Usher has been a star ever since he stepped on the scene, fresh faced, back in 1994 with his self-titled debut album—let’s start with that disclaimer.
However, in recent months, his name has been ringing off especially loud due to his tour antics, promo run for his ninth studio album, Coming Home, and the major announcement that he’ll be performing a string of his hits at the 2024 Super Bowl halftime show (powered by Apple Music), a testament to his three-decade-long career and enduring popularity.
Born in Texas, raised in Atlanta, Usher’s success can be attributed to his unwavering self-belief and his ability to prove doubters wrong. Throughout his career, Usher has faced many challenges and obstacles, but each time he persevered and came out the other side victorious. His dedication to his craft and passion for creating music that resonates with people have made him a true pioneer in R&B, and the music industry at large.
Usher has been hard at work on his new LP, Coming Home, which is set to drop on the eve of the Super Bowl halftime show (February 11), and fans couldn’t be more excited. Known for his ability to blend various genres seamlessly whilst still having the essence of R&B at the root, he continues to push boundaries and deliver music that connects with people from all walks of life.
We got to see this up close and personal when Complex UK was invited over to Paris for 24 hours to see Usher, in all his trailblazing glory, for the Rendez-Vous Á Paris show; fans from all over the globe have flocked to the City of Love to witness his electrifying performances. And as you’ll have most likely seen from clips of the star’s Las Vegas residency all across social media, Usher’s stage presence is spell-binding, and his smooth vocals can have thousands in the palm of his hands in total awe. Personally speaking, the Paris show on September 29 was an experience that I, Mimi The Music Blogger, will cherish forever.
We sat down with Usher Raymond after his fun-filled performance to discuss the next chapter in his already illustrious book. Tap in below.
“30 years ago, I decided that I wanted to do this and, somehow, I made it through 30 years of a career and now I’ve decided to move away from the system as we know it: I will be the first ever INDEPENDENT artist to play the Super Bowl.”
COMPLEX: Firstly, Usher, congrats on the Super Bowl gig. That announcement is still shaking up the ‘net. What can we expect from your set on the big night?
Usher: I’m a showman so you know I’m gonna bring it, and I have a great catalogue, right? I’ve also collaborated with a lot of incredible people, so I’ll just say this: it’ll be a celebration of the legacy of my catalogue—past, present and, hopefully, the future. I’m still working on exactly the way I’m gonna divvy up these 13 minutes… It’s not a lot of time, but you should expect to have an incredible night no matter where you’ve participated in my legacy.
Have you been inspired by any previous Super Bowl performances? If so, in what ways?
The first one was Michael Jackson—that’s the one we were all inspired by. But I think I’m inspired every year... By the way, it’s not my first time being on that stage; it’s just now all eyes are on me. So yeah, I was definitely inspired by Michael—Prince too. I think with the Super Bowl, it’s kinda like ‘right person, right place, right time’, so the story is bigger than the catalogue that I have—it’s also the story that started in Las Vegas and now the Super Bowl is in Las Vegas and, you know, God is all over this. I’m a praying man and so I definitely prayed about it. I lost two very important people over the last year and I know they would’ve wanted to see this moment; I’d even say they have some part in it wherever they are in the clouds above.
So, we’re here in Paris for your Rendez-Vous Á Paris residency. Tell us why these Paris shows are especially important to you?
I picked Paris because of the venue. I wanted to do something that I felt I could brand around this idea. I really had a word in my mind at the time and it was “rendezvous”, so the word started it. I could’ve done it anywhere—I could’ve done it in Germany, London or any place. I’m not leaving London out—I’m coming! Here’s what I know: the fashion industry and the creative industry, as a collective, have always come here to do and share things. If I go all the way back to the beginning where Black people were not celebrated in America, the one place they were celebrated was Paris. So, for the contribution that Paris has offered to our people, I deemed it appropriate to do it here first.
Also, the songs that I’ve gotten from Paris, like “Without You” from David Guetta, or my first time ever stepping foot in Paris with “Nice N Slow” and so many other things that I’ve collected throughout the years—whether it was fashion, being able to work with different fashion designers and collaborate; you know, it’s not my first rodeo in this city being part of Paris Fashion Week—with that said, I felt like, “Let’s offer something to the city”. I always come to take something. I always walk away with something, but this time I wanted to give back. It started with four shows, then I increased it to eight because London was mad at me and was like “Why don’t you do more shows?!” Well, come over! If I put on more shows, are y’all coming? I feel like it was a real treat.
“I have fans that go back as far as My Way and all the way up to the current date, but this is a crescendo. This is, like, a grand moment for me.”
What I love about the show is the storytelling of it all. You don’t get enough credit for that, by the way. Like, with Rhythm City Volume 1: Caught Up, for example...
