meta-scriptJanelle Monáe, Ed Sheeran, Usher To Salute Stevie Wonder | GRAMMY.com

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Janelle Monáe, Ed Sheeran, Usher To Salute Stevie Wonder

First performers announced for "Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life — An All-Star GRAMMY Salute," airing Feb. 16 on CBS

GRAMMYs/Feb 15, 2015 - 01:08 pm

Current GRAMMY nominees Ed Sheeran and Usher and GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Janelle Monáe are the first performers announced for "Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life — An All-Star GRAMMY Salute."

The primetime special, presented by The Recording Academy, AEG Ehrlich Ventures and CBS, will pay homage to Wonder's iconic career with performances celebrating his incomparable songbook. The two-hour special takes place at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Tuesday, Feb. 10 and will be broadcast in HDTV and 5.1 surround sound on the CBS Television Network on Monday, Feb. 16 from 9–11 p.m. ET/PT. Additional performers and presenters will be announced shortly.

"Stevie Wonder is an absolute legend and I am so honored to be a part of this very special night," said Sheeran, who is nominated for three GRAMMY Awards this year, including Album Of The Year for X.

A 25-time GRAMMY winner, Wonder is the only artist to have received Album Of The Year honors for three out of four consecutive years with Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness' First Finale (1974) and the seminal Songs In The Key Of Life (1976).

Tickets are on sale now at AXS.com. For ticketing information, including VIP ticket packages and group sales, call 877.234.8425 or email tickets@aegworldwide.com.

"Stevie Wonder: Songs In The Key Of Life An All Star GRAMMY Salute" is produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures, LLC. Ken Ehrlich is the executive producer.

Usher Collaborator Pheelz Talks New EP
Pheelz

Photo: Williams Peters

interview

Meet Usher Collaborator Pheelz, The Nigerian Producer & Singer Who Wants You To 'Pheelz Good'

After working with Usher on two tracks for his latest album, 'Coming Home,' Lagos' Pheelz is looking inward. His new EP, 'Pheelz Good II' drops May 10 and promises to be an embrace of the artist's unabashed self.

GRAMMYs/May 9, 2024 - 01:15 pm

If you were online during the summer of 2022, chances are you’ve heard Pheelz’s viral hit single "Finesse." The swanky Afro-fusion track (featuring fellow Nigerian artist Bnxn) ushered in a world of crossover success for Pheelz, who began his career as a producer for the likes of Omah Lay, Davido, and Fireboy DML.

Born Phillip Kayode Moses, Pheelz’s religious upbringing in Lagos state contributed to his development as a musician. He manned the choir at his father’s church while actively working on his solo music. Those solo efforts garnered praise from his peers and music executives, culminating in Pheelz's debut EP in 2021. Hear Me Out saw Pheelz fully embrace his talent as a vocalist, songwriter, and producer. 

"I feel important, like I’m just molding clay, and I have control over each decision," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com about creating his own music. 

2022 saw the release of the first two tapes in his Pheelz Good trilogy: Pheelz Good I and Pheelz Good (Triibe Tape), which was almost entirely self-produced. The 29-year-old's consistency has paid off: he produced and sang on Usher’s "Ruin," the lead single from his latest album Coming Home, and also produced the album's title track featuring Burna Boy. But Pheelz isn't only about racking up big-name collaborators; the self-proclaimed African rockstar's forthcoming projects will center on profound vulnerability and interpersonal honesty. First up: Pheelz Good II EP, out May 10, followed by a studio album in late summer.

Both releases will see the multi-hyphenate "being unapologetically myself," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com. "It will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. And it’s going to be me embracing my "crayge" [crazy rage]...being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me."

Ahead of his new project, Pheelz spoke with GRAMMY.com about his transition from producer artist, designing all his own 3D cover art, his rockstar aesthetic, and what listeners can expect from Pheelz Good II.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What sparked your transition from singing in church to realizing your passion for creating music?

