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Usher Talks Working With Ella Mai, Ringing In 'New Year's Rockin' Eve' & 2020 Album: 'Stay Tuned'

Usher
Kurt Iswarienko

Usher

The superstar will perform in New Orleans as part of "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest."

The 2010s have been another prolific decade for Usher. Since earning his ninth Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 with the will.i.am collab "OMG" in 2010, the 41-year-old superstar has released two more albums and countless hit singles. To commemorate another big decade and ring in a new one, Usher will spend his New Year's Eve performing at the Allstate Fan Fest in New Orleans, as part of Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest.

"What better place to bring in the new year?" Usher says. "They’ve been doing it for a very, very long time, and I’m really happy to now, after 40 years, be able to ring it in on my 41st year," he laughs. "Couldn’t come at a better time."

Just a few weeks before taking the Allstate Fan Fest stage, Usher dropped his final single of the decade: the Ella Mai collaboration "Don't Waste My Time." Billboard caught up with Usher ahead of his NYE performance to hear about how that collaboration came together, as well as what fans can expect from him in 2020.

You just put out “Don’t Waste My Time” a couple of weeks ago. Will fans be hearing that during your New Year’s Eve set?

Actually, none of the new records that I’ve created am I going to be able to perform [on television]. However, I may splash something in there for the full set to kind of keep people motivated. Some of the new songs I put out on [2018's] A project might be in the set. There’s two portions of the actual show: There’s one that’s going to be live broadcasted, which should be anywhere from 8-10 minutes, and then there’s an entire show that I put together. So between the two broadcasts, you’ll hear some newer things, but not as new as the two recent duets that I’ve done. [He also collaborated with Summer Walker earlier this year.]

We talked to Ella Mai recently and she said she was shocked by how excited you were to work with her on “Don’t Waste My Time.” What made you want to recruit her for the song?

I genuinely am a fan of her voice, and also felt like the song was perfect for both of us. I was working with Bryan Michael Cox and Jermaine Dupri in Atlanta, and we worked on a song with VEDO -- I worked with him as one of my mentees on The Voice, the first season that I coached. The more I listened to “Don’t Waste My Time,” I felt like it was missing a female’s perspective. So we flipped it up, changed the second verse to a female’s story, and I felt like she was great for it. I reached out to her, and it took a minute, but we finally managed to get in the room with each other, and the rest is becoming history.

It’s pretty undeniable how perfectly you two work for the song.

It’s got that classic R&B feel. Between everything she’s done, the audience she’s growing, and the audience I’ve been able to accumulate over years and years, it’s a happy moment.

When I listen to it, I hear a lot of tones of Michael Jackson in it. When we put it together, I was like, “Man, this feels like the first single off his Thriller album” -- it was a duet [with Paul McCartney, “The Girl Is Mine”], it sounds similar to this song. If this forthcoming album has any expectations of being as big as that, I mean, that’s a good start, right? But I do think it’s just a really great record that has great positive energy, and brings both of our audiences together.

What else can you tease from this forthcoming album?

There’s more to come. If you like this, stay tuned.

Looking back on this past decade, how do you feel like you’ve grown and evolved as an artist?

This decade has represented growth for me. For the most part, the design of [the past two] decades have continued to really work for me to expand my reach through music. Also, too, just as a human being that wants to make music that connects the world, and expand R&B, and all of the rhythm and blues that has come through my own personal experiences that I chose to write about. Or the places that I’ve gone that kind of introduced other genres -- and even though they were other genres of music, I still had the soul in it. Just really happy to continue to knock down these decades and start a new one.

Do you have a favorite song of yours that you’ve released this decade?

Aw man, wait till you hear this new album! It [has] one of my new favorites. Of course, I love all of the songs that I’ve created and things that I’ve made, videos I’ve made. Having a favorite song is like picking a favorite child. Every one of them represents something special that happened in my life. I don’t know if I have one that’s special from the past more than the ones that are coming, but I can tell you this much: I’m really enjoying the new music that I’ve worked on, and really excited for you guys to hear it. 

Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest will begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ABC.

dick clark productions, producer of New Year's Rockin' Eve, is owned by Valence Media, which also owns Billboard.

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