—I feel like MJ was really the beginning of why I decided to be a storyteller and find character and be inspired by artists like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. There were also incredible choreographers and creators, like Bob Fosse, and going to Broadway and performing for four or five months where I played Billy Flynn in Chicago. When I did that, I understood the idea of storytelling in a different way, even though I was already kind of telling my own story but not necessarily in a theatrical way. There’s a real magic in having people feel immersed in a world that they’ve never been in. Everyone can’t come to Atlanta, but I can bring Atlanta to everyone. Not everyone will understand theatre—it might not be easily palatable to everyone. I think I was probably 12 years old when I first stepped foot in a theatre and I didn’t understand the magic of it. So, this is my way of being connected to that idea around cinematic and also theatrical things but in a way that’s comfortable, through songs that you know or stories that you’ve either lived through or felt, so let me give you some of the emotions of what I felt when I was going through it.
I created really dramatic ideas with lighting and, you know, this is my opportunity to catch up for the fact that some people may feel that I’m underrated and if you’re coming to my show then you’ll understand why I shouldn’t be. I don’t get a chance to do that always, and maybe it was going to Las Vegas because I didn’t have the opportunity to spread my wings and show my creativity there, so again, coming to Paris gave me the opportunity to do it on another level—with fashion, lighting, expression, idea, nuance, dancers, nudity and all kinds of other cool stuff because you can’t do certain things in America.
I feel like we’re in the Silver Jubilee era of your career. How does it feel to have the world hail you as the King Of R&B and continue to show you love all these years later?
I have fans that go back as far as My Way and all the way up to the current date, but this is a crescendo. This is, like, a grand moment for me. 30 years ago, I decided that I wanted to do this and, somehow, I made it through 30 years of a career and now I’ve decided to move away from the system as we know it: I will be the first ever INDEPENDENT artist to play the Super Bowl. It’s a big moment, you know what I’m sayin’? Don’t get me wrong: legacy is obviously what gets you there because you’ve got to have a catalogue in order to stand on that stage, and the ability to captivate a crowd, but I’m more proud than anything to say that I’m representing all the independent artists out there as well.
30 years later, you’re still selling out shows around the world—do you still get the same feeling stepping out on stage today as you did back then?
It’s interesting to hear people say that I’m underrated, and only my real fans feel that, but I never let it discourage me and I never even felt that way. I just know that everytime I tour, that’s my opportunity to perform for my audience, but I don’t do it otherwise. So I get a chance to show you the whole theatrical spread. These shows? They do it. I’m happy—shit, when you’re underrated, that means you’re the underdog and there’s nowhere to go but up from there, right?
That is very true. Everyone from Summer Walker to Ari Lennox references your work ethic. Is it still rewarding to be appreciated by the industry today?
I love it and I appreciate it. I really do. I appreciate them understanding the hard work that’s gone into this, whether it’s music or fashion or dance and performance—whatever connection it is, I appreciate it.
There’s something in common between me and your sophomore album, My Way—we’re both 26! What advice would you have given yourself 26 years ago? What message do you have for 18-year-old Usher?
Stay on chart, man! You gon’ go through a lot of things. Mistakes will make you better, but don’t look at your mistakes as mishaps—look at them as opportunities.
What would you tell a 10-year-old Usher in the Nubeginning group?
Remember to smile. You’ll have more good days than bad, if you choose to look at everything as an opportunity to grow! Get ready, because you’re gonna be performing at the Super Bowl one day. That’s what I’d tell my 10-year-old self.
Are there any specific messages or themes that you want to convey through your recent music?
Greatness. Coming Home is more than just a conversation about music; it’s a conversation about life. Every song that I made, I was taking a piece of my life and being able to share it with hopes that people will be able to connect to it now, or maybe at some other point in their life. Me being in a place where I feel like I’m coming home is just the literal aspect of it but it’s also coming home to a place where I’m comfortable, happy and feel connected to something deeper than just business. I went to Ghana and I went to The Door Of No Return, and something made me feel like I wanted to come home in that way there.
Coming Home is also about the relationships with people that I’ve worked with and built with. It’s not just about celebrating—it’s the people you choose to celebrate with. Coming home to that feeling where I’m able to be creative with LA Reid once again, with Jermaine [Dupri], with The Dream, with Sean Garrett and some new people, but all from a place of comfort. Coming home to my relationship and being happy… Don’t get me wrong: it’s fun outside, but it’s better at home. I go outside but I don’t stay outside. Something about that is in the idea of coming home, you know? Like, coming home to a relationship and being able to connect with something that’s real, and something that you know can grow you.
We gon’ all have fun; we gon’ all fall and get back up; we gon’ all have good times and bad times, but for the most part, when you start to build with somebody it becomes special and it grows a legacy. All those things are legacy conversations. I was also able to connect to rhythms and sounds from Africa, like Amapiano and Afrobeats—I touched a bit of that and the original sounds of hip-hop and R&B on Coming Home.
How do you continue to evolve as an artist after all these years?
I’m just hungry and excited again. You know, music has changed; the way people ingest all of it has changed, and what people’s expectations are, that’s also changed. I haven’t let any of that discourage me. I want to make something great for my fans, and these moments throughout my career are for my fans.
Usher’s residency in Paris, ‘Rendez-Vous Á Paris’, at La Seine Musicale, runs until October 5. You can get your tickets here.