With nearly 20 years in the music business, Usher does things a bit differently when presenting his new work. While the norm for a listening session would call for huddling up journalists in a choice studio and juicing them up with cocktails, the invitation for last night’s preview of Looking for Myself—Usher’s seventh studio album, due out June 12—promised a “sensory experience.”
Usher never sang a note the whole night. Instead, the new tunes from Myself rang through the speakers inside the Daryl Roth Theatre in New York City’s Union Square as Usher took the audience of music industry peers and media members along for his journey of sorts, performing as a guest star in the dazzling off-Broadway show Fuerza Bruta.
The show opened with Usher walking, and then running on a treadmill as Myself’s lead single “Climax” played. He wore an awkward white suit and turquoise tie paired with orange socks and boxy black shoes. The “running man” look made him appear as if his role for the evening was somewhere between average Joe and insane asylum escapee.
Usher’s sprint ended abruptly with a gunshot to the chest. When he returned to his feet and removed the bloodied shirt (luckily he had were several clean ones underneath), Usher was joined on the treadmill by another man mimicking his movements from behind as the two dodged chairs and strangers quickly whizzing by them. (Like all props and stage setups in the hour-long show, the treadmill moved throughout the theatre. Guests were often asked to shift to their left, right, or move back as a fresh scene slid into place.) The album’s thoughtful title track provided a fitting soundtrack to that scene.
When Usher took a break to lie down on a tattered leather cot, a dream sequence began during which a couple of aerial dancers playfully chased each other high above the audience during a song that sounds like it will be titled “Get You Home” featuring Rick Ross
What happened next was a bit hard to follow. A club mix of “Climax” played as Usher moved into a restaurant for a romantic dinner, which was then blown off schedule by a snow storm that dumped white confetti on the crowd. Once the weather cleared, there was a party, at which Usher finally changed out of the prisoner garb and put on more familiar duds—a blue jacket, jeans, and some Chucks—stepping into the audience and dancing to his new Max Martin-produced single “Scream” and another funky cut, presumably titled “Twist It.”
When the party was over, Usher disappeared and the ceiling was lit, revealing a big body of water filled with people drowning as a ballad played. Next came a joyous mid-tempo cut about taking advantage of every moment in life (possibly called “Jump In”), followed by a Pharrell Williams–sounding groove called “Hot Thing” and another cut with a squishy bass line called “I Care for You.”
The waterworks wrapped with Usher returning to the white suit and the treadmill—this time with two others blissfully running alongside him. They scaled a dozen steps, then took a leap back on to the treadmill, thus ending one hell of a ride through Usher’s Looking for Myself album. Though the meaning of the whole thing was a bit elusive, the gist of the show seems to be that life—especially if you’re Usher—is one wild trip. And just like the rest of us, Usher has a tough time figuring it all out.
As patrons filed out of the theater, they appeared only certain of two things: One, they liked what they heard. And two, the interactive listening experience was far from the usual. For Usher, it was a job well done.
AMENDMENT: Usher's publicist has given us the official listing and names of the Looking for Myself cuts played last night. See below.
Written by Brad Wete (@BradWete)