If "Confessions" by Usher Was an Athlete, It Would Be Mike Tyson
Before we get started… here’s the album link. If you prefer the music videos, youtube links will be provided for all songs mentioned in this article at the bottom.
If you were a teenager in 2004 like me, I'm sure you can't imagine there being a better era to grow up in. I'm not here to talk about how much better 2000s music was than the decades before however. Emerging artists brought a lot of great music to us kids in the first half of the decade. Established artists swung in with their second winds. Turn of the millennium artists that helped change the landscape from the 90s into the 2000s were hitting their final form... Or at least Super Saiyan. Looking at you Eminem and Nelly.
Despite the Top 40 being carried by familiar faces, there was a major absence of a solo male artist at the top of the mountain. As a matter of fact, that throne sat unclaimed since the 80s. The 90s introduced gangster rap groups and boybands. Grunge gave the band scene foothold over singer songwriters in the rock community. By the end of the 90s, Solo Women artists in pop took over and wouldn't be touched for a long time (You could make the argument they still haven't, the roster has just changed). R&B really was one of the only genres where males were showing up regularly in a solo capacity, besides country.
In 97, a bop called "You Make Me Wanna" dropped by a baby-faced crooner named Usher Raymond out of Atlanta. He'd been on the R&B charts, and even dipped into the Billboard Top 200 a few years earlier. Now, three years later, it was time to drop the sophomore album, and "YMMW" was the first single out of the gate. The rest was history. Critics loved it. People loved it. Platinum status got had. Grammy nominations got gave. The album (My Way) even finished 91st on the entire decade's Billboard Top 200, along with a lineup of other catchy smooth soulful tracks.
Fast forward to 2004. 10 years after Usher's first album. So far, every album he'd dropped since helped shoot him that much closer to the moon. In 2001, "8701" stumbled out of the gate after an unfortunate Napster leak (Yes, Napster). After recovering by officially releasing the first single "U Remind Me", Usher took #1 on the Billboard Top 100 for four weeks. The second single off 8701? "U Got It Bad" took the throne on the charts for 5 weeks this time. Platinum status got had. Grammy nominations got won. Usher was no longer the next big thing in R&B. He was the big thing in R&B.Three years later, there we all were... unprepared hormonal awkward teens. We had no idea what Usher was about to do to us.
Where were you when you first heard "Yeah!"? Probably the radio, that's a dumb question. Well actually... MTV played music videos back then, so maybe you had it served to you by Carson? If you were like me, it was 106 & Park every day. There's one thing I know for a fact... we all did the same thing about a minute after hearing "Peace up... A-Town down". We were all screaming "YEAH! YEAH!". And if you didn't, then this article isn't for you anyways so *tongue stick*.
"Confessions", Usher's next album, was on its way; and "Yeah!" was the first right hook. As a matter of fact, this is where we'll start to draw the comparison. If "Confessions" was an athlete, it would be Mike Tyson. The World Heavyweight Title was on the line, only this time it was supremacy in the solo male artist ring. And much like Mike Tyson... that first punch was all that was really needed. If you're not following my comparison or don't follow boxing, just look up a Mike Tyson highlight clip. It won't be long, and that's the entire point. Everything that came after "Yeah" didn't matter (at the time). "Yeah!" was all that was needed for the belt... crown... throne... whatever.
And we all have Petey Pablo to thank for this. That's right. Remember "Freak-a-Leek"? It and "Yeah!" started from the same Lil Jon sample. As it would happen, the mix had been mistakenly given out to both artists, and Petey Pablo refused to give up what he thought was the next big hit. Nobody blames Petey, "Freak-a-Leek" was a jam. Lil Jon, however, reworked what had been given to Usher. Fellow Atlanta artist Ludacris joined the featured credits. By March of 2004, "Yeah!" had moved in and unpacked at the top with no intention of moving.
As a matter of fact, it sat on top of the charts for 12 whole weeks (That's a calendar season, for everyone keeping track). Finally, in week 13 the mighty chart killer known as "Yeah!" finally was dethroned by a little ditty called "Burn". "Burn" was the second single off "Confessions” and took 8 weeks of its own at the top of the charts. Over a 19-week span, "Burn" and "Yeah!" shared the #1 spot between them - a record setting run.