For me, it wasn’t really a transition. I just always loved making music so for me I felt like it was just wherever I go to make music, that’s where I wanna be. I would be in church and I was the choirmaster at some point in my life, so I would write songs for Sunday service as well. And then I would go to school as well and write in school, and people heard me and they would love it. And I would want to do more of that as well. 

A friend of my dad played some of my records for the biggest producers in Nigeria back then and took me on as an intern in his studio. I guess that’s the transition from church music into the industry. My brothers and sisters were in the choir, but that came with the job of being the children of the pastor, I guess. None of them really did music like me; I’m the only one who took music as a career and pursued it.

You made a name for yourself as a producer before ever releasing your music, earning Producer Of The Year at Nigeria’s Headies Awards numerous times. What finally pushed you to get into the booth?

I’ve always wanted to get into the booth. The reason why I actually started producing was to produce beats for songs that I had written. I’ve always been in the booth, but always had something holding me back. Like a kind of subconscious feeling over what my childhood has been. I wasn’t really outspoken as a child growing up, so I wouldn’t want people to really hear me and would shy away from the camera in a sense. I think that stuck with me and held me back. 

But then COVID happened and then I caught COVID and I’m like Oh my god and like that [snaps fingers] What I am doing? Why am I not going full steam? Like why do I have all this amazing awesomeness inside of me and no one gets to it because I’m scared of this or that?

There was this phrase that kept ringing in my head: You have to die empty. You can’t leave this earth with all of this gift that God has given you; you have to make sure you empty yourself. And since then, it’s just been back-to-back, which just gave me the courage.  

How did you react to " Finesse" in former President Barack Obama’s annual summer playlist in 2022?

Bro, I reacted crazy but my dad went bananas. [Laughs.] I was really grateful for that moment, but just watching my dad react like that to that experience was the highlight of that moment for me. He's such a fan of Barack Obama and to see that his son’s music is on the playlist, it just made his whole month. Literally. He still talks about it to this day. 

Experiences like that just make me feel very grateful to be here. Life has really been a movie, just watching a movie and just watching God work and being grateful for everything.

At first he [my dad] [didn’t support my career] because every parent wants their child to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. But when he saw the hunger [I have], and I was stubborn with [wanting] to do music, he just had to let me do it. And now he’s my number one fan. 

Your latest single, "Go Low" arrived just in time for festival season. What was it like exploring the live elements of your art at SXSW and your headlining show in London at the end of April?

I have always wanted to perform live. I’ve always loved performing; Pheelz on stage is the best Pheelz. Coming from church every Sunday, I would perform, lead prayers and worship, so I’ve always wanted to experience that again.

Having to perform live with my band around the world is incredible man. And I’ll forever raise the flag of amazing Afro live music because there’s a difference, you know? [Laughs.] There are so many elements and so many rhythms and so many grooves

I’ve noticed that much of your recent cover art for your singles and EPs is animated or digitally crafted. What’s the significance, if any, of this stylistic choice?

It still goes back to my childhood because I wasn’t expressive as a child; I wouldn’t really talk or say how I felt. I’d rather write about it, write a song about it, write a poem about it, or draw about it. I’d draw this mask and then put how I’m feeling into that character, so if I was angry, the mask would be raging and just angry.

The angry ones were the best ones, so that stuck with me even after I started coming out of my shell and talking and being expressive; that act of drawing a mask still stuck with me. And then I got into 3D, and I made a 3D version of the mask and I made a 3D character of the mask. So I made that the main character, and then I just started making my lyric videos, again post-COVID, and making them [lyric videos] to the characters and making the actual video mine as well.

In the future, I’m gonna get into fashion with the characters, I’m gonna get into animation and cartoons and video games, but I just wanna take it one step at a time with the music first. So, in all of my lyric videos, you get to experience the characters. There’s a fight [scene] among them in one of the lyric videos called "Ewele"; there is the lover boy in the lyric video for "Stand by You"; there are the bad boys in the lyric video for "Balling." They all have their own different characters so hopefully in the near future, I will get to make a feature film with them and just tell their story [and] build a world with them. I make sure I put extra energy into that, make most of them myself so the imprint of my energy is gonna be on it as well because it’s very important to me.

