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‘Yeah,’ Usher is set for his next success

His single has topped the charts and his new album, 'Confessions' will hit stores on March 23. The single went to number 1 before the video was even finished.
/ Source: Billboard

Call it an accidental hit.

Usher’s current single, “Yeah!,” was sent to clubs in December solely to whet fans’ appetites.

Although it was never promoted to the mass market, the song has been No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and has turned into the perfect setup for the singer-songwriter’s new album, “Confessions,” due March 23.

“When we came back after the holidays, ‘Yeah!’ had taken on a life of its own,” Arista VP of urban marketing Phillana Williams recalls. “When a song does that, it’s the best marketing you can have.”

But the upbeat outlook for “Confessions” has a bittersweet tinge. Sweeping changes loom at Arista, the album’s home label.

Antonio “L.A.” Reid has departed as president/CEO, layoffs are expected to follow, and most of Arista’s artists are likely to be shifted to sister BMG labels — Jive, RCA and J — under BMG North America chairman Clive Davis. Details could not be confirmed at press time. But “Confessions” could be Arista’s last major album campaign.

Usher, for one, thinks the turn of events is unlikely to affect his project.

“It’s unfortunate that L.A. Reid an executive producer on “Confessions” was let go, but it seems to be going pretty smooth,” he observes.

“I don’t wish bad on anyone, but I’m moving forward. I have a great team of individuals behind me to make sure this album is as large as it can be. I think God’s divine order would be the only thing to stop this.”

Fast climb“Yeah!” features Lil Jon & Ludacris, and it enjoyed a fast, eight-week climb to No. 1. Coupled with strong early buzz on newly released  single “Burn” (which is the Hot Shot Debut on the Hot 100 this week, coming in at No. 65), the song bodes well for “Confessions.” The album is expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

A May/June European tour already is on the books. (The album arrives March 22 internationally.) A U.S. tour is being planned.

Because “Yeah!” was never intended to be the album’s first single, a video did not premiere until Feb. 17 on BET’s “Access Granted.” The club-themed clip is in heavy rotation on BET, MTV and VH1. It was co-directed by Mr. X and Usher; the project was the latter’s directorial debut.

“The cool thing is the song went to No. 1 without a video,” says Usher, who attributes the cut’s popularity to its co-writer/producer, Lil Jon.

“I was a fan of his crunk sound,” he says. “Creatively, R&B had never been associated with crunk. He wrote this record for me, and we cut it. We put the song out there only in hopes of warming the water up. But it got ahead of us.”

Overall, the album reflects a more mature and emotionally frank Usher. The club jams are still there. But this time around, the 25-year-old writes and sings about personal experiences that he has always “kept out of the equation.”

Usher was only 14 when he auditioned for La Face Records co-founder L.A. Reid. His self-titled debut album arrived in 1994, spinning off the gold single “Think of You.”

Three years later, sophomore album “My Way” established Usher as a key R&B/pop player. Selling 4.1 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the album spawned several hits, including “Nice & Slow,” his first No. 1 on the Hot 100.

Usher’s new project, US Records, will be affiliated with J Records and should be up and running in another year. One of the US artists Usher is currently developing is Rico Love, whom, he says, has been compared to Jay-Z.

Unlike Jay-Z, Usher does not have any plans to segue full-time from artist to executive.

“I won’t stop performing,” he says. “I’ve always sung, danced and acted. But I will give way for my creative side to be utilized by other artists. Producer, director, writer ... there are so many avenues.”