in the course of the second refrain that you just’re about to get to the bridge and that the bridge goes to blow your thoughts. Then the bridge really arrives, and bam! It’s Pitbull verse! Good! His life’s a film, and also you simply TiVo! Dale! (“DJ Acquired Us Fallin’ In Love” peaked at #4. It’s a 9. Pitbull will finally seem on this column. I can’t wait.)

Usher’s Versus EP additionally had “Sizzling Tottie,” a Polow Da Don observe with a Jay-Z guest-verse. I favored that music, too, but it surely by no means received a video, and it peaked at #21. So Usher stored going with the dance-pop factor for a short while. On the VMAs, Usher carried out a medley of “OMG” and “DJ Acquired Us Fallin’ In Love.” When the Black Eyed Peas did the Tremendous Bowl Halftime Present in 2011, Usher rappelled onto the stage and gamely lip-synched “OMG.” In the most effective second of the whole Halftime Present, Usher jumped over will.i.am and landed in a cut up. It’s against the law that Usher has by no means gotten his personal Halftime Present.

“OMG” got here out on the final second that somebody may simply purchase a will.i.am observe and land a assured hit. Earlier than that Black Eyed Peas growth interval, Will had launched three solo albums, and none of them had gone anyplace. In 2013, he got here out with #willpower, and that one didn’t go anyplace, both. In 2012, Will made it to #3 with the Britney Spears collab “Scream & Shout.” (It’s a 4.) That was will.i.am’s final main hit. He’s been doing fairly nicely with the Black Eyed Peas these days, however as a solo artist, Will hasn’t been on the Sizzling 100 since 2014. That’s when he teamed up with Jimmy Fallon for “Ew!,” a novelty music that peaked at #26. Don’t look it up. It’s dangerous.

In 2012, Usher adopted Raymond V. Raymond with a very good album known as Wanting 4 Myself. Its lead single is a straight-up masterpiece that stands as one among Usher’s finest works. On “Climax,” Usher labored with producers Diplo and Ariel Rechtshaid, determining sharp new methods to mix pulsing membership music with basic soul balladry in ways in which enhanced each of them. Usher sang absolutely the shit out of that music, too; his falsetto by no means sounded higher. Critics like me liked “Climax,” however the music was solely a average hit, peaking at #17.

Usher had extra success with subsequent single “Scream,” one other Max Martin/Shellback membership observe. That music made it to #9, and it’s Usher’s final top-10 hit. (It’s a 6.) Usher was already beginning to embrace his legacy-artist standing. He’d already launched the world to Justin Bieber, an artist who will seem on this column a bunch of instances. (Now that I consider it, the preliminary burst of pleasure round Bieber may’ve helped propel the chart success of “OMG.”) New Usher data stored coming, however they have been much less frequent and fewer targeted on potential crossover hits.

Today, Usher largely looks like he’s having enjoyable as a beloved superstar, a determine who performed an enormous function in lots of people’s childhoods. Usher spent just a few seasons as a coach on The Voice. (Will.i.am has been on The Voice, too, however he’s been on the UK and Australia variations of the present.) Usher made it to #11 with the Juicy J collab “I Don’t Thoughts” in 2014, however he didn’t actually attempt to capitalize on that success. He and Zaytoven launched a reasonably good collaborative album known as A in 2018. Usher had a terrific cameo as himself within the 2019 film Hustlers and an excellent higher cameo as himself within the 2016 film Popstar: By no means Cease By no means Stopping. He received married and divorced once more, and he had just a few extra youngsters.

The final time Usher appeared on the Sizzling 100, it was when he guested on Summer time Walker’s “Come Via,” which was constructed on a pattern of his personal 1997 hit “You Make Me Wanna…” That’s a reasonably good signal that Usher has change into a nostalgic touchstone, and he appears to be embracing that function. (“You Make Me Wanna…” peaked at #2. It’s an 8. “Come Via” peaked at #42. Good music.) Over the previous few years, Usher has headlined a bunch of nostalgic rap and R&B festivals. He re-teamed with “Yeah!” collaborators Lil Jon and Ludacris for the 2020 single “SexBeat.” Final 12 months, Usher did a mega-viral Tiny Desk Live performance, which reminded individuals of simply how a lot enjoyable it’s to look at this man sing.

Ever since 2021, Usher has usually been enjoying Las Vegas. The Vegas residency is the refuge of the washed-up star, however Usher doesn’t deal with it like that. As a substitute, Usher has used all of his assets to show his Vegas exhibits into glamorous affairs. Celebrities — LeBron James, Diddy, Queen Latifah, 21 Savage — come out to Usher exhibits, and he makes an enormous present out of doing enjoyable, crowdpleasing routines with them. The video clips are at all times value watching.

When “OMG” reached #1 Usher joined the brief checklist of artists who’ve topped the Sizzling 100 in three completely different a long time. That chart feat, like so many others, is all smoke and mirrors; Usher’s string of #1 hits actually solely lasted about 12 years. That’s nonetheless sufficient for a hall-of-fame profession. Greater than a decade after that reign ended, Usher’s starpower stays dazzling. It’s only a disgrace that he needed to exit on such a piece-of-shit music. That’s not T-Ache’s fault. It’s not even will.i.am’s fault. Usher’s the one along with his identify on “OMG,” and which means he’s the one in charge.

GRADE: 2/10



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