A career spanning nearly two decades. Over 45 million albums sold. One of the most successful singers in the world. Anna Nathanson caught up with Usher…
TWU: Congratulations on being number 1 in the UK singles charts! Can you tell us a bit about the forthcoming album?
Usher: Raymond V Raymond is my evolution, the dichotomy of who I am as a man, and as an artist. It is me verses me at the end of the day. Not in any way bipolar or an alter ego, simply the fact that we have two sides to our personalities. It’s the perception of who we are and the reality of what we have to deal with.
TWU: Sounds like it’s a very personal record.
Usher: The last two to three years of my life have taught me a lot about myself as a person; becoming a business man, getting married, having children, going through a divorce. And there lies a responsibility, an obligation as an artist that I just can’t ignore. Finding a balance between those two places is what Raymond V Raymond is all about.
TWU: What’s it been like living life in the public eye?
Usher: It’s a hard thing but if they didn’t care what was going on in my life, I would not be the celebrity that I am. It comes with the territory in essence; you just have to be accepting of it. I remember being on the other side actually, first picking up a brush and saying ‘I want to be an artist’, and not many people cared to know.
TWU: What is the secret to success?
Usher: Hmm, the secret? Well I’ve learnt that you are who you are, and in the end, if you don’t believe it then no one will.
TWU: It’s just about thinking and believing you’re going to make it, and slowly it will come together?
Usher: All of those things. Success is about dedication. You may not be where you want to be or do what you want to do when you’re on the journey. But you’ve got to be willing to have vision, and foresight that leads you to an incredible end.
TWU: So did you always know you were going to be successful?
Usher: I believed it. The world just had to catch up with the reality that I had in my mind.
TWU: What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
Usher: I’d be a mentor of some sort, either in music or something else. I love to work with others.
TWU: How would people who know you best describe you?
Usher: I’d say funny, smart, a good father, an incredible entertainer, an icon (laughs).
TWU: Justin Bieber is your protégé. Did you anticipate his huge success?
Usher: And then some. More. There’s so much that you guys haven’t seen yet. I’m very proud of him.
TWU: How would you say RnB has changed since you started out?
Usher: I think it’s become quite emotionless. RnB was all about emotion and passion conveyed through music and melody and people may no longer understand the true value of what real RnB music is about.
TWU: P Diddy recently said that he liked Grime music. Have you had a chance to check out any UK Grime?
Usher: No I haven’t yet to be honest.
TWU: What do you think of the Stateside success of UK RnB singers like Jay Sean and Taio Cruz?
Usher: Sustaining longevity is all about time. They have a lot to prove.
TWU: What about singers like Ne-Yo and Trey Songz, would you say you paved the way for them?
Usher: Of course. I’ve worked with both of them and respect their work.
TWU: What does it take to have longevity as an artist?
Usher: To physically be able to feel, see and own the success. Not instant gratification but recognition for the honesty in what you’re conveying in your music.
TWU: Out of all of your tracks, what are your favourites?
Usher: I really love a record called OK on my new album, and a track called Guilty. Some songs are not necessary singles, but the substance and the energy of the vocals in those songs are very different to what you’d usually hear from me.
TWU: Do you think that’s often the case, where the songs that aren’t the singles end up getting more love?
Usher: Those are the sleepers! A month after you’ve bought the album you might hear them and be like ‘Man! That was the one I slept on!’
TWU: How about your favourites from back in the day?
Usher: Ah man! You Got It Bad, You Don’t Have To Call, I love performing Caught Up and Follow Me. I love those songs.
TWU: You’re pretty much always dressed to impress. Do you ever slob out in front of the telly in some old tracksuit bottoms when you’re at home?
Usher: Not just at home. I walk around like that! The beauty about living in Atlanta is that there aren’t too many paparazzi here; you can just relax. And that really works for me and my children.
TWU: Everyone’s on Twitter these days- Do you actually use it yourself or do you get someone else to do it for you?
Usher: Of course. I update it, sometimes I do it and sometimes I have someone very close to me do it as well. It was funny because during release week in America I posted pictures of two different outfits as I couldn’t figure out what to wear! It was really cool to have a connection like that.
Raymond V Raymond is out on Monday 26 April
By Anna Nathanson