2011 Ranking: 21
Usher could have gone quietly into adult-contemporary complacency, releasing a middlebrow R&B album every couple of years and touring behind all his old hits. Instead, he undertook a bold stylistic experiment and produced one of his best albums in years.
The first sign that Ursh was ready to collaborate with anyone and everyone came during Taylor Swift's 2011 tour, when he showed up at Swift's Atlanta tour stop to help her cover "Yeah."
He even assisted Taylor on the Ludacris verse without laughing, like a true pro.
Then last fall, Usher savvily embraced the EDM movement taking over pop music, taking lead vocals on David Guetta's world-spanning "Without You"
A duet with protege Justin Bieber
arrived just in time for Christmas. The Beeb's youthful enthusiasm leads him on runs up and down the scale, but Usher's smooth maturity keeps the song from going off the rails.
Finally, this summer, Usher debuted a cover of last year's biggest indie-pop hit, Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks."
But Usher wasn't just being that kid in your freshman dorm who wants to play you every
kind of music he likes. He was laying the groundwork for the bold departures of his seventh album, Looking 4 Myself
Usher's freewheeling exploration was on full display album's lead single, "Climax." Produced by Diplo, this shapeshifting blend of electronica and R&B is a sonic masterpiece, and it's arguably the best thing Usher's ever recorded
While "Climax" zigged where its title implied it would zag, Usher made sure the rest of Looking 4 Myself
didn't bait and switch when it came to the sex jams. Thus: "[You Will] Scream
[When We Have Sexual Intercourse]"...
... Followed by "Lemme See
[Under Your Clothes, Where Presumably You Are Naked]"...
And finally, "[I Want To] Dive
[Into Your Pants]":
These singles are all good songs—"Dive" especially! Unfortunately for Usher, Trey Songz also released a sex song about diving
, beating Ursh's "Dive" to the singles charts by a few weeks. Can the market handle two sex-dive jams at once? We hope so!
The album tracks on Looking 4 Myself
continued Usher's grab-bag stylistic exploration, with everything from dubstep
to retro soul
to dirty Southern blues
. When it works, it's magical. Unfortunately for Mr. Raymond, the album's sales have been slow for a bunch of reasons
—it's Usher's lowest opening since 1997
. We hold out hope, though, that people will come around on Looking 4 Myself
. It's too good an album for them not to.
And Usher could use some good news right about now. On July 8, his stepson, Kile Glover, was hit by a jet ski at Atlanta's Lake Lanier. Two weeks later, he was taken off life support
. Usher has stayed out of the spotlight since Glover's death, telling his Twitter followers
"I ain't dead ya'll, 'Numb' yes...I'm just dealin'. All too crazy!" Later in August, Usher quietly won custody
of his two sons from Glover's mother, Tameka Foster. Whatever happens next in Usher's personal life, we wish him all the best.