Released this month, Usher’s latest album, Looking 4 Myself, is already on top of Billboard 200. The multi-platinum, multi-Grammy-winning R&B singer, known for his passion of mixing styles and inspirations, both in his music and his style, stirred mixed reviews as one thing is for sure: you can either love or hate Usher’s newest creation, but you can never be in between.
Revolutionary or not
Two year ago, Usher was asked during an interview about his reasons of choosing a faux-hawk hairstyle and he boldly stated that it was a symbol of his work to come, a work that totally represents him and “the creative movement of Revolutionary Pop.” So, the question that lies on everybody’s lips is if Looking 4 Myself has truly revolutionized the pop music or not. After all, those who actually revolutionized music at some point during their career, let’s say Madonna, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, did not brag about their intentions or achievements.
It’s his seventh record and we all have to take it with the good and the bad. For some, it may indeed be a new sound experience, for others it may be just another collection of 14 songs, more pop than revolutionary and more commercial than pop, in order to hit the charts. Either way, Looking For Myself is a good album, a mixture of pop, progressive R&B, electronic dance music, dubstep and hip-hop. We may actually say that it’s not revolutionary pop, but rather a catchy hybrid pop.
There’s no doubt, Usher Raymond is “looking for himself,” just as the title of the album suggests. It’s not a surprise for anyone; artists usually put into music and lyrics their inner quest, their journey to adulthood, so it may even be considered a trend. Usher has always been trendy, so he had to release something to permeate the tops without too much effort. It’s been 17 years since his debut album, released when he was 16, so he had what to analyze and turn into music.
He’s gone through a messy public divorce from Tameka Foster in 2009 and this fueled Raymond vs. Raymond album. Now, Looking 4 Myself, is fueled by the inner feelings and passions of the free man who is no longer married but has romance on his mind more than ever. “I’m looking for myself,” he sings, “all my life I’ve been searching, and somehow I’ve come up empty.”
Then he confesses that he’s been on a journey trying to find himself and his one true love: “And I realized, when you’re not here, half of me is gone. So in order to find me, I have to find you.”
Plenty of collabs
Is having plenty of collabs the key for success? Regarding the fact that Usher gathered as many collaborators or producers as he could to deliver a high quality album, one may answer affirmatively. He put together a hell of a team: will.i.am, Rico Love, the Neptunes, Diplo, Swedish House Mafia and Jim Jonsin. The result: “This is a jam, turn it up! Play it loud in the club, this is fire, it’s burning me up,” as Usher sings at the beginning of the album.
Rolling Stone found the album enjoyable, saying that “If there’s anyone in music who doesn’t have an identity crisis, it’s Usher Raymond”, while the New York Daily News argues, saying that “Usher’s core identity still feels either shallow or unformed… Usher labels the result “revolutionary pop,” but there’s nothing here that sounds like it’s about to make history.” Billboard calls it a “a truly next-level soul album… one that has the warm, organic feel of R&B and deep pop hooks” and The Guardian writes that the album “goes in directions that don’t cleave to obvious aesthetics.”