You and Usher have a lengthy working relationship. You first performed together in 2022 at the Global Citizen Festival, then produced/co-wrote "Coming Home" and "Ruin." Take us through the journey of how you two began collaborating.

It started through a meeting with [Epic Records CEO] L.A. Reid; he was telling me about the album that they were working on for Usher and I’m like, "Get me into the studio and lemme see what I can cook up." And they got me into the studio, [with Warner Records A&R] Marc Byers, and I wrote and produced "Coming Home." I already had "Ruin" a year before that. 

["Ruin"] was inspired by a breakup I just went through. Some of the greatest art comes from pain, I guess. That record was gonna be for my album but after I came home I saw how L.A. Reid and Usher reacted and how they loved it. I told them, "I have this other song, and I think you guys would like it for this album." And I played "Ruin," and the rest was history.

Before your upcoming EP, you’ve worked with Pharrell Williams, Kail Uchis, and the Chainsmokers in the studio. What do you consider when selecting potential collaborators?

To be honest, I did not look for these collabs. It was like life just brought them my way, because for me I’m open to any experience. I’m open to life; I do it the best I can at any moment, you understand? 

Having worked with Pharrell now, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and the Chainsmokers, I’m still shocked at the fact that this is happening. But ultimately, I am grateful for the fact that this is happening. I am proud of myself as well for how far I’ve come. Someone like Timbaland — they are literally the reason why I started producing music; I would literally copy their beats, and try to sound like them growing up. 

[Now] I have them in the same room talking, and we’re teaching and learning, making music and feeding off of each others’ energy. It’s a dream come true, literally.

What's it like working with am electro-pop group like the Chainsmokers? How’d you keep your musical authenticity on "PTSD"?

That experiment ["PTSD"] was actually something I would play with back home. But the crazy thing is, it’s gonna be on the album now, not the EP. I would play it back home, like just trying to get the EDM and Afrohouse world to connect, cause I get in my Albert Einstein bag sometimes and just try and experiment. So when I met the Chainsmokers and like. "Okay, this is an opportunity to actually do it now," and we had a very lengthy conversation. 

We bonded first as friends before we went into the studio. We had an amazing conversation talking about music, [them] talking about pop and electronic music, and me talking about African music. So it was just a bunch of producers geeking out on what they love to do. And then we just talk through how we think the sound would be like really technical terms. Then we get into the studio and just bang it out. Hopefully, we get to make some more music because I think we can create something for the world together.

I’ve noticed you dress a bit eccentrically. Have you always had this aesthetic?

I’ve always dabbled in fashion. Even growing up, I would sketch for my sister and make this little clothing, so like I would kick up my uniform as well, make it baggy, make it flare pants, make it fly. 

I think that stuck with me until now, trying different things with fashion. And now I have like stylists I can talk to and throw ideas off of and create something together. So yeah, I want to get into the fashion space and see what the world has in store for me. 

What can fans expect as you’re putting the finishing touches on your upcoming EP Pheelz Good II and your album?

Pheelz Good II, [will be] a close to the Pheelz Good trilogy of Pheelz Good I, Pheelz Good Triibe Tape and Pheelz Good II. The album is going to be me being unapologetically myself still. But it will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. 

It’s going to be me embracing my crayge [crazy rage]. Like just embracing me unapologetically and being me, being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me, you get me. But I’m working on some really amazing music that I am so proud of. I’m so proud of the EP and the album.

