The Number Ones

May 15, 2010

The Number Ones: Usher’s “OMG” (Feat.

Stayed at #1:

4 Weeks

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present. Book Bonus Beat: The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music.

You probably already know the story about Usher and T-Pain. T-Pain told the tale on the Netflix show This Is Pop in 2021, and I got into it in the column on T-Pain’s “Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’).” To briefly summarize: In 2013, Usher and T-Pain were both on a flight to Los Angeles for the BET Awards, and Usher cornered T-Pain to tell him that he had “really fucked up music for real singers.” T-Pain was flabbergasted, and the conversation sent him into a depressive tailspin.

Usher is the clear asshole in this story, but when I look at it from his perspective, I understand. It’s not that T-Pain’s brazen use of Auto-Tune really bothered Usher. It’s that Usher suddenly found himself in a world where the music that made him a megastar, the smooth rap-flavored R&B of his blockbuster Confessions, was no longer commercially dominant. Instead, Usher had to keep himself relevant by making garbage-ass dance-pop. In 2013, Usher was three years removed from “OMG,” his last #1 hit. If I’d recorded “OMG,” I’d be looking to blame someone else, too.

As far as I know, T-Pain did not hold a gun to Usher’s head and force him to record “OMG.” I would instead venture a guess that Usher was speaking from a place of bruised ego on that plane. His whole “OMG” experience must’ve been so humiliating. The single is a textbook example of a fading star chasing another hit by aping the hot sounds of the time. In the moment of peak EDM, Usher found himself adrift. Usher could’ve made a great dance song. He did make a few great dance songs. Some of them were hits. But on his biggest post-peak track, Usher turned to the dark side. He went straight to

The math all checks out. Usher needed a hit, and nobody was making bigger hits than In 2008, Usher finally released Here I Stand, his follow-up to the insanely successful Confessions. Confessions was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment, and Usher never could’ve equaled its impact. In the years after that album, Usher married his former stylist Tameka Foster, and Here I Stand was his attempt to present himself as a grown, mature R&B artist. It didn’t work. People didn’t want to hear that from Usher. The album’s most immature song, the horny and trap-flavored Young Jeezy collab “Love In This Club,” reached #1 for a few weeks, but Here I Stand drastically underperformed expectations, selling about one tenth of what Confessions had moved.

Usher and Tameka Foster divorced in 2009, and Usher moved to Las Vegas to work on his next album. Usher also rehired his mother as his manager. Rumor had it that Usher’s mother didn’t like Foster, that Usher had fired his mother because they couldn’t get along. When the marriage ended, he brought her back to help him return to his hitmaking prime. After the failure of Here I Stand, Usher wanted to go back to what he’d done with Confessions. He wanted to make music that was personal but universal, and he wanted to sing lyrics that were confident and vulnerable at the same time. It was a tall order.

On most of Confessions, Usher locked in with a small group of collaborators, led by super-producer Jermaine Dupri. Usher’s 2010 album Raymond V. Raymond — get it, it’s like Kramer Vs. Kramer but with Usher — is a patchwork of different styles. Usher recorded tracks with Jermaine Dupri and with the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, but he also worked with all the producers who were hot at the time: Polow Da Don, Jim Jonsin, the Runners, Danja, Bangladesh, Zaytoven. Some of the songs are great, but there’s no central idea, no unifying feeling.

Usher’s rebuilding project started with “Papers,” the inevitable divorce song that came out five months before Raymond V. Raymond: “I done damn near lost my mama, I done been through so much drama/ I done turned into the man that I never thought I’d be/ I’m ready to sign them papers.” Usher had to address his own story before he could get back to the business of making hits, and “Papers” was the necessary step. Usher never officially released “Papers” as a single, and he never made a video for the track, though I bet he was hoping it would take off the way that “Confessions Part II” had done. Even without that push, though, “Papers” made it to #31 on the Hot 100.

