The last we heard from Usher Raymond IV, he was taking a curling iron to his hair and dressing up for a New Year’s Eve party like a lost member of the Rat Pack.
Unfortunately, that temporary new ‘do got more online traction than the surprise eight-track EP, ‘A’, which had arrived with a whimper in October 2018. So what’s an artist with an identity crisis and a depleted fanbase to do? Easy: look to the past.
In March, the ‘Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home)’ hitmaker hinted at a sequel to his 20 million-selling, A-list cementing 2004 opus, ‘Confessions’. His Instagram tease was reposted by the album’s main producer Jermaine Dupri, suggesting the pair were hard at work together. “Dis what yall want ...” read the caption.
Whether dis is what we do all want is open to interpretation, but the caption was telling. ‘Confessions’ is Usher’s defining album, the one that offered a glimpse into the life of a then-burgeoning superstar who until that point had revealed little beyond his glorious six-pack.
Focusing on what the press called his “little secrets” but also taking in themes from those close to the project (‘Burn’ was about the dissolution of Usher’s relationship with TLC’s Chilli; in ‘Confessions Part II’ he sung about impregnating a mistress, though that came from Dupri’s experiences), it was an album that offered relatable expressions of pain even though the packaging was distinctly aspirational. A proper sequel — not just a Jay Z-style ‘The Blueprint 2’, which was more like a Hollywood sequel, ie bigger, bolder, more Beyonce — suggests that Usher might have further personal traumas to unpack (he recently separated from his second wife).
When Mary J Blige released ‘My Life II ... The Journey Continues’ in 2011, the sequel to her 1994 breakthrough, she drew a line connecting her journey with that of her long-term fans, telling the BBC that the sequel came from a “need to be reminded of how far we’ve come”.
By referencing that source, she was using shorthand to tell them what to expect from the songs: struggle, strength and a sense of rebirth. Rumours are she’ll release a sequel to the sequel — the gloriously titled ‘My Life II ... There’s Something About Me, My Self & MaryJane (Act 2)’ — later this year, suggesting there is yet more drama to vanquish.
However, we live in cynical times and there are those who will claim that releasing a sequel more than a decade after the hugely successful original is simply a neat gimmick. That it’s all just nostalgia. To those people I say: “Yeah, you’re probably right, actually.”
That’s definitely why Eminem’s not-very-good 2013 ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ album sold bucketloads in the US and why Lil Wayne’s return with last year’s ‘Tha Carter IV’ got so much attention. Perhaps, in Usher’s case, it’s the perfect storm of soul-baring and press-baiting. Anything that keeps him away from the fur coats is a positive.