Mr. Eazi’s Gallery: How The Afrobeats Star Brought His Long-Awaited Album To Life With African Art

Composite graphic with the logo for GRAMMY Go on the left with four photos in a grid on the right, featuring (clockwise from the top-left) CIRKUT, Victoria Monét, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and Janelle Monáe
Clockwise from the top-left: CIRKUT, Victoria Monét, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and Janelle Monáe

Graphic & Photos Courtesy of GRAMMY GO

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Recording Academy & Coursera Partner To Launch GRAMMY GO Online Learning Initiative

Class is in session. As part of the Recording Academy's ongoing mission to empower music's next generation, GRAMMY Go offers digital content in specializations geared to help music industry professionals grow at every stage of their career.

GRAMMYs/Apr 17, 2024 - 05:01 pm

The Recording Academy has partnered with leading online learning platform Coursera on GRAMMY GO, a new online initiative to offer classes tailored for music creators and industry professionals.

This partnership empowers the next generation of the music community with practical, up-to-the moment digital content that provides wisdom for both emerging and established members of the industry. Continuing the Academy’s ongoing mission to serve all music people, courses cover a variety of specializations tailored to creative and professional growth. 

GRAMMY GO on Coursera includes courses taught by Recording Academy members, featuring GRAMMY winners and nominees and offers real-life lessons learners can put to work right away.

Starting today, enrollment is open for GRAMMY GO’s first Coursera specialization, "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals," taught by Joey Harris, international music/marketing executive and CEO of Joey Harris Inc. The course features Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam, 10-time GRAMMY nominee Janelle Monáe and three-time GRAMMY winner and the 2024 GRAMMYs Best New Artist Victoria Monét. This foundational specialization will help participants gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to build a strong brand presence and cultivate a devoted audience within the ever-changing music industry. 

The partnership’s second course, launching later this summer, aims to strengthen the technological and audio skills of a music producer. "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song" will be taught by Carolyn Malachi, Howard University professor and GRAMMY nominee, and will include appearances by GRAMMY winner CIRKUT, three-time GRAMMY winner Hit-Boy, artist and celebrity vocal coach Stevie Mackey, five-time GRAMMY nominee and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr., and 15-time GRAMMY winner Judith Sherman. Pre-enrollment for "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song" opens today.

"Whether it be through a GRAMMY Museum program, GRAMMY Camp or GRAMMY U, the GRAMMY organization is committed to helping music creators flourish, and the Recording Academy is proud to introduce our newest learning platform, GRAMMY GO, in partnership with Coursera," said Panos A. Panay, President of the Recording Academy. "A creator’s growth path is ongoing and these courses have been crafted to provide learners with the essential tools to grow in their professional and creative journeys."

"We are honored to welcome GRAMMY GO, our first entertainment partner, to the Coursera community," said Marni Baker Stein, Chief Content Officer at Coursera. "With these self-paced online specializations, aspiring music professionals all over the world have an incredible opportunity to learn directly from iconic artists and industry experts. Together with GRAMMY GO, we can empower tomorrow's pioneers of the music industry to explore their passion today."

GRAMMY GO also serves as the music community’s newest digital hub for career pathways and editorial content that provides industry insights for members of the industry; visit go.grammy.com for more. For information and enrollment, please visit the landing pages for "Building Your Audience for Music Professionals" and "Music Production: Crafting An Award-Worthy Song."

Meet 5 GRAMMY Nominees Who Started At GRAMMY U: From Boygenius Engineer Sarah Tudzin To Pentatonix’s Scott Hoying

Backstreet Boys at the 1999 GRAMMYs
Backstreet Boys at the 1999 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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25 Years Of Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way": 10 Covers By Ed Sheeran, Lil Uzi Vert & More

To commemorate the anniversary of Backstreet Boys' biggest hit, take a look at 10 clever ways it's been covered and sampled — from Ed Sheeran's karaoke bit to a Weird Al special.

GRAMMYs/Apr 12, 2024 - 03:38 pm

When the Backstreet Boys released "I Want It That Way" on April 12, 1999, they likely had no idea how beloved their smash hit would still be a quarter-century later.

