Usher talks 'OMG' tour, filling Michael Jackson's shoes and why he won't perform forever
“That’s the whole point. You know, with an incredible record, I wanted to also leave a great impression. Live performance has always been my thing. It’s my purpose to master and capture the moment every time I have you connected,” the 32-year-old says of his tour, which hits Staples Center on Thursday.
“I wanted to make sure [the show] was state of the art. I wanted to make sure that in comparison to the other shows that are going on around the world, you get the type of experience that leaves you saying, ‘OMG.’ ”
The "OMG" tour, aptly titled after the will.i.am-produced smash from this year’s “Raymond v. Raymond,” marks the Atlanta native's (born Usher Raymond IV) return to arenas, his first big-budget spectacle since 2004’s “Truth Tour.” The trek supports the platinum-selling disc, which followed a bitter public divorce and launching of his protégé, pop phenom Justin Bieber, as well as the recently released companion EP “Versus.” Both discs were seen as critical comebacks after the lukewarm reception of 2008’s “Here I Stand.”
Raymond, always the consummate performer, said he was looking to up the ante with this tour. And judging from Pop & Hiss’ glimpse at his Anaheim show Sunday, he has. The futuristic-themed high concept show is heavy on the theatrics. Between hovering atop a platform suspended 50 feet above the audience, high-flying acrobatics and, of course, impressive footwork, he pulls off quite a show.
For much of his nearly 16-year career, he’s appeared to be groomed as the successor to Michael Jackson, especially since Jackson's death. Raymond isn't facing much competition for the title; Chris Brown is still trying to repair his damaged image, and Justin Timberlake has become a viable movie star.
The show confirms that not only does Raymond believe he’s inherited the crown, but also that he’s a worthy heir to Jackson’s glitter-studded shoes -– the latter of which he literally fills during one point in the show when a sparkling black pair of high-top sneakers mysteriously appear onstage. After announcing to the audience that “when I put these things on, I just ... turn into a ... animal,” he launchess into a moonwalk, almost conjuring Jackson's ghost.
“You know, we lost Michael Jackson. A lot of pressure is on me, and I don’t mind taking it,” he said later. “The overarching impression that I’d like to leave is that, you know, this guy is really stepping it up to a level where people can hopefully compare him to people like [Jackson], and great entertainers of the past.”
Though the tour does offer a startling number of visual nods to “This Is It,” Jackson’s would-be last hurrah, Raymond isn’t so sure he wants to tour as he ages, having told the New York Times earlier this year: “Hopefully, at 40, I won’t have to be on the stage.”
“I’ll be able to still do that until I’m 50,” he clarified. “I’m seasoned, baby. [But] I would never want to feel as though that’s my only option. So, at 50, I hope that all the business that I’ve built allows me to go and hit the stage at my discretion, of course still wanting to. You know, you look at the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones and AC/DC … ABBA, they’ve been touring forever, right?”
Though he might not be aware that a few of those aforementioned groups have long given up on touring, he points to the grueling wear and tear of touring as the main motivation to walk away from it eventually.
“I give it all. I leave it on the stage. I give you the energy. I basically tear myself apart emotionally, energetically,” he said. “I mean, I’m breaking my back every night. I can’t tell you everything, but I will tell you that it is definitely an extremely physical show, and my body is taking a beating on a nightly basis. At 50, I don’t plan on continuing to do that.”
Usher, with Miguel and Trey Songz, at Staples Center; 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $29.50-$125, not including surcharges.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photos: (Top) Usher. Credit: Gero Breloer / Associated Press
(Bottom) Usher performs during the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards at the Nokia Theatre in September. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images