Welcome to the inaugural edition of TGS’s Video Breakdown Series, where I take a look at the music videos of some of our favorite artists and point out the awesome, the absurd, and the inexplicable. To kick things off, we’re taking look at Usher’s breakthrough track about longing for a new love, “You Make Me Wanna…”.
Usher released a self-titled album in 1994, but his sophomore effort, “My Way”, three years later catapulted him into the mainstream, selling over 7 million copies worldwide. Leading off “My Way” is the mid-tempo banger, “You Make Me Wanna…”. Only 19 at the time of this song’s release, the first word that comes to mind with this video is ‘confidence’. Usher has it in spades here. Look at how nonchalantly he strums the first guitar chord of the song:
Oh wow. The brilliance is so effortless it’s easy to miss. Let’s go frame by frame.
To truly understand an artist, you have to get inside their head. This is a more difficult task to complete for some, but fortunately for us, Usher isn’t concerned with hiding his agenda. His agenda is, he wants his damn song to start. But how to start it? If only…wait, is that a guitar over there? Just waiting for the perfect late 90s R&B singer to strum it?
Why yes. This was meant to be. Now, history has given us plenty of phenomenal guitar players. But how many of those guitar players had or have the ability to start off one of our classic jams with ONE. FINGER?
Is “casual genius” a common phrase in our lexicon? It should be. Remember the guitar motif; you will see it again in this video.
Next, Usher gives a bit of a mis-direct. The great ones know how to create a certain expectation and then immediately pull the rug out from under us. We get the basic choreography introduction, with Usher and four dudes behind him in zip-up track suits giving us some athletic synchronized moves:
Pretty standard stuff for a performer of Usher’s caliber. But here’s when things get crazy. Prepare yourself for this. We cut to him strolling in with the aforementioned guitar:
And then the moment where you realize you’re witnessing greatness:
Stop everything. What we thought we were getting is not what we are getting. We have the typical background dancers, but we also have…MULTIPLE USHERS. You see, sometimes Usher wants background dancers. He doesn’t NEED them, but they’re nice to have for a rainy day. But other times, the choreography can be only be performed by the person is was meant for. Sometimes, in order to get the best results, the job can only be done by the best. Remember peak Miami LeBron, when he could both play and guard all five positions at the highest level? And you would watch him and think, “Man, the perfect NBA starting lineup would just be five LeBrons.” That’s what’s happening here. Except with more gliding:
Lots and lots of gliding. And popping.:
One last time, because the gliding here is just too good to gloss over:
If you’ll notice, Usher is back with the back his background dancers who aren’t Usher in this clip. And what is Mr. Faux Chicago Bulls Breakaway Track Outfit clutching like Thor’s hammer?
Never forget the guitar kids. Never, ever forget it.
We need to jump ahead now, because something truly magical happens when Usher and Usher and Usher do some three-man choreography mid video. All joking aside, this is a really cool moment. There are three chairs in the middle of the room, with each Usher doing some synchronized moves. Then towards the end of this particular section, a slight head jerk in rapid succession:
For 1997, this is pretty seamless and functional editing. It’s one of the rare “effects” videos from this time period that doesn’t overwhelm the video and still holds up today. Very well done.
As we continue, let’s discuss Usher’s wardrobe choice. Frankly, there isn’t a misstep anywhere. We have the perfectly fitted do-rag:
Ok wait I lied, this next one may actually be a misstep. I can let the medallion slide, but the arm sweatband/tiny hat combination throws me. I can’t tell if he needs teammates to play 4 on 4 or if he’s late to horseback riding lessons. It’s confusing, but Usher has already done so much right in this video that I’m willing to look past this.
Finally, we have the orange silk shirt, matched with Usher crouching inside a huge orange background. I’d kind of like to put a giant orange TV in there where I can just watch this video on a loop whenever I want. At Usher’s side, of course, is his trusty guitar.
I once read an article that claimed that the person responsible for bringing this guitar to set every day was paid a total of $117,000 for a four-day shoot. It was his only job, and he was almost fired for asking what else he could do to help, since he mostly sat around for 7 hours each day. I didn’t actually read that but it’s more likely to be true than false.
Whoa wait a minute—blink and you’ll miss it! We have a Jermaine Dupri sighting!
That’s right, it’s Mr. So So Def himself, continuing the 90’s trend of producers cameoing (or in Puffy’s case, co-headlining) in the videos of their artists. Dupri is a producing legend who worked with acts like TLC, Mariah Carey, and the greatest elementary school rap duo in history, Kris Kross. Dupri produced the majority of “My Way”, and the greatness of that album necessitates at least a few seconds of public celebration. Give it to ’em J.D.:
Well deserved. And now we build to the bridge of the song, and Usher knows it’s time to bring it home. We get a little James Brown-esque spin and drop:
We get three Ushers looking pensive, and WE GET THE GUITAR:
And we get Usher’s background dancers pantsing themselves, while Usher gives us the head fake, then politely declines to expose himself:
What statement is being made here? Is it, “We can’t believe we wasted our talents for you peasants, you unworthy children. We gave you gliding, popping, some locking, multiple Ushers. Do you appreciate what just happened here? Of course you don’t. We leave our Reeboks in disgust. Good day to you all.” Or is it, “Man, that was some of our best work. We really want to inspire everyone to live their best lives, be their best selves. Here are our shoes; a gift to you all. Use them wisely.” The world may never know. As with the work of every great artist, we can only speculate, and analyze. This video is way deeper than I realized. Thank you, Usher, for giving us this piece of art. And remember everyone—protect your guitars at all costs.
- Didn’t have time to get into the recurring goldfish. What is their role? Don’t worry, if you liked this piece I’ve already got 3,000 words in the can on how the goldfish represent the origins of trap music, ready to be published at a later date.
- In life, a person can only hope to one day be as happy as Jermaine Dupri at the end of this video (hits the dab):