meta-scriptHow The Pandemic And Political Turmoil Inspired 2022 GRAMMY Nominees: Alicia Keys & Brandi Carlile, Foo Fighters & More | GRAMMY.com
Alicia Keys Women's March 2017 (better crop)
Alicia Keys

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How The Pandemic And Political Turmoil Inspired 2022 GRAMMY Nominees: Alicia Keys & Brandi Carlile, Foo Fighters & More

The past two years have been some of the most trying times in recent memory, shrouded in uncertainty and a need for change. Eight of this year’s GRAMMY nominees used their art to cope, restore hope and create beautiful moments even in the darkest times.

GRAMMYs/Mar 22, 2022 - 03:37 pm

Among the many nominees at the 64th GRAMMY Awards, several albums, songs and releases could've only come out of our world as it is now. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the global racial reckonings and protests, that defined 2020 and 2021 also galvanized some of the best music and comedy.

This soul-searching work wasn't limited to any one genre or release format, presenting a spectrum of emotions from hopeful optimism, to despair, to ultimate catharsis. From rock titans Foo Fighters to comedy veteran Dave Chappelle, those who took on the tumult of the present did so from their own unique perspective.

For many, art is a refuge in a dark time, and these 2022 GRAMMY nominees rose to the moment. The eight nominated works below reflect the pandemic and fight for social justice in all its exhausting and uncertain — yet inspiring — contradictions.

Alicia Keys & Brandi Carlile — "A Beautiful Noise" (Song of the Year)

Released in October of 2020, right at the peak of United States’ presidential election jitters, two dynamic singer/songwriters came together for a rousing call to action. "A Beautiful Noise" is both an appeal for voter turnout and a showcase for the potent talents of Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile.

The "A Beautiful Noise" music video features the two stars on duelling grand pianos in a warmly-lit room, and that's about it — but that’s all it needs. All the fireworks are contained in the two vocal performances and the subtle-yet-meaningful looks exchanged between Keys and Carlile.

In a statement accompanying the release, Carlile said she's "forever inspired" by Keys and jumped at the opportunity to "deliver this beautiful message through song" at a time when voting felt more urgent than ever.

H.E.R. — "Fight For You" (Song of the Year)

When R&B/soul sensation Gabriella Wilson — better known as H.E.R. — was approached to write a song for the film Judas and the Black Messiah, she drew an immediate parallel with the Black Lives Matter movement of present day.

Directed by Shaka King and released in February 2021, Judas and the Black Messiah dramatizes the complex relationship between Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and FBI informant William O'Neill (LaKeith Stanfield) in late-1960s Cleveland. "They called me and said they need a song to bring the movie home," H.E.R. told Variety in a video interview.

Working alongside songwriter Tiara Thomas and producer D'Mile, H.E.R. created a protest song that deftly links past and present, drawing on the classic soul records that soundtracked her youth. "I really wanted the song to bring the two generations together," H.E.R. added. "I wanted to create a universal message that represented that fight that is still happening today."

Caribou — "You Can Do It" (Best Dance/Electronic Recording)

When the COVID-19 pandemic put Caribou's 2020 tour on hold, band leader Dan Snaith found himself with a lot of free time. Taking shelter with his family at home in London, the producer saw the first glimmer of good news in March 2021 as the vaccination rollout ramped up. To reflect his hope for the future, Snaith sat down at his home set-up and made 'You Can Do It,' a bright and infectious (in a good way) ode to optimism.

Snaith knew the single had to come out right then, before the world changed again. "People have had so much fear, anxiety and negativity in the last 18 months; the thought of being able to put something out into the world that was just positive, that just allowed people to feel happy and joyous again, was something that felt so right," he told Billboard last year. Its music video — featuring an array of cute dogs bouncing gleefully through open fields — only amplified the song’s joyful mood.