Usher really tried to reassert his dominance with the vaguely creepy midtempo sex song “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home).” That one got the big-budget video and the remixes from rappers like Plies and Jadakiss. Usher sounds smooth and controlled on the track, but it’s just not a very good song. Usher couldn’t recapture his Confessions-era swagger at will, and by repeatedly calling himself “daddy,” he might’ve just added to the impression that he was getting old. (Usher was just 31, but he’d already been famous for half his life.) After a few false starts on the Hot 100, “Daddy’s Home” ultimately peaked at #24.

I really thought Usher had something with “Lil Freak,” his next single. The Polow Da Don beat is vast and cinematic, built around chopped-up Stevie Wonder synth-strings. It’s a proudly nasty song, all about asking a girl to bring another girl to bed, and on-fire guest-rapper Nicki Minaj brings her full weirdo charisma to her verse. She’d probably been waiting years to yell “everybody loves Raymond” on an Usher song. (Nicki will eventually appear in this column.) But “Lil Freak” fell flatter than “Hey Daddy (Daddy’s Home),” only reaching #40.

Maybe “OMG” was Usher’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency contingency plan. Usher had already worked with on the forgettable Here I Stand deep cut “What’s Your Name.” isn’t just the guest-rapper on “OMG,” and he isn’t just the producer, either. Instead, wrote the entire song. Given the way the Black Eyed Peas held the pop charts in a chokehold for all of 2009, it probably made sense to turn to, but someone should’ve really stepped in before letting him wrote all the lyrics. By that point, had a long history of writing deeply terrible lyrics, and someone should’ve known better than to allow Usher to sing about how honey got some boobies like wow oh wow.

I would not be remotely surprised to learn that “OMG” started its life as a rejected Black Eyed Peas track. The track is exactly the sort of throbbing stadium-electro that brought’s group so much chart success. It has a melody, but it doesn’t have much of one. sing-raps on the track, and it’s not always immediately obvious which voice is which. Given the vast gulf in singing talent between Usher and, that’s not ideal. But the two voices on “OMG” aren’t the focal point. Instead, the beat dominates everything.

At the beginning of “OMG,” samples his own “let the beat rock” line from “Boom Boom Pow.” The beat itself is full of swollen trance keyboards and house-music kick-snare patterns. It’s built with dancing in mind, but it’s curiously thin and inert. The loudest part of the beat is a crowd’s whoa-oh-oh chant. That part is probably sampled from the Deep Purple in-concert album Live At The Olympia ’96; it’s the crowd getting hype at the end of a long rendition of “Speed King.” (Deep Purple’s two highest-charting singles, 1968’s “Hush” and 1973’s “Smoke On The Water,” both peaked at #4. “Hush” is a 9, and “Smoke On The Water” is an 8.) But you can’t turn a track into a stadium anthem just by putting some stadium-style chanting on it.

Maybe “OMG” is supposed to evoke the same heightened feeling that Usher brought to “Yeah!” six years earlier. Once again, Usher is in the club, on the prowl, driven to distraction by a beautiful woman. But “OMG” has none of that song’s panache. There’s no emotional intensity, no hint that Usher’s attraction might cause him to do something that he’ll later regret. Instead, the “OMG” lyrics are just unspeakably stupid.

On “OMG,” Usher describes this lady in the most infantile terms possible: “Honey got a booty like pow pow pow/ Honey got some boobies like wow oh wow.” She’s got him drunk, drunk off her humps. When “OMG” came out, a few people noticed that this part, in both lyrics and melody, sounded a whole lot like a Christmas song that Homer made up in a 2003 episode of The Simpsons: “Christmas in December, wow wow wow/ Give me tons of presents now now now.” That’s probably a coincidence, but that Homer song is supposed to be dumber than dirt. It’s not supposed to be the stuff that #1 hits are made of. (Later in the episode, Homer writes a Ned Flanders diss track that is supposed to be the stuff that #1 hits are made of; maybe should’ve ripped off that song instead.)

