When Oprah Winfrey traveled to Usher Raymond’s Atlanta home earlier this month to conduct an exclusive interview on her OWN cable channel, viewers were able to get all of their drama-filled questions answered about his recent divorce and the ugly custody battle he endured with Tameka Foster, the mother of his two boys. During their discussion, Oprah acknowledged Usher for being an international superstar but things have dramatically changed in the years following the release of his “Confessions” album in 2004, which is regarded as his best work after earning him a diamond certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for selling more than 10 million copies in the United States. Since then, Usher’s record sales have plummeted and while the music business has clearly suffered from piracy and slumping sales, it’s still quite astonishing that Usher is no longer a platinum-selling artist. The albums delivered after “Confessions” were considered commercial failures and artistic disappointments. The follow-up to that album, “Here I Stand,” sold 1.5 million copies after it was released in 2008 but he managed to score a No. 1 hit with “Love In This Club.”
When Usher released “Raymond v. Raymond” in 2010 it sold 1.3 million copies and produced another chart-topping single with “OMG” which was written and produced by will.i.am and sold more than 4,000,000 digital copies. However, even with its heavy radio play it was criticized heavily for its use of auto-tune. In that same year, Usher released another album but “Versus” didn’t fair any better as it sold a total of 302,000 copies even though “There Goes My Baby” earned him a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 2011. His latest album, “Looking for Myself,” has surpassed its predecessor but sold less than 400,000 copies since its release on June 8.
With all of this information easily accessible to Oprah, there should have been less of a focus on the latest scandal and more insight into whether his recent decline in popularity is a result of an unpredictable music climate or bad decision-making. Here is a list of the top three questions that should have made the final draft of her pre-interview notes:
1. Do you regret your breakup with Chilli?
People point to Usher’s marriage as the breaking point where fans decided that they no longer wanted to see their favorite R&B singer with another woman. But that’s just not true. When Usher was dating Chilli from TLC, they were able to use their relationship as way to engage their fans. Chilli was his love interest in videos for “U Got it Bad” and “U Remind Me” which always had the audience thirsting for more. Even when their relationship ended, the subject matters on “Confessions” helped lead to record-breaking sales of 1.1 million copies sold in the first week, largely based upon what fans thought was a title track discussing Usher’s cheating confession to Chilli. This topic wasn’t on Oprah’s radar but it makes you wonder what would have occurred if Chilli was still his main squeeze. Clearly, there would be great interest in his music as well as their union.
2. Do you realize now that firing your mother was a bad business decision?
Usher confirmed during his interview with Oprah that he didn’t fire his mother but encouraged her to be a grandmother to his children and felt that having her wear both hats would create a conflict in their relationship. But it was Jonetta Patton who managed Usher ever since he was an unsigned teenager seeking stardom and with her guidance he became an icon. After Patton relinquished control of her son’s business affairs, Usher was managed by Tommy Mottola then Benny Medina and there were rumors that his then-wife Tameka Foster was also taking on a leadership role in his career. Usher tried to rectify things when he rehired his mother for a brief stint in 2008 but the damage was already done. The combination of celebrity managers with outdated ideas led to the inconsistent follow-up to “Confessions.” Even Patton admitted during VH1’s “Behind the Music” episode in 2010 that “Here I Stand” didn’t deliver the quality that music lovers came to expect from her son over the years: “I think the music was wrong,” said Patton. “I think the imaging was wrong [and] the promotion. Everything was wrong.”
3. Did the loss of L.A. Reid affect your music?
Years before L.A. Reid was a television star as one of the judges on the “The X Factor,” he was the CEO of Arista Records and played the role of Usher’s label boss and father figure. When Reid parted ways with Arista in 2004, he had already selected the songs and sequence for “Confessions” and even provided feedback on the direction of the album after his absence. It was Reid who executive produced all of Usher’s blockbuster albums including “My Way” and “8701” along with Jermaine Dupri, who selected the songwriters and co-produced hits like “Confessions,” “Burn,” and “You Got it Bad” with Bryan-Michael Cox. It was Reid who told an animated Usher that “Confessions” would be the title of his greatest album and not the “Seduction” title that the young artist adamantly argued for. Once Reid left Arista, Usher then took on the burdensome job of executive producing his own albums and it led to mixed results. Usher albums that normally featured flawless production and had fans craving for the next single only featured a handful of stellar standouts to choose from.