If nothing else, Usher considers himself a facilitator. “I try to make the conversation between men and women easier with my records,” the veteran R&B singer and Cupid of sorts says. His efforts have been fruitful for nearly 20 years, with sultry R&B hit singles like 1998’s “Nice & Slow” and classic albums like 2004’s multi-platinum set “Confessions” all serving as backing tracks to bars and club scenes in the lives of many—not to mention intimate romps.
The same goes for his simmering new single “Good Kisser,” the first offering from his as-yet-untitled eighth album due in the fall. On May 5 Usher and his RCA label released the single and its video, which finds him seducing a vixen, coolly shuffling in James Brown-like fashion with dancers and drumming—shirtless, ever the sex symbol. “It bridges current urban culture and what’s classic for me,” he says. “And R&B is classic for me.”
The song debuts at No. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at No. 18 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts dated May 24. The bow was fueled by 29,000 downloads in the week ending May 11, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 13 million impressions on radio, according to Nielsen BDS. The song “Good Kisser” launched with a music video on May 5, the same day it hit digital retailers. Usher, 35, gave the single another bump with his May 12 performance on “The Voice,” where he’s also been coaching potential pop stars for two seasons now.
“I really just want to connect to my fanbase: the ladies,” he explains before loosely quoting Drake’s hook on Lil Wayne’s “Love Me” through laughter. “I think Drake said it best: ‘I could give a damn what them haters say as long as my bitches love me.”
Lyrically, “Good Kisser” is a collage of come-ons and pick-up lines. “Can’t nobody kiss it like you (or ‘U,’ depending on how self-assured the listener opts to believe he is), he coos on the cut. “Women can enjoy it because it’s fun,” he says. “And it’s easier for a guy because it’s something they can just talk and say.”
Real music is taking a stand,” Usher says, proud of “Kisser’s” sparse bass guitar, drums and cowbell base. “Artists are going after real instrumentation as opposed to electronic, synthesized music.” All that comes from a guy that has EDM to thank for his recent pop smashes: 2010’s Eurodance-inspired “OMG,” which hit No. 1 for four weeks on the Hot 100; 2012’s “Climax” (No. 17), which features producer Diplo’s electro flourishes; and David Guetta’s “Without You” (No. 4) in 2011. But Usher’s follow-up to 2012 album “Looking 4 Myself” is “me coming back to where I started,” he says.
RCA President of Urban Music Mark Pitts likes what Usher’s whipping up. “I haven’t felt this way since ‘Confessions,’ Pitts says. “I said to him, ‘We’re not going in to try to make a hit. Let’s go in there to try and make great music. This feels like a cohesive body of work. Last album, we started [Usher’s audience] off with ‘Climax.’ Then we smacked them in the face with some dance shit. But this album feels like it’s all from the same guy.”
Usher performing on “The Voice” with co-star (and Maroon 5 lead) Adam Levine
The marquee gig on “The Voice,” along with sponsorship deals with both Samsung and Mercedes Benz aims to propel “Kisser” and approaching singles up the charts.
“His star power is different now than it was making other albums,” adds Pitts, who is executive producing Usher’s album. “He didn’t have all these other platforms.”
And when the album drops—boasting production from Pharrell Williams, “Kisser”-creators Pop & Oak and duet with label mate Chris Brown—expect Usher to push it in a way he hasn’t been able to in a while: a tour. He hasn’t since spring 2011, when wrapped his OMG world outing.
“I decided to work on a film here, a TV show here, raise kids there,” he explains of his road absence. “But this next album and tour comes with all of who I am and everything I’ve learned in the process, in addition to me moving and keeping it sexy for the ladies.”