IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE A TIME WHEN Usher wasn’t one of music’s most interesting artists, but in 2014 producer Jermaine Dupri told Billboard that as the R&B singer set out to record his fourth album in 2003, “People not being interested in Usher the person was the main topic of discussion.”
Although Usher had landed three Billboard Hot 100 No. 1s by then, his straitlaced image gave the media little choice but to focus on the music, not the man.
That would change with the 2004 album that emerged from Dupri’s discussions with the singer-songwriter: Confessions. Just 25 at the time, Usher broke new artistic ground with songs that explored the painful subject of infidelity that many speculated were references to his failed relationship with TLC’s Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas.
Dupri claimed the songs were inspired by his own personal drama, but, whatever the case, Confessions‘ intimate tone helped it become the best-selling album of 2004, according to Nielsen Music, and gave Usher his first No. 1 on the April 10 Billboard 200, where it reigned for nine weeks, and sold 1.1 million copies its first week.
Confessions also generated four No. 1s on the Hot 100: “Yeah!,” “Burn,” “Confessions Part II” and “My Boo.” His clout only grew with his early mentoring of Justin Bieber and a joint venture with his manager, Scooter Braun.
After divorcing Tameka Foster in 2009, Usher married his manager, Grace Miguel, in 2015. He is expected to release his eighth studio album, tentatively titled Flawed, in 2016.
A version of this article first appeared in the April 16 issue of Billboard magazine.