First Hit #1: December 15, 2001
Usher is one of the rare pop artists who can make a song feel incredibly personal and specific. He might have co-writers and producers, but U Got It Bad feels like a song that’s about Usher, and is very specific to his own experiences in love. The funny thing is, it’s not actually that specific lyrically, it just sounds like a rich person in love song – and even the rich part is only due to a couple lines that refer to lots of possessions, rather than anything Usher is specifically saying.
No, it feels like it’s about Usher because of the performance, he performs it in a manner that gives it pathos. He stumbles over some passages deliberately, usually on lyrics that feel a bit uncomfortable. He pours on the smooth when he’s trying to come across as a great lover or show commitment. He’s acting almost as much as he’s singing, and his choices are as much about underlining what the character is trying to express as it is about putting together a song. It’s a performance that makes an otherwise simple love song into something that feels more personal and direct than it has to. It’s all down to Usher himself.
Of course, it’s not hurt by the collision of acoustic and electronic elements that underpin the song, the combo of snippets of acoustic guitar and the more directly electronic beat is a compelling juxtaposition that points to something new, and recognizes that instruments work because of their sound over how they make it. That seems obvious, but a lot of artists like to go full hog in one direction or the other.