Written by the Swedish powerhouse team of Andreas Carlsson and Max Martin, "I Want It That Way" is undoubtedly BSB's signature hit, particularly thanks to its memorable undulating melody and its long-debated cryptic meaning. But perhaps the most surprising part of the song's legacy is how it has resonated across genres — from a TikTok cover by Korn to a hip-hop sampling by Lil Uzi Vert.

As the Backstreet Boys celebrate the 25th anniversary of "I Want It That Way," take a look at how the song has been diversely covered, lovingly lampooned and karaoke jammed by an array of voices in the business.

Weird Al Yankovic (2003)

When the king of parody songs selects one to skewer, you know it's an iconic song. Weird Al Yankovic paid tribute to the largeness of the Backstreet Boys classic when he used "I Want It That Way" as the basis of a song called "eBay" in 2003.

Yankovic's chorus replaces the original's with, "A used pink bathrobe/ A rare mint snow globe/ A Smurf TV tray/ I bought on eBay." The Backstreet Boys send up appears on Yankovic's album Poodle Hat, which won Best Comedy Album at the 2004 GRAMMYs.

One Direction (2013)

Three years One Direction formed on "The X Factor," the five lads — Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Liam Payne and Louis Tomlinson — included a cover of "I Want It That Way" on their 2013 concert set lists, the young boy band paying homage to the ones that came before them. Though their English accents poked through at times, their version was loyal to the original, and got their crowds singing along.

"Glee" (2013)

Poking fun at the presumed rivalry between *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, a medley of the former's "Bye Bye Bye" and "I Want It That Way" was featured in Season 4, Episode 16 of "Glee." In the episode — aptly titled "Feud" — choir director Mr. Schuester (Matthew Morrison) and glee club heartthrob Finn (Cory Monteith) face off in an epic boy band battle, which ultimately proved the groups' respective music was more cohesive than divisive.

Brittany Howard and Jim James (2016)

The lead singers of Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket covering a boy band classic. It doesn't sound real, but Brittany Howard and Jim James did just that in 2016 when they recorded "I Want It That Way" for an animated short cartoon called "A Love Story."

Released by the fast food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, the clip was part of a creative campaign to showcase the company's focus on natural ingredients. Howard and James highlight the poignancy and versatility of the song by adding lush string arrangements and dramatic beats.

Backstreet Boys x Jimmy Fallon and The Roots (2018)

The 2018 live performance of "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots for "The Tonight Show" is arguably the sweetest rendition of the song — and not just because they're using a mini xylophone, baby tambourine and other toy classroom instruments. It's even more endearing than the previous collaborations between Fallon and Backstreet Boys: a barbershop singing version of Sisqo's "Thong Song" and a "Bawkstreet Boys" version of "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," with everyone dressed like fluffy birds.

The 1975 (2020)

British rockers The 1975 performed a fairly faithful cover of "I Want It That Way," hitting all the high notes at several of their 2023 world concert tour stops. But it's not the first time frontman Matty Healy has hinted at the Backstreet Boys' influence on his band: he told Pitchfork in 2020 that "College Dropout-era Kanye West meets Backstreet Boys" was part of their veritable moodboard at the time when working on their own song called "Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)."

Lil Uzi Vert (2020)

In 2020, Lil Uzi Vert released a rap song called "That Way" that includes a refrain of "I want it that way" sung to the tune of the Backstreet original, but with an AutoTune twist. From there, the lyrics become quite a bit naughtier than anything the BSB guys have uttered in any song.

"I don't know how [the idea of] Backstreet Boys got involved in this song, I really don't," the song's producer Supah Mario told Splice at the time. "I think it was all Uzi. But it was a game changer."

The interpolation was so good, in fact, that Nick Carter even invited Lil Uzi Vert to collaborate: "Now you're gonna have to be featured on our next album bud," he tweeted upon the song's release.

Korn (2022)

Fans of Korn know that the nu metal band has a sense of humor, but few could've expected that Jonathan Davis and crew would post a TikTok of themselves singing "I Want It That Way" in 2022.