Foo Fighters — "Waiting On A War" (Best Rock Song)

Growing up outside Washington, DC, in the 1970s and 1980s, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl lived in fear of nuclear war. His anxiety about a nuclear attack, fueled in equal parts by the real-life Cold War and the 1983 made-for-TV movie The Day After, invaded his dreams and became a defining childhood memory. Four decades later, on a school run, Grohl's 11-year-old daughter casually asked if a war was coming. That weekend he wrote "Waiting On A War" to make sense of a fear that now crosses generations.

"This song was written for my daughter, Harper, who deserves a future, just as every child does," Grohl wrote in a statement to introduce the single, which appears on the band's tenth studio album, Medicine at Midnight. Beginning with the frontman's gravelly vocals over strummed guitar, "Waiting On A War" builds to an all-out anthem in the classic Foo Fighters mold.

Despite its heavy themes, Grohl revealed in a track-by-track album breakdown that he imagined "Waiting On A War" as "a song that we play every night for the rest of our lives, that everybody will sing along to."

Brandi Carlile — "Right On Time" (Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Best Pop Solo Performance)

Six-time GRAMMY winner Brandi Carlile spent the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic consumed by the same uncertainty as the rest of us, weathering the storm on her "compound" in Washington State with her wife, Catherine, and two young daughters. Out of that strange, fretful time came Carlile's seventh studio album, In These Silent Days. "Right on Time," the album's opening track and lead single, reflected all those stirred-up feelings as only Carlile can.

"In these silent days and this time that's been imposed on us spiritually as a global community, really significant things have happened," Carlile told Entertainment Weekly of "Right On Time." "Babies were born, divorces were had, people died, and there's something really human about the obstacles that we've put in front of ourselves, and then deciding to just somehow explode through it and say, maybe I didn't come out of this right, maybe I didn't handle this the right way, maybe it wasn't right, but something had to happen — so it was right on time."

Carlile stars in the video for "Right On Time" (artfully directed by Carlile's friend Courtney Cox), conveying the full sweep of emotions that she examines in the song's three and a half minutes.

Dave Chappelle — 8:46 (Best Spoken Word Album)

In June 2020, with the pandemic raging, comedy vet Dave Chappelle pulled together a socially distanced outdoor show in Ohio, billed as "A Talk with Punchlines." It was a forum for Chappelle to grapple with his anger and sadness about police brutality against Black Americans, with a particular focus on the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. On this night, jokes were a secondary concern.

Later that month, Netflix uploaded the 30-minute set to its YouTube channel as 8:46, with the title referencing the length of time Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck. Directed by documentary filmmakers ​​Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, 8:46 is raw and unpolished by design — and every bit as sobering as Chappelle intended.

Editor's Note: In October 2021, another Chappelle Netflix special, The Closer, was widely criticized for the comedian's comments about transgender people; it sparked a walkout in protest from hundreds of Netflix employees.

Maren Morris — "Better Than We Found It" (Best Country Song)

In October 2020, in advance of the U.S. presidential election, Texas-born country sensation Maren Morris released "Better Than We Found It," which she described as "a protest song" in the tradition of Bob Dylan and Nina Simone. Morris also committed a portion of proceeds from the single to the Black Women's Health Imperative.

"I still have hope for this country and for the future of it," Morris said in a statement at the time of the release, "and as a new mother I wanted to promise my son that I'm going to do everything in my power to leave this world better than the one I came into and the one I see right now."

The powerful music video is intercut with real-stories from people in Morris's Nashville community, including young activists for racial justice, teenagers facing fears of deportation and the family of Daniel Hambrick, a Black man killed by a Nashville police officer in 2018.

Bo Burnham — Inside / 'All Eyes On Me' (Best Music Film / Best Song Written For Visual Media)

In May 2021, Netflix uploaded Inside to its platform with a deceptively simple description: "A musical comedy special shot and performed by Bo Burnham, alone, over the course of a very unusual year." Within weeks, Inside had become one of the defining documents of our pandemic age.

