CAMDEN, New Jersey — Is this how a professional gets down?
Sure, Usher is one of music’s most acclaimed performers. He glides across
the stage like it was slicked down with Jheri Curl juice, walks on the tips
of his toes like he’s suspended by wires, jumps off high platforms and lands
on his feet with the agility of Lion-O the Thundercat, and does a handstand
with his body’s weight rested on one arm.
But on Sunday night at the Tweeter Center he was breaking a cardinal rule of
stage rocking: he had his sweat-drenched back to the audience. All the
females seemed to revel in it — he was, after all, serenading and
acting as a private dancer for a lucky ticket holder who was lying in giant
bed onstage. So he might be on to something with this new moniker he’s
bestowing on himself.
“Mr. Entertainment, that’s my name,” he said, sitting in the arena’s
business office about 30 minutes before the show. “I’m going for it. The
party don’t stop, man. Who you know doing it like that? R&B has a new face.
It’s a totally different game.”
During his concerts, which feature openers Faith Evans and Nas (Mr. Cheeks
was originally advertised to be on the tour but, as Usher explained,
“Something happened”), Usher is the audience’s pusher. He serves eye and ear
candy, showing why he’s drawing comparisons to Michael Jackson and Sammy
“I always felt like entertainment doesn’t just consist of putting records
together and having hot videos,” he said. “You gotta be able to bring it on
the stage. So there’s that opportunity. There’s a stage, there’s a light,
there’s the pyro. But it’s not just assisted by all of the hoopla of
entertainment. It’s really about being able to sing, dance and keep the
crowd going. So based off of the reviews and the audience response every
night, it’s been lovely. That’s what makes it a hot show for me.”
The hottest part of the show for the spectators? Usher thinks it’s a toss up
between his singing “U Got It Bad” (most of the time everyone sings, “I’m
your, your girl …” in unison) and current radio staple “U Don’t Have to
Call.” But if you’re lucky enough to actually sit in the audience, you know
for the ladies the hands-down winner is when he strips. Shoes, shirt, pants
— he takes it all off.
As for his own favorite part of the act, the Atlanta transplant said, “I
like having a moment where it’s not about music, where it’s just about the
control of the moment. A simple hand movement or a look out to the audience
and then a smile and then they erupt. That’s hot to me, ’cause you work
diligently at trying to critique and make all of the dancing right, but when
you just lift one single hand and they go crazy, that means something, dude.
You look at them and just smile at them and they lose it, that’s it.”
When he’s not making the crowd swoon or dance, Usher wants to make everyone
think about “What’s Going On” in the world, and part of that includes
starting his performances with the national anthem.
“They really get a kick out of that,” he said. “It lets them know that even
though the show goes on, I still recognize what’s going on in the world. And
as patriotic as I am, this is my little moment for that.”
He hopes the grand finale is even more thought-provoking.
“At the end of the show I do a tribute to a lot of our fallen soldiers here
in the music industry, namely Tupac, Biggie, Eazy-E, Selena, Left Eye,
Aaliyah,” he explained. “The song is Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On.’ It’s
one of my favorites, but I just use it as a moment to recognize all of the
pain that we suffered, dealing with the losses of our loved ones. People in
the audience who have lost someone recently, especially being so close to
New York, I’m sure there are people out in the audience that have lost
family members or [were at least] indirectly affected by 9/11. I think it’s
great timing and recognition for all of that. At the end of the show, as
you’ll see, I leave them with a sense of peace, equality, unity and love.”