The “boobies like wow oh wow” line is the bit from “OMG” that everyone clowned, but every other line on the track is just as bad. Consider the pre-chorus: “Baby, let me love you down/ There’s so many ways to love you.” My eyes glazed over just typing that. There’s also so many words you could use there instead of just spamming “love” over and over. On his heavily Auto-Tuned pseudo-rap verse, rhymes “my oh my” with “fly, so fly” and then “my oh my” again. Even the title is fucked up. By 2010, everyone on the planet knew that “OMG” stood for “oh my god,” but Usher subs in “oh my gosh” instead. Why? Is it a religious thing? Does Usher not want to take the Lord’s name in vain? Because any deity worthy of your devotion would be way madder about the boobies line.

Nobody involved with “OMG” was trying to make a classic. It’s clearly just a song for the clubs, made by people who had already made much, much better songs for the clubs. I can’t get too offended at the existence of “OMG,” but its popularity really does dance music a disservice. A great dance song can be a beautiful, liberating thing, but that’s not “OMG.” Usher sleepwalks through the entire track, never even putting any mustard on the melody. He’s got no chemistry with, and he comes off like he’s dissociating in the studio. Maybe Usher was already planning what he’d say to T-Pain when he was laying down his “OMG” vocals. Usher doesn’t even do any particularly memorable dance moves in the “OMG” video; my one takeaway from that clip is’s attempt to bring back Hammerpants.

Despite its vast and overwhelming shoddiness, “OMG” turned out to be the hit that Usher needed. Somehow, the combination of Usher’s starpower an the fumes of the Black Eyed Peas’ hot streak pushed “OMG” to #1 for a couple of weeks. Maybe radio programmers figured that they could break up their blocks of Black Eyed Peas tracks with this, a song that might as well have been a Black Eyed Peas track. But “OMG” didn’t really help Usher’s commercial fortunes. His follow-up “There Goes My Baby” is a great song, but it only reached #25. Raymond V. Raymond went platinum once, which was exactly what Here I Stand had done a couple of years earlier.

A few months later, Usher released Versus, the EP that was supposed to be the Raymond V. Raymond version of The Fame Monster. That EP’s lead single showed just how good an Usher EDM track could be. Max Martin and Shellback produced “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love,” which has the same basic club-lust lyrical idea as “OMG” but which is so much better that it boggles the mind. The production on “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” is pure cheese, with its Euro-house keyboards and its big bass-drum thump, but its melodies are mathematical marvels.

The other night, I got high and listened to “OMG,” which was an extremely unpleasant experience. Then I put on “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love,” and I was enthralled. It’s one of those tracks were you realize during the second chorus that you’re about to get to the bridge and that the bridge is going to blow your mind. Then the bridge actually arrives, and bam! It’s Pitbull verse! Perfect! His life’s a movie, and you just TiVo! Dale! (“DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love” peaked at #4. It’s a 9. Pitbull will eventually appear in this column. I can’t wait.)

Usher’s Versus EP also had “Hot Tottie,” a Polow Da Don track with a Jay-Z guest-verse. I liked that song, too, but it never got a video, and it peaked at #21. So Usher kept going with the dance-pop thing for a little while. At the VMAs, Usher performed a medley of “OMG” and “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love.” When the Black Eyed Peas did the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2011, Usher rappelled onto the stage and gamely lip-synched “OMG.” In the best moment of the entire Halftime Show, Usher jumped over and landed in a split. It’s a crime that Usher has never gotten his own Halftime Show.

“OMG” came out at the last moment that someone could just buy a track and land a guaranteed hit. Before that Black Eyed Peas boom period, Will had released three solo albums, and none of them had gone anywhere. In 2013, he came out with #willpower, and that one didn’t go anywhere, either. In 2012, Will made it to #3 with the Britney Spears collab “Scream & Shout.” (It’s a 4.) That was’s last major hit. He’s been doing pretty well with the Black Eyed Peas lately, but as a solo artist, Will hasn’t been on the Hot 100 since 2014. That’s when he teamed up with Jimmy Fallon for “Ew!,” a novelty song that peaked at #26. Don’t look it up. It’s bad.

In 2012, Usher followed Raymond V. Raymond with a really good album called Looking 4 Myself. Its lead single is a straight-up masterpiece that stands as one of Usher’s best works. On “Climax,” Usher worked with producers Diplo and Ariel Rechtshaid, figuring out sharp new ways to combine pulsing club music with classic soul balladry in ways that enhanced both of them. Usher sang the absolute shit out of that song, too; his falsetto never sounded better. Critics like me loved “Climax,” but the song was only a moderate hit, peaking at #17.