Punch #2. The Body Shot. Tyson was known for his 3-punch-combo, and "Burn" is the heartbreaker. If you've never heard "Burn" by Usher and you've somehow made it this far in the article, you need to take a break and head to YouTube before you can continue. I will never forget being 13 years old at my 8th grade dance, watching girls bawl their eyes out screaming the lyrics to "Burn" at the DJ as if he were Usher himself. Don't get me started on the music video either. Much like a body shot in boxing, "Burn" had one purpose: to take all the air out of your sails, and leave you sobbing.
Anyways, now it's summer 04' and putting up a fight isn't in the cards. This is going to be the summer of Usher no matter what. Burn and Yeah were doing the hokey pokey at the top of the charts between 1-3. In June, a new challenger approached. Enter: The Title Track... pt.2? But wait, what was part one? That doesn't matter. Listen to album if you want answers. Listen to "Confessions Pt.2" if you want a slice of life and a catchy groove with a much more stripped-down feel. Piano, guitar, bass, and jazzy programmed drum fills backtrack a crooning heartfelt plea for forgiveness. "Confessions" is one of those songs that would sound good in any key and could be sang a million different ways and still be fun.
"Confessions Pt.2" dethroned "Burn" by the end of the summer for the #1 spot and held it for two weeks before the three headed monster that was the first three singles of Usher's album slid and held the top-mid of the charts for the rest of the year. Just because they weren't #1 didn't mean much of anything at this point. "Yeah!", "Burn", and "Confessions Pt.2" were on everything, everywhere, all the time collectively. The album "Confessions" dropped around the time the title track did and was #1. And platinum. And nominated. And everything 8701 was and more. But just saying it was better didn't do it justice. This was different. This was the difference between fighters before Tyson, and Tyson himself. "Confessions Pt.2" was the uppercut. The goodnight kiss. By now, it didn't matter that "Confessions pt.2" was in the mix. Usher was made off what the other two songs were going to do for the rest of his musical career.
Right hook. Right body. Uppercut. AND STILL! Of course it didn't end there for "Confessions" by Usher. What R&B album is complete without a duet? Enter: Alicia Keys. "My Boo" dropped by the end of August, and decided it needed its own run at #1 for 6 weeks (with all other singles off "Confessions" still floating around in the top 40 at the same time), from the end of October to the beginning of December. I guess this is comparable to Tyson standing over an already knocked out opponent. They never had a chance. "My Boo" won a Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.
"Caught Up" was released as the album's 5th single, and while never charting at #1, it did hit top 10 status and hung around the Top 40 for a respectable run of its own. Without a doubt the funkiest, snarkiest song off the album, "Caught Up" offered a change of mood to the buffet served on "Confessions". It was fun without crossing the line into party. On almost any other album, this is a leadoff single, and yet it's somehow the 5th option on what is a monster-stacked and incredible piece of work, where even B-sides and "Pt.2s" get their day. At least three other songs off "Confessions" could've stood on their own in my own opinion.
I'm out of analogies and I'm tired. It's 2AM and I've been listening to Usher for the last three hours while typing this. Needless to say, "Confessions" and Mike Tyson hit the scene with the same kind of combustion. "Confessions" had four different songs at #1 in the same year, all of which combined for over HALF of 2004's weeks at the top. "Yeah!" stuck around as a pop/party/dance anthem over the next few years. "Confessions" continued to sell units. And sell units. And sell units.
To date, "Confessions" is certified Diamond status, with over 10 million units in the US, and 20 million units sold worldwide. It was the 2nd bestselling album of the 2000s, behind a strong international performance from Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP. It won three Grammys, four American Music Awards, and ELEVEN Billboard Music Awards. Billboard even went on to name it the best solo album of the 2000s, with "Yeah!" as the 2nd best song of the decade.
It wasn't fair what Tyson did to the Boxing world during his historic run at the top. It wasn't fair what Usher did the charts in 2004 either. For what was otherwise still a strong 18 month stretch of music as far as the decade is concerned, Usher was so far ahead of the pack the race wasn't even worth watching. All eyes were on that baby-faced crooner from Atlanta, and his career defining album.
If Confessions were a boxer, Confessions would without a doubt be Mike Tyson. And it would knock you off your feet, and into the dirt in the BEST way possible.
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