"I never wanna hear you say… 'Worst Is On Its Way,'" reads the caption on the post, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Korn's 2022 song of the same name.

Backstreet Boys responded on the app via a hilarious Duet video with Nick Carter. In the video, Carter — who sports fabulous metal eye makeup and a long silver wig — doesn't actually say or sing anything, he just drops his jaw in amazement.

Backstreet Boys x Downy (2022)

Downy hired the Backstreet Boys to poke fun at "I Want It That Way" with the now-viral "Tell Me Why" commercial in 2022. All five members — Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson — appear as a Backstreet Boys poster on the wall that comes to life, using the "tell me why" hook of their hit to engage a woman doing laundry in a conversation about washing her clothes.

As Saatchi group account director Jen Brotman told Muse at the time, the nostalgic ad also spawned some memories for the folks working on the ad campaign.

"The moment [BSB] stood in front of the camera, they rehearsed 'I Want It That Way' just to get the notes right, and we felt like we were getting serenaded on set," Brotman recalled. "We couldn't believe how emotional we all got — there may or may not have been tears in some eyes. The song has always been a karaoke favorite of the team, so we knew which 'tell me whys' we wanted them to hit, and we still can't get it out of our heads."

Ed Sheeran (2023)

When he fancies singing a bit of karaoke, Ed Sheeran loves leaning on "I Want It That Way," as the star showed at his favorite Nashville bar in July 2023. A patron caught him on camera and his happiness level is undeniable when belting out this enduring pop classic.

As Sheeran told CBS News a few months later, he grew up on the pop hits of everyone from Backstreet Boys to Britney Spears. But what he said about "I Want It That Way" specifically may be the best way to describe its long-lasting impact: "You can't be in a bar, a couple of beers in, and 'I Want It That Way' comes on and not be like, 'This is a good song.' You can't."

24 Songs Turning 20: Listen To 2004's Bangers, From "Yeah!" To "Since U Been Gone"

Usher performs in 2023
Usher at iHeartRadio’s Living Black 2023 Block Party.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio

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9 Reasons Why Usher's 'Confessions' Is R&B's Definitive Blockbuster Album

Just before Usher kicks off his extensive world tour, the R&B superstar celebrates the 20th anniversary of his magnum opus, 'Confessions.' Here's a look at the ways the album changed the genre — and cemented Usher as an icon.

GRAMMYs/Mar 22, 2024 - 02:29 pm

"All of us have our Pandora's boxes or skeletons in our closets," Usher told MTV News while promoting his 2004 album, Confessions. "I've got a lot of things and stuff built in me that I just want to let go of."

He sure wasn't kidding. The concept album, and loosely based around his relationship with TLC's Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas — essentially played out like a prime-time soap opera set to music. But its brutally honest narrative and earworm hooks connected like no other contemporary R&B record before or since, solidifying Usher as one of music's modern greats.

In fact, Confessions was the second-best selling album of the 2000s (only behind *NSYNC's 2000 juggernaut, No Strings Attached), thanks in part to four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers and a string of attention-grabbing videos that allowed Usher to showcase his skills as a singer, dancer, actor, and all-round loverman.

Just after delivering a career-defining Super Bowl halftime show performance, Usher celebrates  20 years of Confessions on March 23. To commemorate the anniversary, here's a look at why Confessions remains the R&B scene's definitive blockbuster.

It Saved The Record Industry 

Thanks to the rise in illegal downloads and decline of "Total Request Live"-friendly blockbusters, the music industry began 2004 staring down a fourth consecutive year of declining sales. Step forward their savior, Usher Raymond IV.

Confessions shifted a colossal 1.1. million copies in its first week, the highest number since Eminem's The Eminem Show in 2002, and didn't stop selling. By the end of December, its total had ballooned to nearly eight million — double its closest competitor, Norah Jones' Feels Like Home, to become the year's biggest commercial smash.