Usher had more success with next single “Scream,” another Max Martin/Shellback club track. That song made it to #9, and it’s Usher’s last top-10 hit. (It’s a 6.) Usher was already starting to embrace his legacy-artist status. He’d already introduced the world to Justin Bieber, an artist who will appear in this column a bunch of times. (Now that I think of it, the initial burst of excitement around Bieber might’ve helped propel the chart success of “OMG.”) New Usher records kept coming, but they were less frequent and less focused on potential crossover hits.

These days, Usher mostly seems like he’s having fun as a beloved celebrity, a figure who played a big role in a lot of people’s childhoods. Usher spent a few seasons as a coach on The Voice. ( has been on The Voice, too, but he’s been on the UK and Australia versions of the show.) Usher made it to #11 with the Juicy J collab “I Don’t Mind” in 2014, but he didn’t really try to capitalize on that success. He and Zaytoven released a pretty good collaborative album called A in 2018. Usher had a great cameo as himself in the 2019 movie Hustlers and an even better cameo as himself in the 2016 movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. He got married and divorced again, and he had a few more kids.

The last time Usher appeared on the Hot 100, it was when he guested on Summer Walker’s “Come Thru,” which was built on a sample of his own 1997 hit “You Make Me Wanna…” That’s a pretty good sign that Usher has become a nostalgic touchstone, and he seems to be embracing that role. (“You Make Me Wanna…” peaked at #2. It’s an 8. “Come Thru” peaked at #42. Good song.) Over the past few years, Usher has headlined a bunch of nostalgic rap and R&B festivals. He re-teamed with “Yeah!” collaborators Lil Jon and Ludacris for the 2020 single “SexBeat.” Last year, Usher did a mega-viral Tiny Desk Concert, which reminded people of just how much fun it is to watch this guy sing.

Ever since 2021, Usher has regularly been playing Las Vegas. The Vegas residency is the refuge of the washed-up star, but Usher doesn’t treat it like that. Instead, Usher has used all of his resources to turn his Vegas shows into glamorous affairs. Celebrities — LeBron James, Diddy, Queen Latifah, 21 Savage — come out to Usher shows, and he makes a big show out of doing fun, crowdpleasing routines with them. The video clips are always worth watching.

When “OMG” reached #1 Usher joined the short list of artists who have topped the Hot 100 in three different decades. That chart feat, like so many others, is all smoke and mirrors; Usher’s string of #1 hits really only lasted about 12 years. That’s still enough for a hall-of-fame career. More than a decade after that reign ended, Usher’s starpower remains dazzling. It’s just a shame that he had to go out on such a piece-of-shit song. That’s not T-Pain’s fault. It’s not even’s fault. Usher’s the one with his name on “OMG,” and that means he’s the one to blame.

GRADE: 2/10

We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

BONUS BEATS: In 2013, I saw the Afghan Whigs headline the FADER Fort at SXSW. I like the Afghan Whigs, but I was mostly at the show because the FADER Fort always used to have big surprise-guest moments at the end of the night. That night, the big rumor was that Frank Ocean would perform with the Whigs. It didn’t happen. Instead, I got the behold the strangely compelling spectacle of Usher and the Afghan Whigs playing together. Here’s Usher and the Whigs’ bluesy take on “OMG,” which is way better than the real one:

Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli talked about that Fader Fort performance in a Stereogum interview last year.

BONUS BONUS BEATS: In another unexpected instance of Usher doing “OMG” with a respected band, here’s video of Ursh and the Roots doing fired-up, horn-infused version of the song during a surprise 2016 performance at the Brooklyn Bowl:

(The Roots’ highest-charting single, 1997’s “What They Do,” peaked at #34.)

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out now via Hachette Books. Honey, buy some bookies like wow oh wow.

more from The Number Ones

Please disable your adblocker or subscribe to ad-free membership to view this article.

Already disabled it? Click here to refresh.