On the evening that his eighth studio effort, Hard II Love, was released (Sept. 16), Usher hosted what he described as "the most elaborate listening party I think I've ever had in my life." AT&T Live and iHeartRadio hosted a secret yet intimate outdoor show at at Southstreet Seaport's Pier 15 in New York City, where the singer delivered a generous amount of his new album, the follow-up to 2012's Looking 4 Myself.
Usher Dedicates Hollywood Walk of Fame Honor to Fans: 'It's Because of You That This Shining Star Is Here'
After a warm-up dance party with a DJ set from Grits & Biscuits' EZ Mo Breezy and DJ Square Biz, the man of the night made a smoky entrance and emerged on stage, rocking an all-white ensemble. The New York City backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge, midnight blue sky and yellow moon that hung above the East river added to the romantic ambience of the master serenader's hour-long show, which was also live-streamed online.
Despite a four-year hiatus since his last album, the 37-year-old R&B veteran's vocals and moves were still as sharp as the charming youngin' who stole hearts in the '90s with hits like "You Make Me Wanna" and "Nice & Slow." He opened the set with the new album's first track "Need U," which features a conversation about an ideal mate with Quantico actress Priyanka Chopra. One of the album's standout tracks "Missin' U" was a crowd pleaser though show-goers were still getting acquainted with the new material. Usher then delivered his Young Thug collaboration "No Limit" before offering to "turn New York into ATL" with "Bump," a bedroom-ready jam that interpolates the signature "What?!" catchphrase from his fellow Atlanta rep Lil Jon.
"This has really been a labor of love," he told the crowd about his latest album. "I was able to express myself in many different ways, one, through the art." He also joked about the album's artwork, a bust of the singer's face designed by New York artist Daniel Arsham. "I know when you guys first saw that sketch, you were like, 'What the hell is he doing?' But really, this transformation inside of me, I really just wanted to share with you."
Watch Usher Cover The Chainsmokers' 'Don't Let Me Down'
In comparison to Usher's earlier work, Hard II Love is a culmination of the various relationships that Usher has crooned about in the past. He is still a smooth operator both on wax and on-stage, like on the Ready For The World-sampling song "Let Me" throwing in a pelvic thrust here, a moonwalk there. Yet, he divulges his flaws (think a more mature "Confessions") after reflecting on the wrong he's done while celebrating the man he's become.
The performance also featured live renditions of his love note "Rivals" featuring Future and the slower tempo numbers "Downtime," "Hard II Love" and "Crash." He then issued a challenge to the ladies in the audience. Before launching into "Tell Me," he dared the women to play this record in private.
"You gotta put this record on when you go home and you with your dude, and I want you to tell him, 'Usher made this for us to do it to,'" he said, smiling before shedding his white shirt to reveal a black muscle tank that he wore for the remainder of his show. Though wiser with experience, his sweet spot is still soundtracking late nights between the sheets. He also quipped, "Don't blame me if you get pregnant."
Usher Drops 'Hard II Love' Early on Tidal: Listen
Usher didn't leave without delivering his more well-known songs like the Wale collaboration "Matrimony" and acoustic snippets of "Burn," "Bad Girl" and "U Got It Bad." His closer was the David Guetta party-starter "Without You." The most emotional performance, though, was the Hard II Love deep cut "Stronger" that he prefaced with an anecdote about losing two people in his life.
"Everything we go through in life should make us stronger," Usher said. While uttering the words "I found paradise," he also pointed to his wedding ring, a token of his recent marriage to longtime girlfriend Grace Miguel. Nodding to his resilience both in the spotlight and away from it, he belted out on the refrain, "I'm stronger than ever now."