Usher believes being a father does not mean his sex symbol status has to take a backseat.
The American R&B singer’s sex appeal is undeniably a big part of his music career. Think Usher and his numerous sensuous, love jams immediately come to mind.
Who can forget 2004’s iconic Confessions Pt II, for instance, which saw him delivering a smooth apology to his lover, complete with sultry dance moves, and of course, those washboard abs on full-display?
The 37-year-old artiste who now has two sons, eight-year-old Usher Raymond V, and seven-year-old Naviyd Ely Raymond, shares in an interview his thoughts on being both a sex symbol and a father.
“This is who I am. If you choose to look at me and you see a sex symbol in what it is that I do, then so be it,” says the soft-spoken Usher, clad in an all-black ensemble.
“I’ve never tried to be anything other than myself, and if being a sex symbol came as a result of being the person I’ve been, then I will continue to be the person that I am. I just so happen to have kids.”
The Texas-born star was fielding questions at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur ahead of his performance at the after-race concert for the 2016 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix on Oct 2.
But being sexy these days for the Yeah! hitmaker doesn’t necessarily mean baring his skin.
“I’m a philantrophist. I care about the world I live in. I care about making the world a better place for other people who may not be successful or have someone advocating for them and their growth. I think that’s sexy. I think that makes you a sexy person,” adds Usher who started the youth-mentoring organisation, Usher’s New Look Foundation.
Asked if his sons have seen any of his steamy music videos and what they thought of them, the singer responds: “It really bothered them that I did a song called Good Kisser because in their mind, the idea of kissing people is a bad thing.
“They were like, ‘Do you go all around the world and kiss all those girls?’ At one point, they didn’t want me to kiss them, you know like when you kiss your kids on the cheek and they wipe it off like ‘Ugh,’” he recalls with a laugh. He adds being open and talking to his children about it helps.
Usher also makes sure his music is expletives-free when his boys listen to it: “I’m not going to say that every song that I sing is 100% appropriate for my kids to listen to, but I don’t blast the dirty version of it. I have a clean version if they want to listen to it.”
Speaking of music, the singer just released his eighth studio album Hard II Love recently. While there’s more of the Usher that fans have come to know and love, his new material also sees him embracing the new trend sweeping R&B today which features sparser instrumentation and sombre moods.
“It was a creative choice to take on a more sparse approach … Now people are more into the words and the melody and I wanted to put the focus on the voice more than anything,” says Usher, who begun his music career at 14 after his stint on singing programme, Star Search, caught the attention of renowned music executive L.A. Reid.
“I was able to create fusions, taking R&B classic tones and mixing them with more modern ideas. I’m always trying to consider all of the fans that I’ve picked up along the way – the ones who have been there from the beginning and the ones who have now become a part of the journey.”
One of the tracks on the new album, Stronger, is deeply personal. In 2012, Usher lost his 11-year-old stepson Kile Glover during a jet skiing accident and later, his grandmother passed away. Usher co-wrote the inspirational number about going through that trying time.
“You never really overcome the loss of someone. At some point, you have to reflect, look at yourself and think about all of the positive moments you’ve had and how they would want you to move forward,” says the singer, his eyes closed.
“I don’t think that Kile or my grandmother would want me to live in sorrow but would want me to celebrate the times that I’ve had with them, and the fact that that loss could make me stronger, that would be a positive on their part.”
Besides working on songs for his new album in the past few years, Usher has been collaborating on tracks with other artistes such as Malaysia’s songbird Yuna. He talks about having a Crush on the Kedah-born singer’s artistry.
“I really wanted to work with her the moment I heard her sing on Coffee. There was something about her tone and the manoeuvre she made through it, the fact that she understood how to articulate herself and the runs she would choose that were so unique,” he says about signing on to the duet.
“When I received Crush, I was a bit thrown off because I thought she would send me more of the stuff I had heard, but I loved the song,” he recalls.
Usher went on gushing about Yuna, saying she is more than just a singer: “In addition to being a great singer, she understands how to fit the song to the person she’s working with, which lets me know there’s a huge amount of talent and creativity inside of her.”
So impressed was the R&B superstar that he even has plans to work with Yuna again.
“I want to continue to work with her. She could produce me and also work along with me. There is this open dialogue now between us.
“She’ll share with me her idea, I’ll tell her what it is that I’m looking for and she’ll send me a song, it’s really cool. This won’t be the last time we’re working together.”