Confessions is Usher's fourth studio album. It was released on March 23, 2004 by Arista Records.
When he began recording "Confessions" in 2003, Usher claimed that he did not want to work with any new producers. Production began between Usher and Jermaine Dupri, who produced his last two albums My Way (in 1997) and 8701 (in 2001).
In spite of his vision, Usher stated, "With this album I chose some new producers who I figured would definitely allow me to really articulate myself in a different way ... Every album you gotta grow. You gotta look for something different."
Dupri also invited his frequent collaborator Bryan-Michael Cox.
The album features productions by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Just Blaze, R. Kelly, and Usher's brother James Lackey.
With forty recorded songs, Usher felt the album had already been completed. Initially, he submitted the album to his record label, Arista. He and the company's then-president, L. A. Reid, who listened to the record; however, they thought something was missing in it, "You know what, there's like one or two more records that we just gotta get."
Usher was displeased with the decision and he felt that returning to the studio was the hardest part & needed to re-motivate himself. He went on recording a few more tracks with help from fellow Atlantian's Lil Jon and Ludacris.
Eventually, the team was able to produce songs like "Red Light" and "Yeah!". He also recorded songs with P. Diddy and The Neptunes during one of those sessions but were not released.
One of Usher's first steps of recording Confessions was deciding to reveal "his own little secrets".
His friend and former A&R rep named Kawan "KP" Prather thought the album would let the public know Usher personally, as Kawan "KP" Prather speaks, "The music has never been the question, but people tend to buy into the artist. The more they know about you, the more they feel like they're there with you."
Primarily because of its personal content, Usher said that this is his chance to be real. He named the album Confessions because he felt it is his most personal record to date: "All of us have our Pandora's boxes or skeletons in our closets. I let a few of them out, you know. I've got a lot to say. I've got a lot of things and stuff built in me that I just want to let go of."
He wrote more songs than he contributed to his previous album.
Several of the songs in this album were conceptually based on a situation. For instance, "Burn" which it has built around the situation where Usher's two-year relationship with Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas (from American R&B-hip hop girl group TLC) has almost ended. Dupri and Cox were talking and felt that there was a song in it, and started writing. Similarly, with the title track "Confessions Part II", they were conversing about an impregnated mistress, and its concept was written down.
Usher has recorded "Confessions Part II" during a July 2003's recording sessions in New York City, United States. With Usher singing the song's lyrics, the theme of cheating inspired him and Dupri; which both of them has decided to produce these two parts; "Confessions Part I" and "Confessions Part II (which the former has heard it at the beginning of the video for the latter).
- Intro (0:46)
- Yeah! [featuring Lil' Jon & Ludacris] (4:10)
- Throwback (4:46)
- Confessions (Interlude) (1:15)
- Confessions Part II (3:31)
- Burn (3:51)
- Caught Up (3:44)
- Superstar (Interlude) (1:04)
- Superstar (3:11)
- Truth Hurts (3:51)
- Simple Things (4:40)
- Bad Girl (4:21)
- That's What It's Made For (4:37)
- Can U Handle It? (4:39)
- Do It to Me (3:33)
- Take Your Hand (2:45)
- Follow Me (3:13)
Special Edition Tracks
- My Boo [duet with Alicia Keys] [3:43)
- Red Light (4:48)
- Seduction (4:33)
- Confessions Part II Remix [featuring Shyne, Kanye West & Twista) (4:28)
- Throwback" contains a sample of Dionne Warwick's 1973 song "You're Gonna Need Me".
- "Superstar" contains a sample of Willie Hutch' 1973 song "Mack's Stroll/The Getaway (Chase Scene)"; Faith Evans performs uncredited background vocals on "Superstar".
- "Truth Hurts" uses the production of Janet Jackson's song "Could This Be Love"
- "Take Your Hand" contains a sample of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes' 1973 "Is There a Place for Me?".
The album was slated to be released on November 6, 2003. However, due to marketing issues. The scheduled date was moved to March 23 of the following year. With several songs recorded, Usher faced the challenge of determining the final track listing. Usher, Dupri, Reid, and then-A&R rep Mark Pitts have their favorites among the forty, but decided to choose those which "came up consistently more".