Burnham masterfully flips quarantine-induced narratives — FaceTiming Mom, internet deep-dives — into catchy tunes, creating a commentary as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. The 90-minute special crescendos with Burnham's achingly intimate performance of "All Eyes On Me," which sees the comedian riff on the dark period that followed his decision to quit stand-up.

At once a razor-sharp pop music parody and a deep dive into its creator's psyche, "All Eyes On Me" is Burnham at his most unforgiving. Burnham has avoided interviews following the release of Inside, preferring to let the art speak for itself.

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“The Outsiders” Broadway cast.
“The Outsiders” Broadway cast.

Photo: Miller Mobley

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New Broadway Musicals To See This Spring: "Hell's Kitchen," "The Wiz" & More

Broadway’s newest musicals have something for everyone, from works by GRAMMY-winning artists, to highly-anticipated revivals. Read on for everything you need to know about the new musicals appearing on Broadway.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 01:27 pm

It’s a busy spring season on Broadway, with 11 musicals opening by April 25 — the cutoff for this year’s Tony Award eligibility.

Spring 2024 musicals span a wide range of styles and genres, from adaptations of literary classics and histories, to timeless revivals and jukebox musicals from GRAMMY winners Huey Lewis and Alicia Keys. The season also features some recognizable singers including Deborah Cox, Jeremy Jordan, Shoshana Bean, and Brandon Victor Dixon.

Here’s a breakdown (in alphabetical order) of what’s playing; unless listed, all of the following musicals have open run dates.

"Cabaret"

August Wilson Theatre

Set within the seedy Kit Kat Club in 1930s Berlin as the Nazi regime was beginning to take over,  "Cabaret" premiered on Broadway in 1966. The hit play starred Joel Grey as the Emcee and Jill Haworth. Sally Bowles, with music and lyrics by the legendary John Kander and the late Fred Ebb. In 1972, the musical was turned into a movie starring Gray and Liza Minnelli; it subsequently won eight Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Actress for Grey and Minnelli. 

The 2024 revival stars Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee, who will perform in the round on an  immersive set. While the stage may be different, fans can still expect unique renditions of iconic songs such as "Willkommen," "Cabaret" and "Don’t Tell Mama." 

"Hell's Kitchen"

Shubert Theater 

Sixteen-time GRAMMY winner Alicia Keys brings her artistry from the Super Bowl to the Broadway stage in the jukebox musical "Hell’s Kitchen." Loosely based on Keys' life growing up in the Manhattan neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, the story centers around 17-year-old Ali, played by newcomer Maleah Joi Moon, as she navigates her teenage years through love and loss.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-finalist playwright Kristoffer Diaz, "Hell's Kitchen" features songs by Keys with new arrangements, as well as the recently debuted "Kaleidoscope."  Shoshana Bean and two-time GRAMMY nominee Brandon Victor Dixon co-star in the musical, all reprising their roles from its premiere at the Public Theatre last fall.

"Illinoise"

St. James Theatre 

April 24 - Aug. 10

This new, dance-centered musical was the last show to announce its arrival on Broadway this season, and is moving from the New York’s Upper East Side Park Avenue Armory after a sold out run in order to meet the Tony Award eligibility deadline.

"Illinoise" features music by GRAMMY-nominated musician Sufjan Stevens and is based on his beloved 2005 concept album Illinois. The album features stories, people and places from the state. The show is conceived and choreographed by Justin Peck, of the New York City Ballet, who also choreographed Maestro and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. "‘Illinoise’ is a coming-of-age story that takes the audience on a journey through the American heartland — from campfire storytelling to the edges of the cosmos — all told in through a unique blend of music, dance, and theater," Peck said in a statement.

Dancers featured in the show include Yesenia Ayala, Gaby Diaz, Jeanette Delgado and  Ben Cook, who also were in West Side Story.