Usher's magnum opus was widely credited with getting the American public back into record stores again, resulting in a 1.6 percent increase in overall album sales. But Confessions' journey wasn't done there. In 2012, it was awarded diamond status, joining TLC's CrazySexyCool and Boyz II Men's II as the only R&B representatives in the exclusive club, with its current tally now reportedly standing at 18 million!

It Invented Crunk&B 

Crunk, an energetic form of southern hip-hop defined by its 808 basslines, kick drums, and general party-starting vibes, originated in the mid-1990s. But it took nearly a decade for the sound to crossover from the Miami underground to the top of the charts. And then the lead single from Confessions took the scene to another level.

With its high-pitched synth hook, emphatic beats, and hype man chants from the subgenre's self-proclaimed king Lil Jon, "Yeah!" had all the hallmarks of a crunk classic. But Usher's smooth, soulful tones and Ludacris' playful rhymes gave the dance floor anthem a much stronger melodic edge, prompting critics to coin a new term, Crunk&B.

Several artists took note of the crunk and contemporary R&B crossover, with both Ciara's "Goodies" and Chris Brown's "Run It" also topping the Hot 100. But "Yeah!" remains the sound's crowning glory, as proven by the diamond status it achieved right before Usher's Super Bowl halftime show (Usher is also now only the third ever Black artist to have a diamond-certified single and album, alongside Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston).

It Further Bridged The Gap Between R&B And Hip-Hop 

While previous albums Usher, My Way, and 8701 had all been grounded in slick, soulful R&B, Confessions was a concerted attempt to bridge the gap between his signature sound and the grittier world of hip-hop. The man himself admits that he took just as much inspiration from Eminem and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony as his usual suspects, like Michael Jackson and James Brown, to create an album that was aimed equally at the bedroom and the clubs.

Alongside the famous guest appearances from Lil Jon and Ludacris, the LP also drew upon the production talents of Roc-A-Fella regular Just Blaze. Meanwhile, on the special edition, Jadakiss laid down some bars on "Throwback," while the remix of "Confessions Part II" boasted rhymes from Shyne, Twista, and Kanye West.

That's not to say thatNot that Usher forgot his roots, though., Has proven by his collab with Keys ("My Boo"), recruitment of legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and contributions from long-time collaborators Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox all helped remind of his R&B prowess. "I feel like it is the base of everything," Usherhe said about his love of R&B at the time. "I want to make it more prominent."

It Was A GRAMMY Favorite 

Although Ray Charles posthumously won the most awards of the night, the 2005 GRAMMYs undoubtedly still belonged to Usher. The R&B star not only took home three golden gramophones, but he also brought the house down thanks to a spellbinding duet with the Godfather of Soul.

A sharp-suited Usher first took to the stage for an epically choreographed performance of Confessions' fifth single "Caught Up," before James Brown — who even at the age of 71 still had several moves of his own — popped up for a joint rendition of his classic, "Sex Machine."

Usher was no doubt in a celebratory mood. By this point, he'd picked up three of the eight categories he'd been nominated in: Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Yeah!," and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal alongsideAlicia Keys for "My Boo." (As of press time, Usher has won eight GRAMMYs and received 23 GRAMMY nominations.)

It Brought A Confessional Side Back To R&B 

From Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear to D'Angelo's Brown Sugar, some of the greatest R&B records of the 20th century resulted from artists baring their souls as if their lives depended on it. This was an approach that had largely fallen by the wayside as time went on, with some suggesting that the genre gradually became more emotionally stunted.

Usher, on the other hand, had no qualms whatsoever about laying it all on the line, namely the ups and downs of his relationship with Thomas. On the falsetto-voiced "Burn," he willingly displays devastation over his breakup ("I'm twisted 'cause one side of me's telling me that I need to move on/ On the other side I wanna break down and cry"). And even by the penultimate track, "Take Your Hand," he still seems to be in a state of torment ("In your loving, every time I feel your touch/ Second thoughts, more doubts started building up").