The collective was able to decide fifteen of them with two interludes completing the seventeen track list. Many songs were set aside for future use, including "Red Light" and a remix of "Yeah!". Usher and Arista held advance-listenings for the album, few months before its actual release; he also appeared on TV guestings to promote "Confessions."
With strategies to boost the album's sales albeit threats of stealing music in the internet, Usher and his management readied a follow-up release of the album with additional marketing blitz.
The idea was considered "musically driven" after Zomba (who absorbed Arista) management was excited about "My Boo", a song that was recorded for the original version of the album but failed to meet deadline. However, it actually began when American R&B and soul singer Alicia Keys, who is featured on the track, "brought in that the talk of repackaging started".
With the inclusion of the track "My Boo", they thought of the album as complete. While they knew of other artists releasing special editions of their albums, the label felt that the album had the edge because of its previous success and its physical changes, including a new cover art, an expanded CD booklet, pullout poster and a letter to fans from Usher.
The new version includes "My Boo" and "Red Light", which were leaked alongside other songs that did not appear in the album and a remix of "Confessions Part II", and "Seduction"; original tracks were also improved like the extended version of "Confessions Part I" and a rap added by American rapper Jadakiss in "Throwback".
The label itself treated the version a new album, with full media advertisements.
The album was re-issued in October 2004 (seven months after its initial release).
When "Yeah!" was issued as a single, Usher and the label were plagued by marketing strategies. With many potential lead singles that could fare well in music markets, they were choosing between "Yeah!" and "Burn".
Considering that the former sufficed what the label was looking for, they also believed the latter would be a blockbuster. Usher as well was skeptical that time if "Yeah!" (which is largely composed around crunk) would be a good choice after doing an R&B record was in his mindset.
Meanwhile, they felt "Burn" also failed to meet their expectations: "Burn being a great song is one thing, but it's one of them things where people said, "It's strong, but can we make history with that?" At the end of the day, you want an event." KP recalled, "Everybody was scared to make that first step."
With much debate between two songs, "Burn" was originally chosen as the lead single, with plans of filming its music video in late 2003. Meanwhile, Lil Jon leaked "Yeah!" to DJs across the United States in November 2003.
Originally, the label did not intend "Yeah!" as a proper single. Released to street DJs and mixtapes, it was meant to cultivate fans who waited for three years since the release of 8701.
While record labels stayed idle during the Christmas season, "Yeah!" was getting favorable and quick response from radio stations though nobody was promoting; it was finally released as the lead single.
In order to keep the album atop the chart, "My Boo" was targeted for release after "Confessions Part II" was diminishing on the Hot 100. The B-side of the UK release includes "Red Light" and "Sweet Lies". The single again topped the Hot 100, giving the album its fourth consecutive number-one.
"Caught Up" was released as the album's fifth and final single, and reached number eight in the United States.
"Confessions" was commercially successful, selling nearly 1.096 million copies in the United States in its first week of release.
It became the highest-ever first week sales by an R&B artist, the second-highest first week sales for a male artist & the seventh-highest first week sales of the recorded album charts history by SoundScan at the time of its release. It also equates the combined first-week sales of his four previous album releases, including his live album called Live.
The feat also carved history in Arista records having the first in any of their released albums to reach such sales. The success of the thirty-year-old record label, however, was attributed to its merging with Zomba Records. As of March 2013 it has the tenth highest first week album sales in history.
The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, becoming Usher's first number-one album and it also hit number-one on the Canadian Albums Chart & the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
Its early and successive, progress on the chart was said to be partly sustained by its strong single releases and plenty of press appearances and promotions. With "Yeah!" propelling the album's debut atop the chart, "Burn", the second single off the album, facilitated the album's continuing dominance as well.
The first two released singles were competing on the Billboard Hot 100; the latter ended the twelve-week number-one chart run of the former.