"Lempicka"

Longacre Theatre

"Lempicka" is a brand new, original musical with a "pop infused sound" with a script and lyrics by Carson Kreitzer and book and music by Matt Gould.

The musical tells the tale of real Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka, who was famous for her art deco portraits of aristocrats and highly stylized nude paintings. While Lempicka changed art and culture in the late 1800s, she struggled with decades of political and personal turmoil. Eden Espinosa stars in the title role, and previously played Elphaba in "Wicked." Amber Iman, the first woman to perform on Broadway after the Coronavirus shutdown and Tony Award winner Beth Leavel also star in the show.

"The Great Gatsby"

Broadway Theatre

First it was a book, turned into a movie, and now a Broadway musical. "The Great Gatsby" is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic, and has all the glitz and jazz-aged glam of the 1925 novel.

Starring Jeremy Jordan as Long Island millionaire Jay Gatsby and Eva Noblezada as Daisy Buchanan, the Broadway adaptation features all new music with a modern jazz and pop score by Jason Howland with lyrics by Nathan Tysen. As in the book, "Gatsby" tells the story of how Gatsby is after his long lost love Daisy and all the stops to bring her back into his life.

"The Heart of Rock and Roll"

James Earl Jones Theatre

Songs by GRAMMY winners Huey Lewis & the News appear in two new musicals this season. "The Power of Love" is featured in "Back to the Future" (which opened last summer) and the new jukebox musical, "The Heart of Rock and Roll." 

Set in 1987 and featuring many hits from the time, the story centers on the young couple, played by Cory Cottand McKenzie Kurtz, who work at the same company and eventually fall in love. Bobby, a rock and roller, trades his guitar for the corporate ladder and his boss Cassandra is always putting the family business first. The musical is jam packed with Huey Lewis megahits like "Do You Believe in Love", "Hip to Be Square," and "If This Is It." 

"The Notebook"

Schoenfeld Theatre

Singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelon wrote the music and lyrics for this tear-jerker musical adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling novel and the classic romantic movie starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. Michaelson admits she’s best at the "weepy and romantic" songs.

The musical tells the story of how leads Allie and Noah shared a lifetime of love despite growing up in opposite socioeconomic classes. And if you’re wondering: yes, the famous rain scene from the movie makes a big splash with audiences on Broadway. 

"The Outsiders"

Bernard B. Jacobs Theater

"The Outsiders" transforms S.E. Hinton's novel — perhaps most famous for the 1983 movie starring Matt Damon, Patrick Swayze and Tom Cruise — into a Broadway musical. One of its co-producers is Angelina Jolie, who saw the show with her family when it debuted out-of-town in California. 

"The Outsiders" features a book by Adam Rapp with Justin Levine, along with music and lyrics by Jamestown Revival (Jonathan Clay & Zach Chance) and Justin Levine. Set in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1967, Ponyboy Curtis and Johnny Cade along with their fellow Outsiders  battle their rivals, the Socs.

"The Who’s Tommy"

Nederlander Theatre

Perhaps the most famous song from 1975 rock opera The Who’s Tommy is "Pinball Wizard" written by guitarist Pete Townshend. The musician won a GRAMMY for Best Musical Show Album in 1993 for the musical’s original cast recording. 

Des McAnuff — who co-wrote the musical's script with Townshend and also directed the original musical 30 years ago — is back in the director’s chair for this revival. The musical, about a boy who finds a knack for playing pinball, is based on the Who’s 1969 album, Tommy. It was also turned into a 1975 film called Tommy, which starred Elton John, Tina Turner, Ann Margaret and Roger Daltry as Tommy. On Broadway, Ali Louis Bourzgui stars in the title role. 

"The Wiz"

Marquis Theatre

Ease on down the road to the Marquis Theatre! "The Wiz" returns to Broadway for the first time since it premiered back in 1974 for a limited run followed by subsequent shows around the country. The show is based on The Wizard of Oz and, in 1978, was turned into a film starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Tinman. 

