It was Usher‘s first time.
The 37-year-old R&B legend has performed countless hits for thousands of fans across the world. But on Friday night (Sept. 16) at his secret and intimate listening party, Usher admitted that this was the first time that he’s boldly performing an entirely new album within 24 hours of its release.
“This is the first time that I’ve ever done this man,” he would later say of his recent release, Hard II Love. “I’m baring my soul to ya’ll and ya’ll don’t know the records. Ya’ll not familiar with it yet.”
And what a glorious baring it was. After the Grits and Biscuits’ DJing duo, EZ Mo Breezy and DJ Square Biz, warmed up the crowd with a 30-minute mix of dirty down South hits, it was time for Usher Raymond IV to take the stage.
Just as the sun was setting, Usher cruised in on a boat to the stage at Southstreet Seaport’s Pier 15 in downtown Manhattan. Decked out in an all-white ensemble, a gold chain and his signature clean fade, Usher began the night off with “Need U,” the first track from his new album.
“Welcome to my album listening experience,” he said to the crowd. “We gonna get into the album.” And he did just that as he continued on with the second track off of Hard II Love, “Missin U.” Except this time, the first bit of his ensemble was off — his sunglasses. (And there was more to come off later.) It didn’t take long to understand why the sunglasses had to go though as Usher started to show off his signature dance moves including spins, kicks and spreading his arms akin to his spiritual mentor, Michael Jackson.
But then, Usher switched it up and went straight gutta as he grabbed his crotch during the performance of the Young Thug-featured single, “No Limit,” as he sang about giving that “ghetto d—.” (Although he sweetened up at the end as he told the crowd that there’s “no limit to the love I have for you.”) He continued down the gutta rabbit hole as the veteran crooner told the crowd that he was “going to turn New York into the A.”
Usher’s smooth vocals almost fooled the audience into thinking that “Bump” would be a simple love ballad despite the sample from Uncle Luke’s “I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown).” But those thoughts quickly left as Usher gyrated and came through with some powerful pelvic thrusts that almost sent one woman to the floor from twenty feet away. And he did it all with a boyish grin.
“I’ve always been able to speak to you through the music,” he said before sharing his ultimate message that he wants to relay in Hard II Love. “We have to love again. We got to to have fun. Whether that’s public or with your significant other privately bumpin’.” But most of all, Usher relayed that he doesn’t want “rivals” anymore, hence the name of the Future-featured track of the same name that he performed next.
Then, about halfway through the set, it was time for “Downtime,” as Usher took off his jacket to reveal a crisp white tee. He then confessed that this is the “most elaborate listening party” he’s ever had. He wasn’t wrong in the least bit. As the full moon shone brightly over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Hudson River behind Usher’s stage, it was almost an understatement. Not to mention that the entire show was being live streamed across the globe thanks to iHeart Radio and AT&T with a looming “special moment” promised to the crowd that had to do with mysterious white wristbands that were given out upon entry.
But either way, there was more listening to be had for the 15-track album. Usher went on to reveal the “special moment” with “Crash” as the aforementioned wristbands lit up with a blue light that blinked to the beat. He also performed the title track “Hard II Love.”
“Ya’ll f— with me?” he said to screams. “Forreal? Forreal forreal?” More screams ensued before and as he went into “FWM” and the third piece of his ensemble came off to reveal a black muscle tank. As Usher is fresh off of filming Hands of Stone where he portrays legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard — he was looking especially good.
That alluring grin came back as he warned the crowd that they may get pregnant with the next song — “Tell Me” as he hit impressive falsettos. But Usher told the crowd not to “blame me” if baby-making occurs.
For the rest of the set (and the night), the crowd certainly “f—” with Usher as he teased the crowd by lifting up his tank top ever so slightly and gave into the pleas to perform songs from his 20-year career. This included his track with Wale, “The Matrimony,” as well as some throwbacks like “Bad Girl,” “U Got It Bad,” “Burn” and the David Guetta collaborative song “Without You,” which the crowd sang word-for-word.
Usher also performed the inspirational song “Stronger,” which is the final track on Hard II Love. During the performance, the 37-year-old singer adorably pointed to his ring finger as he sung about how he “finally found paradise” with his wife, Grace Miguel.
It may have been Usher’s first time doing something as grand as this for an album listening party, but he continued to prove himself to be a pro as he commanded the stage and relayed instant classics. And as he belts out “Stronger,” he is indeed, “stronger than ever.”
Check out some clips from the show above and below. Usher’s album release party concert is still available to stream at events.att.com/usher.