Usher is having one hell of a week.
He broke the internet with those photos from his Skims Men collab, announced a 24-city tour on Tuesday, graced the cover of Billboard on Wednesday and will be releasing his ninth studio album on Friday. And in the midst of it all, he’s preparing for the Super Bowl Halftime Show this Sunday.
“My headspace is in the clouds, man. I feel like this has been an amazing two years of my life. One hundred shows sold out in Las Vegas, and then 101 is at the Allegiant Stadium,” he told HuffPost over Zoom, referring to the big game. “Man, you can’t ask for a better kind of wrap-up of this year or the last year than that.”
Usher’s 30-year career has been leading up to this moment, but it’s the seeds he’s planted these past couple of years with his twice-extended Vegas residency that have borne significant fruit for the eight-time Grammy winner.
Calling it a comeback doesn’t feel right. Years after his massive success with “Confessions” — the last male R&B album to go diamond, by the way — Usher’s later projects didn’t get the same fanfare as earlier ones. But be clear: Usher never lost it. The rise of streaming and the music industry’s (and fans’) propensity to lock artists into a specific era in their careers always encourage evolution.
But his latest album, “Coming Home,” leans into growth, on his own terms and at a milestone height in his career.
Usher gives his fans a 20-track offering with his ninth studio album. The project, executive produced by Usher and L.A. Reid, includes features from Summer Walker, 21 Savage, The-Dream, HER, Latto, Pheelz and Jung Kook. It’s, of course, an R&B album, but Usher doesn’t shy away from experimenting with Amapiano and Afrobeat (the Ghana trip that sparked that “was like a coming home as well”).
Like the name suggests, the multi-hyphenate artist is returning to his roots. It’s a nod to Atlanta, specifically, the city he moved to at 12 to become the superstar we know today. His journey home began five years ago, when Usher became an independent artist. Without leaning on A&Rs, management’s agendas or record label politics, he’s taken a different type of command in his career that’s awakened anyone who tried to sleep on him.
“I think somewhere between the beginning of that five-year experience and then us going into a pandemic really gave me a deeper perspective of what mattered. And that’s family and love. Love matters. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have complications internally. That doesn’t mean that we don’t in some ways kind of go through fear and doubt and even the thought of backpedaling. But the only way that we truly forge forward is moving forward.”
The themes he explores on the album aren’t uncommon for Usher: love, lust, betrayal, regret. There’s “a bit of danger” in tracks like “Cold Blooded,” “On the Side” and “Room in a Room.” He romantically croons on “Luckiest Man,” “Risk It All,” “Bop” and “Please U.” And he turns up a bit on earworms “A Town Girl” and “Margiela.”
Usher performs at the grand opening of his Vegas residency at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace on July 16, 2021.
Usher has spent 30 years singing about love, from his experience and others’ But there’s a certain agency and healed space with which he approaches “Coming Home” — even in comparison to 2016’s “Hard II Love” album — that make it clear that this grown man has done even more growing.
Through marriage, divorce, trying again and the many ups and downs of life, Usher has mostly used his music to tell his story. “Coming Home” is no different. This time he hopes his message inspires others to not give up on love.
“This moment is a love letter to my fans, especially those ones who have stood with me through what has been perceived as tumultuous times and prayed for me or either had well wishes for me. I want you to know that I’m covered, that love is the reason why I’m able to continue to keep going.”
He continued, “I’m giving this to [fans] because I wanted [them] to understand what I was going through because I didn’t talk to [them] about it while I was going through it. I’ve always been a person who does not necessarily talk to the world. I talk to the world through interviews like this. I talk to the world through my music. So this is a love letter to all of my fans.”
At this stage, Usher’s metric of success is whether or not his kids think what he’s doing is cool — with some wiggle room for the things he thinks are cool even if they don’t like them. For the Super Bowl Halftime Show on Sunday (something his kids undoubtedly think is cool), Usher said he’ll be “celebrating for the 30 years of a career that I stand on,” he said on “I Know That’s Right.”
The weight of the show isn’t lost on him as the day approaches.
“I just want to give my all, because that’s what I said I would do when I came to Las Vegas. I want to give it my all. I’ve seen many people perform on this stage. Happy that I was given the opportunity. I know what it means, and I’m not planning to disappoint.”
And with an audience that could exceed 200 million watching him perform in the city he brought new life to since his recently retired residency began, Usher’s plans for Vegas don’t end with the big game.
“That’s something magical about this place in Las Vegas, so I do plan on being here again in the future, doing more here. I don’t know what it is exactly, but this city has definitely meant a lot to me. And I love it, actually. It is a bit of a coming home when I’m here now.”
“Coming Home” is now streaming on music platforms.