Usher’s Biggest Songs and Career Highlights: A Super Bowl Guide

Usher’s “My Way” residency, which began in 2021 in Las Vegas (the town where Frank Sinatra himself once gallivanted), had the R&B singer courting celebrities and viral social media moments for 100 consecutive sold-out shows. The staging was energetic, replete with roller skates and stripper poles.

But spectacle wasn’t the only draw. Usher, 45, used the retrospective to showcase the hallmarks of his 30-year music career: pristine vocals, polished but effortless dance moves and heart-melting charm in the tradition of his idols Sammy Davis Jr. and Ben Vereen, his godfather. It’s appropriate, then, that on Feb. 11 the eight-time Grammy winner will perform the halftime show at Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, days after he’s slated to release his ninth studio album “Coming Home,” which he called a “love letter to the legacy of my career.” Here are the eras that have defined Usher’s career.

After starting out in his church choir, Usher began singing professionally at age 10 with an R&B group in his hometown, Chattanooga, Tenn. A solo performance on “Star Search” in 1991 landed him an audition with the LaFace Records co-founder L.A. Reid, who signed him to the label based in Atlanta. Usher moved there at age 12 and worked under the tutelage of producer Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, who had developed Jodeci and Mary J. Blige.

Combs lent his signature slick New Jack Swing to Usher’s self-titled debut album, released in 1994, which saw the 15-year-old singing sexualized songs that he later said didn’t have much of his input. Though the LP’s singles, including “Think of You,” played well on Black R&B radio, the LP topped out at No. 167.

1995-2001

In his later teens, Usher developed his artistic persona under different mentorship. A pubescent Usher temporarily lost his voice after recording the first album, pushing him to focus on honing his dance skills and stage presence. He moved in with Jermaine Dupri, the songwriter and producer who had led platinum albums for the teen rap duo Kris Kross and the R&B group Xscape on the way to building the So So Def record label.

Dupri encouraged Usher to incorporate his experiences into songs and to lean into the musical and cultural identity of Atlanta, singing over crispier high-hats and bottom-heavy bass, and working with other local artists like the singer Monica.

The resulting album, “My Way” (1997), brimmed with powerfully belted slow jams and youthful confidence, scoring Usher his first No. 1 hit (with “Nice & Slow”) and his first Grammy nomination (for “You Make Me Wanna”) and selling seven million copies. He expanded the formula on his next release, “8701” (2001), which yielded two No. 1 singles, “U Got It Bad” and “U Remind Me,” and earned him two Grammys.

Usher parlayed his musical success into roles in teen-centered TV shows and movies like “Moesha,” “The Faculty” and “She’s All That.”

2004

With the diamond-selling “Confessions” (2004), Usher and Dupri created their magnum opus of semi-biographical R&B, marrying a tale of philandering with buoyant, seductive production that dabbled in the boisterous crunk music that sprang from Atlanta in the early 2000s.

The basis for the infidelity tales caused speculation about the end of Usher’s relationship with Rozonda (Chilli) Thomas of the multiplatinum girl group TLC. The music ultimately outshined the juicy drama, and the album garnered four No. 1 hits, led by “Yeah!,” the ubiquitous club jam featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris, which was booted from the top spot by Usher’s second single, “Burn.” “Confessions Part II” and “My Boo,” a duet with Alicia Keys that was added to the album’s rerelease, both also topped charts.

“Confessions” earned Usher three Grammy wins and became the second highest-selling album of the 2000s.

2007-2019

As Usher entered his 30s, he sought greater control of his personal and creative life. He dropped his longtime momager, Jonetta Patton, in 2007 on the heels of a brief stint in the Broadway revival of the musical “Chicago.” That same year, he married Tameka Foster and welcomed his first son, Usher Raymond V, events reflected on the soulful “Here I Stand” (2008).

His follow-up, “Raymond vs. Raymond” (2010), documented their divorce and saw Usher explore collaborations — with an up-and-coming Nicki Minaj on “Lil Freak,” with Pitbull on “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love,” and with Will.i.am on “OMG,” which spent four weeks at No. 1. With “Raymond vs. Raymond” and “Looking 4 Myself” (2012), Usher leaned into the electro-pop that dominated the charts at the time, working with producers such as Max Martin and Diplo, but coming short of replicating the critical and sales effect of “Confessions.”

In 2013, Usher joined the reality TV show “The Voice” as a coach for two seasons and mentored the 2014 season winner, Josh Kaufman. His recording efforts over the next few years again looked to the dominant rap influences coming out of Atlanta. “Hard II Love” (2016) featured appearances by Young Thug and Future, and the simply titled “A” (2018) was entirely produced by Zaytoven, whose beats provided soundscapes for the rises of rappers such as Gucci Mane, 21 Savage and Migos.

2021-present

As pandemic restrictions were rolled back in 2021, Usher signed on to open his “My Way” residency at Caesars Palace. With a staging that embraced Atlanta’s culture through its roller rink set, bombastic dancing and colorful costume changes, the show quickly lured audiences and spawned viral moments of celebrities vibing to classic hits and melting as Usher serenaded them (see: Keke Palmer).

The show commanded extensions at the MGM Grand and in Paris as other active recording artists like Adele, Garth Brooks and Bruno Mars began Las Vegas residencies of their own. Usher also revisited his catalog on NPR’s popular Tiny Desk Concert series in June 2022.

Prepping for the Super Bowl halftime show, Usher told Vogue last month that the 13-minute performance would be a showcase for the R&B music that has informed his career, including potential cameos from architects of the genre. “This night was specifically curated in my mind to have R&B take the main stage,” he said.

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