Usher's confessional approach continued in 2008 with Here I Stand's love letter to then-wife Tameka Foster and then again in 2010 with the divorce-themed Raymond vs. Raymond. And many other R&B artists, including Janelle Monae and Beyoncé, have since made career bests by delving similarly deep into their personal lives.

It Inspired A Generation Of R&B Lotharios 

Think of any R&B lothario who's emerged in the last 20 years and chances are they've been heavily inspired by Confessions. Jason Derulo has said as much, describing it as a "classic album" and "just start to finish awesome"; Ne-Yo echoed that sentiment to BBC Radio 1, calling it "flawless top to bottom." While Bryson Tiller explicitly told Fuse he wanted to make a record in the same vein. And you can hear its influence in everything from Drake's more romantic offerings to August Alsina's intimate revelations.

And 10 years after Robin Thicke co-penned and co-produced Confessions' sensuous bedroom jam, "Can U Handle It," he released his own breakup tale with 2014's Paula.  Though he hasn't ever explicitly cited Confessions as an influence, Paula is a concept album about Thicke's real-life marriage breakdown, which essentially doubled up as a begging letter to his estranged wife.

It's A Storytelling Masterclass 

In 2023, it was announced that an untitled drama series inspired by Usher's back catalog was in the works. No doubt that the project, said to be "about Black love in Atlanta and individuals looking to find a place to call home," will draw heavily upon the storytelling masterclass that is Confessions.

Take "Truth Hurts," for example, the relationship tale in which Usher initially presents himself as the wounded party before revealing that he was, in fact, the one being adulterous ("I've been blaming you when I'm the one that's doing wrong/ I'ma go on/ My guilty conscience is the real reason I wrote this song").

Usher also appeared to enjoy keeping audiences guessing about whether his confessions were truly autobiographical or borrowed from the album's male-centric production team. See the two title tracks, which suggested the lothario had himself become a father following a one-night stand, when in reality, the paternity drama was all Dupri's.

"We wanted the media to ask us questions," the latteradmitted to Vibe in 2014, citingMichael Jackson as a key attention-grabbing influence. "Nobody knows who the f— Billie Jean is. We're still looking for her."

It Helped Breathe New Life Into Several Soul Classics 

While much of Confessions was interested in pushing R&B forward, it wasn't entirely averse to getting a little nostalgic. The record is filled with cleverly chosen samples from the soul of yesteryear, from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "Is There a Place for Me" on "Take Your Hand" to Willie Hutch's Mack's Stroll on "Superstar" and Preston Love's "Chili Mac" on "Whatever I Want."

And nearly 20 years before Doja Cat repurposed a Dionne Warwick classic to chart-topping effect on 2023's "Paint the Town Red," Usher brought the Motown legend into the contemporary R&B world by borrowing from "You're Gonna Need Me" on the aptly titled "Throwback."

It Broke Multiple Chart Records  

You know an artist has reached true greatness when they start being mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles. In 2004, Usher became the first act since the Fab Four to have both the biggest and second biggest-selling singles of Billboard's year-end chart with "Yeah!" and "Burn," respectively. And this was far from the only major milestone Confessions achieved. 

Until Taylor Swift's Fearless spent an additional fortnight in the top spot in 2009, the album's nine weeks atop the Billboard 200 was the longest run of the millennium. And with "Confessions Part II" also reaching No. 1 on the Hot 100 (ironically, replacing "Burn"), Usher not only became the first artist in  history to achieve three consecutive chart toppers, but also the first act to spend more than half a calendar year atop the Hot 100 at 28 combined weeks. 

Twenty years on, Confessions is still the highest-selling record by a Black artist this century. And further exemplifying his staying power and impact across the globe, Usher will soon embark on a lengthy world tour that has sold out from Brooklyn to Berlin — a momentous way to honor the album that changed the R&B game.

24 Songs Turning 20: Listen To 2004's Bangers, From "Yeah!" To "Since U Been Gone"