The revival features music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls, and book by William F. Brown with script updates by Amber Ruffin (whose Some Like It Hot won Best Musical Theater Album at the 2024 GRAMMYs). JaQuel Knight, who choreographed Beyoncé’s "Single Ladies," choreographed "The Wiz."

Newcomer Nichelle Lewis plays Dorothy along with Wayne Brady as The Wiz and Deborah Cox as Glinda. Look out for Avery Wilson as the Scarecrow; the R&B singer appeared on "The Voice" and their single "Kiss The Sky" cracked the Top 20 on Billboard’s R&B chart. 

"Suffs"

Music Box Theatre

On the heels of "Hamilton" is a historic musical called "Suffs." It’s 1913 and the women’s suffrage movement is heating up in America. The suffragists, or "Suffs," are relentless in their pursuit of the right to vote. 

Shaina Taub stars as Alice Paul, one of the leaders of the National Women’s Party. Taub also wrote the book, music and lyrics (She’s also collabing with five-time GRAMMY winner Elton John on the "Devil Wears Prada" musical). "Suffs" is produced by Hillary Clinton, tying the suffrage movement to contemporary politics in a tangible way.

"Water for Elephants"   

Imperial Theatre

Sara Gruen’s novel and 2011 film adaptation has now turned into a musical with music/lyrics by PigPen Theatre Co. 

Rick Elice (known for writing the book for "Jersey Boys") puts his stamp on this show about Jacob Jankowski, who jumps on a train finding a new home with a traveling circus. 

Like "The Notebook," this "memory musical" is told from his point of view as an old man and goes back and forth between the present and the past when he worked for the circus. Audiences will love the aerial tricks and impressive elephant puppetry. "

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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.

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Tish Melton Press Play Hero
Tish Melton

Photo: Courtesy of Tish Melton

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Press Play: Watch Tish Melton Preview Debut EP With A Stripped-Down Performance Of "Sober"

Indie pop newcomer — and Brandi Carlile's mentee — Tish Melton premieres "Sober," an emotional track from her upcoming EP, 'When We're Older,' out March 1.

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2024 - 07:50 pm

Beneath the empty bottles, Tish Melton wants to know if her love is true; to her, drunken confessions of love mean nothing. It's what happens when the party's over and no one is watching — that's when she sees that person at their most authentic.

"You're standing close/ But you're so far away/ Your eyes are closed/ But you see me anyway," Melton sings on the bridge of her emotional track "Sober." "And I swear you told me you love me on the walk home/ If you meant it, I'll never know/ I think we should stay sober."

In this episode of Press Play, the indie pop newcomer premieres "Sober" with a raw and intimate acoustic performance.

"Sober" is an unreleased track from her upcoming first EP, When We're Older, which arrives on March 1. Melton previously released three singles in 2023, "Damage," "The Chase," and "Michelle."

As she prepares her debut project, Melton already has a major supporter in her corner: nine-time GRAMMY winner Brandi Carlile, who has been a mentor to Melton since recognizing her talent at her debut show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

"Tish is so young and so brilliant," Carlile, who produced When We're Older, revealed in a press statement. "Like most lessons in life, I learned this one while I thought I was teaching it. We should guide youth in music, but there is no question that it should lead."

Watch the video above to hear Tish Melton's honest performance of "Sober," and check back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Press Play.

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Usher Super Bowl 2024
Usher performs with Ludacris, Lil Jon, Jermaine Dupri and Will.i.am during the Apple Music halftime show at the NFL Super Bowl 58 football game

Photo: Michael Owens/Getty Images

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Usher's Super Bowl Halftime Show Was More Than A Performance, It Was A Celebration Of Black Excellence

From celebrating Atlanta's HBCU culture to shining light on Southern rappers like Ludacris and Lil Jon, Usher brought the brilliance of the Black South to Las Vegas.

GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2024 - 08:41 pm

In the days leading up to Usher’s Super Bowl performance, the singer waxed poetically about the significance of this moment not only in popular culture but for Black music.

Speaking with Kelly Carter on "Good Morning America," Usher reflected on the history of Black entertainers who performed for the masses under restrictive laws. Although a majority of those laws have been overturned, it would be remiss to not think about the recent series of court cases that have targeted Black musicians, such as Atlanta-based rapper Young Thug, whose music is currently being used against him in court

For singers like Usher who have been privy to the ways in which Black music — and those who create it — have been mistreated, his halftime performance was as much as a statement as it was a tribute to those who came before him. "I'm coming through the front door with this one," Usher told Carter.

It is only fitting that the performance opened with lines from "My Way" the title of his Las Vegas residency, which has featured a who’s who of prominent figures in pop culture before launching into "Caught Up." Usher then descended from his anointed throne in a crisp, all white Dolce & Gabbana ensemble, he began a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine with an array of backup dancers; the standout being renowned celebrity choreographer Sean Bankhead.

Usher made it clear early on, however, that his performance was no mere spectacle. He paused to deliver a testimony, one that bears repeating despite his new album and $100 million-earning Vegas residency: "They said I wouldn't make it, they said I wouldn't be here today, but I am." 

Once the air cleared and Usher thanked his momma for her steadfast advocacy and faith in him, he led Allegiant Stadium in a sing along of "Superstar." The track from 2004’s Confessions recently inspired a viral challenge on TikTok. 

A consummate performer and supporter of his peers, Usher wasn't content to simply highlight his own success. The singer transformed Allegiant Stadium to "The Yard" — the singular place at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where students gather to talk, discuss, and have fun — and filled it with music. 

Usher’s Yard included a performance of "Love In This Club" with the assistance of two members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., the second oldest Black fraternity in the U.S. The trio was supported by the Jackson State University marching band, known as the "Sonic Boom of The South," to finish the song. 

Even his brief moment of affection with singer Alicia Keys, who joined the singer for "My Boo," can be described as a "homecoming hug." Homecoming is another HBCU tradition, where alumni convene at their respective campuses and greet their former flame with a hug.

When Jermaine Dupri entered the stage to announce the 20th anniversary of Confessions, the transportation was complete. The audience was no longer in Vegas, but in Atlanta, the Black Mecca of the world. And Usher is Atlanta’s nucleus.

It is here that the spirits of Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, and Prince accompanied Usher as he bewitched millions with a singular microphone and momentum stage presence. A haze of purple clouds and smoke led the way for singer H.E.R., the night’s self appointed "Bad Girl" and her crew of roller skating baddies.

While Usher may have began the halftime show with the enthusiasm of a young boy who just got his chance to perform a solo in the church choir, by its end he was fully inhabiting his chart-topping sex icon persona.Will.i.am’s voice rippled through the stadium as Usher, donning a blue and black Off-White outfit reminiscent of football shoulder pads, glided onto the stage with an aura that is equal parts charismatic and sinful sweet. 

Skating, a main tenant of Atlanta’s culture, is embedded in Usher’s ethos and a part of his larger business. The singer loves skating and owns several skating rinks.

Usher finished the extravagant performance with "Yeah!" — a song beloved in Atlanta and far, far beyond. That the song is turning 20 this year and still resonates with a global audience (not to mention a football-loving one) is further evidence that Usher truly is the "King of R&B."

"Your moment is your moment. And this is a moment I’ve prepared for during the last 30 years," Usher told Billboard ahead of the Super Bowl. 

He certainly owned his moment. Usher's Super Bowl halftime show was no singular performance or an audition, but a coronation. He was receiving the torch carried by all the Black entertainers who preceded him, and reminding the world that the South still has something to say. 

Surrounded by Ludacris and Lil Jon,  strippers, and his own marching band, Usher closed the night out with the A-Town Stomp and one important phase: "I took the world to the A!" 

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