As the album's third single, "Confessions Part II", was about to top the chart and Usher to join with English pop and rock group The Beatles as the only acts to achieve three consecutive number-one singles, American R&B singer Fantasia Barrino's debut single "I Believe" prevented it from happening. Despite this, Usher became the first artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay with three consecutive number-one singles.
"Burn" achieved only eight non-consecutive weeks on the Hot 100 after "Confessions Part II" topped the chart; it became Usher's second time to replace his own single at the top. "Yeah!" and "Burn" were 2004's top best-selling singles in the United States, placing at number one and two respectively on the Billboard Chart Year-Ender. Again, it honored Usher being the first act to achieve the feat since 1964 with the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You".
The album continued its dominance on the chart.
"D12 World" by D12 ended its five consecutive weeks run at the top spot; however, Confessions reclaimed the position the following week. The album spent a total 9 non-consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard 200, becoming the longest-running number one album of the millennium until 2009 when country singer Taylor Swift spent 11 weeks atop the charts with her album "Fearless."
Over one month after its release, the album was certified three-time platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for three million US shipments. IT topped the list of the most-shipped albums of 2004 in the United States. It was the second best-selling album of the 2000s decade in the US, behind Eminem's "The Marshall Mathers LP" album.
In July 2012, the album reached sales of 10 million copies in the US, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. To date, it has shipped 10.3 million copies in the US and has received a Diamond certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Usher supported the "Confessions" album with a two-month concert tour called "The Truth Tour". The tour set featured a small stage up on top of the main stage, where the band played with Usher and his supporting dancers left with enough room to perform.
The smaller stage had a mini platform attached to it (which lowered to the main stage—and had two big staircases on both sides of it).
To the left, a group of circular staircases climbed to the top, and to the right, there was a fire escape replete with steps and an elevator. Kanye West (who had finished his own headlining tour for his 2004 album "The College Dropout") was the opening act for "The Truth Tour".
Preceding Usher's entrance was a short movie showing him getting dressed, following on with him performing the opening song "Caught Up", with Usher dressed in all white. The second song performed was "You Make Me Wanna...", where two dancers stayed on the top stage with Usher while two male dancers came out to the lower level with two chairs each in their hands.
Each dancer threw one chair up to the top, with Usher already in hand with his own chair, with everyone following a set dance routine. Following this, Usher performed "U Remind Me", where he danced by himself during a breakdown of the track. He then sang "That's What It's Made For", following on with the song "Bad Girl", where Usher was dressed up in a lavender suit and came out in a chrome chair.
During the song, Usher picked out a female from the crowd, transitioning to "Superstar", singing to the fan. Usher continued singing to the fan, performing "Can U Handle It?", closing the song by kissing the fan who then left the stage. Usher closed his performance with Confessions' lead single "Yeah!".
"The Truth Tour" commenced on August 5, 2004 in Hampton, Virginia and concluded on October 7, 2004 in New York. It was ranked as one of the highest grossing tours of 2004, grossing $29.1 million.
"Confessions" received generally positive reviews from critics.
At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 71, based on 13 reviews.
From an artistic viewpoint, the album has been considered as Usher's best album to date, with writers calling it expansive and futuristic.
Matt Cibula of PopMatters wrote that it "might be the best English-language pop album of the year". Entertainment Weekly's Jem Aswad said that Usher "reveals his new-found maturity by opening with the grittiest song he's ever done."
Laura Checkoway of Vibe said that, "Though Confessions doesn't bring Usher all the way to the artistic maturity one might hope for, tracking this star's progression definitely has its satisfactions." Q magazine observed "addictive R&B hooks and all-dancin', all-lovin' subject matter boosted with hot production tweaks."
Amy Linden of The Village Voice commented that "Usher's (alleged) character flaws are easily forgiven, though, because he can sing his cheating ass off," and concluded, "Like 2002's big-selling but underrated 8701, Confessions is a top-of-the-line pop-soul showcase that ... manages to be commercially savvy without coming off as too desperate. Sorta like Usher himself."
Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times said that near the end, the songwriting "fails" Usher on a "heavily front-loaded" R&B album, but felt that his performance is solid throughout, writing:
"The pleasure of listening to Usher is the pleasure of listening to a singer who knows exactly what he's doing. 'Truth Hurts,' a seemingly innocent (if plaintive) 1970's throwback, turns nasty when the narrator suddenly reveals that the first two verses were full of lies. Which raises the question: are these supposed 'confessions' true? He loves toying with his audience this way, loves telling us exactly how bad he is, then daring us to believe him."
In a mixed review, Caroline Sullivan of The Guardian criticized its "production gloss" and said that, although Usher's "fluid delivery" redeems weak tracks, there are only two "great songs"—"Yeah!" and the title track—and "17 less so."
Rolling Stone writer Laura Sinagra said that he "is coming of age, again", but "still doesn't quite cut it as a horny roughneck". Jon Caramanica of Blender viewed that Usher's songwriting "isn't a strength, and his ballads often drown in their own inanity".
The Washington Post's Elizabeth Mendez Berry called Confessions "Usher's strongest recording to date" but found the more sexual songs mundane.
Robert Christgau from The Village Voice cited "Confessions Part II" and "Bad Girl" as "choice cuts", indicating "a good song on an album that isn't worth your time or money".
After Usher along with his label held a few listening parties for the album, controversies spread about the mistress-impregnating concept of "Confessions Part II". Although Usher did not foresee such reaction of the album, Dupri already inferred, while making the album, what would be their reaction: "People are gonna question [Usher] on a couple of little lyrics ..."
Coincidentally, Usher ended his relationship with Chilli early in 2004 and people were speculating about their breakup given the material of the album & his early interviews about its themes.
With lyrics Usher admitted to have written because of his guilty conscience, people assumed that he and Chilli broke up because he was unfaithful. In a February 2004 radio interview, Chilli claimed that Usher "cheated" on her which caused their relationship to split.
Amidst widespread rumors, Usher stated, "People assume things, because as I said, I pull from my personal experiences to make my music." He added that he loved Chilli, however, "... it just didn't work out. But cheating is not what caused the relationship to collide and crash ..."
Although "Burn" is a reference to his dying relationship with Chilli (hence the title), Usher answered the press that the impregnating issue was not taken from a specific situation in his life. He also revealed that his friends who went through similar situations inspired him to write those songs, saying: "... it's just something that I collectively got energy from everybody around me that had been through it."
In early 2006, Dupri revealed that the story behind the album is his: "... me cheating on my steady girlfriend, having a baby with that other woman and having to confess to everything that happened to my main girl."
"Confessions" earned Usher numerous accolades.
At the 47th Grammy Awards, he was nominated for eight categories and won three: Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal (for "My Boo") and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (for "Yeah!").
He won awards at the 2005 Soul Train Music Awards: R&B/Soul Album, Male (for Confessions); R&B/Soul Single, Male for ("Confessions Part II"); R&B/Soul Single, Group, Band or Duo (for "My Boo"); and R&B/Soul or Rap Dance Cut (for "Yeah!"). At the 2004 American Music Awards, he won four, including Favorite Soul/R&B Album and Favorite Male Soul/R&B Artist.
At the 2004 Billboard Music Awards, Usher racked up eleven awards, including Artist of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, and Hot 100 Song of the Year for "Yeah!". In December 2009, it was ranked as the best solo album and second best overall album of the 2000–2009 decade.
The album's singles Yeah!, Burn, and My Boo were all ranked as some of the best songs of the 2000–2009 decade, respectively placing in order at number two, number 21, and number 36.
With sales of more than eight million in 2004, "Confessions" was the most-shipped album of the year in the US.
Along with the success of singer Norah Jones's second album "Feels like Home" as well as breakthroughs albums by many new and old artists, it was seen as a sign that US record sales were slowly recovering after three straight years of decline due to competing DVDs and video games and the prevalent music piracy.
By the end of 2004, the industry had sold 667 million albums, an increase of about 1.6 percent, as recorded by Nielsen SoundScan. Compared with sales records in 2003, the figures showed eight percent increase.
The album's success also exemplified urban music's commercial dominance during the early 2000s, which featured massive crossover success on the Billboard charts by R&B and hip hop artists.
In 2004, all 12 songs that topped the Billboard Hot 100 were African-American recording artists and accounted for 80% of the number-one R&B hits that year.
Along with Usher's streak of singles, Top 40 radio and both pop & R&B charts were topped by OutKast's "Hey Ya!", Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot", Terror Squad's "Lean Back", and Ciara's "Goodies". Chris Molanphy of The Village Voice later remarked that "by the early 2000s, urban music was pop music."
In a year-end article for The New York Times, writer Ben Sisario dubbed 2004 "the year of Usher". The success of the album put Usher in the mainstream, becoming the biggest artist of 2004. Others also said that Usher might be the successor of Michael Jackson. Uproxx says Confessions “has gone on to establish itself as one of the landmark albums in pop culture”, describing it as “an irreplaceable pillar in R&B lore”.
According to Vibe magazine, the album is credited for having "birthed" many contemporary albums such as Adele's 21, Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream, Drake’s So Far Gone, Omarion’s O, Jason Derulo’s self-titled debut and others.
Bryan-Michael Cox (who co-wrote and co-produced "Burn") earned credibility in the music industry for his role in the album.
Cox had been producing records for several notable American artists, including Alicia Keys, B2K, Mariah Carey and Destiny's Child, among others, but he considered "Burn" as his crowning moment, which earned him two Grammy Award nominations.
With 2004 deemed to be his introduction to a larger, more mainstream audience, Cox stated in an interview for MTV that many people were starting to recount what he had done.
- Darcy Aldridge – vocals (background)
- Bobby Ross Avila – guitar, piano, scratching, strings, keyboards, vocals (background), producer, drum programming, Wurlitzer, Moog Taurus
- Dante "Destro" Barton – producer, engineer
- Jason Boyd – vocal producer
- Valdez Brantley – producer
- Bryan-Michael Cox – producer
- Larry Cox – keyboards
- Ian Cross – engineer
- Kevin "KD" Davis – engineer
- Vidal Davis – producer, mixing
- Jermaine Dupri – producer, mixing
- E Bass – guitar
- Brian Frye – engineer
- John Frye – mixing
- Richard Furch – mixing
- Sandy Garrett – vocals (background), vocal producer
- Serban Ghenea– mixing
- Andre Harris – producer, mixing
- Rich Harrison – producer, instrumentation
- Delicia Hassan – production coordination
- Eddie Holland – composer
- John Horesco IV – engineer, assistant
- Iz – bass, guitar, percussion, scratching, drums, keyboards, producer, Moog Taurus
- Jimmy Jam – producer, Fender Rhodes
- LaMarquis Mark Jefferson – bass
- Darrale Jones – A&R
- Just Blaze – producer
- L-Roc – keyboards
- James Lackey – producer
- Ken Lewis – guitar, engineer, mixing
- Terry Lewis – producer
- Anthony Mandler – photography
- Matt Marrin – engineer
- Manny Marroquin – mixing
- Tony Maserati – mixing
- Tadd Mingo – assistant
- Johnny "Natural" Najara – producer
- Paula Patton – vocals (background)
- Mark Pitts – A&R
- Herb Powers – mastering
- Usher Raymond – vocals (background), producer, executive producer
- Tim Roberts – assistant
- Donnie Scantz – engineer
- Jon Smeltz – mixing
- Jan Smith – vocal producer, vocal coach
- Jonathon "Lil' Jon" Smith – vocals (background), producer, mixing
- Aaron Spears – producer
- Patrice "ButtaPhly" Stewart – vocals (background)
- Arthur "Buddy" Strong – producer
- Phil Tan – mixing
- Robin Thicke – producer, instrumentation
- Ryan Toby – vocal producer
- The Trak Starz – engineer
- Mark Vinten – engineer
- D.L. Warfield – design, layout design
- Ryan West – engineer
- Ghian Wright – assistant
- James "Big Jim" Wright – bass, producer, Wurlitzer