Home Music Music Lists

The 25 Best Usher Songs

Three decades of hits from an R&B icon



Usher has notched over 50 appearances on the Billboard Hot 100 since “Thinking Of You,” off his self-titled 1994 debut, first charted. Those songs represent an ongoing temperature-check for the moods and styles of contemporary pop, from the guitar-flecked quiet storm of “Slow Jam” to the breezy Afrobeats of this week’s “Ruin.” It helps, of course, that throughout that timespan he did more than chase trends, arranging each of his albums around coherent themes and refusing to treat even deep-album cuts as anything less than essential. (Seriously: find the dud track on Confessions.)

Credit his voice, which simpers and emotes with fresh hurt when necessary but can punch as hard as a Max Martin beat when the chorus hits. Credit the dance moves, which hold their own alongside royalty like Beyonce and Michael Jackson. But mostly, credit his ear — the ability to find his pocket and stay contemporary over three decades of wildly fast-moving pop music. To celebrate his upcoming Super Bowl performance, here’s our ranking of his 25 best songs.


‘Lovers And Friends,’ Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz feat. Usher and Ludacris (2004)

Released at the tail end of 2004, “Lovers And Friends” is a jagged, opportunistic attempt to recapture the magic of “Yeah!” — and it slaps. Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris maybe should’ve formed a supergroup, so neatly does their tripartite charisma translate to this satiny lift of an underheard ‘90s ballad. Still, this is resolutely Usher territory: hurt, sexy, and smooth.–C.P.


‘U Got It Bad’ (2001)

A pitch-perfect slice of Usher-style melancholia: an infatuation all-consuming, a scab you can’t stop picking, a phone call you can’t stop checking for. Jermaine Dupri sets the melodrama between hard-edged snare cracks and guitars so lush they could’ve been pulled from Vespertine.–C.P.


‘Love in This Club’ (2008)

Coming off of a four-year hiatus from his Confessions LP, “Love In This Club” provided fans with a new twist on the term “club banger” in only a way Usher can. Catchy synths, an undeniable hook, and a spirited rap verse from Jeezy made this hit a true ‘welcome back’ moment.–J.J.


‘Nice & Slow’ (1997)

Usher’s first No. 1 hit is also the track that set him apart as one of the foremost rising acts in contemporary R&B during the late-Nineties. Thanks to his beyond-his-years vocal execution and the song’s sonic sensuality, it was clear that the future of R&B would be in capable hands heading into the new millennium.–J.J.


‘Throwback’ feat. Jadakiss (2004)

Circa 2004 there were few producers more reliable in hip-hop than Just Blaze, who laced Dionne Warwick’s “You’re Gonna Need Me” with his signature bombast to tee up one of Usher’s best-ever nods to rap radio. The singer finds all sorts of pockets in which to plead his case to an ex-lover, practically dueting with Warwick. (Jadakiss, who passed on the track initially, retrofitted it with a gravelly kiss-off for later editions.)–C.P.


‘My Boo,’ with Alicia Keys (2004)

Usher and Alicia Keys were unquestionably the early 2000s biggest R&B stars, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that their collaboration topped the charts for 28 weeks in 2004. However, given the legacy of the Grammy-winning track—between its hip-hop tinged production, agelessly romantic lyrics and stunning music video—its chart success is merely a footnote.–J.J.


‘Superstar’ (2004)

A fundamentally audacious concept: That Usher Raymond, at the apex of his popularity, midway through one of the most popular albums ever released, would flip the script and instead pledge unyielding fandom to a one-off paramour. Dre & Vidal’s beat keeps the fantasy light as cotton candy, with soulful guitar licks shooting off like fireworks against the skyline.–C.P.


‘U Remind Me’ (2001)

Nothing feels quite like your first love—but nothing hurts worse than your first heartbreak. Despite “U Remind Me” being a song about grief, its bouncy Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis/Eddie Hustle production instantly makes you forget why you were trippin’ over your old thing at all. If that wasn’t enough to help you repress any bad memories, Usher’s effortless vocal gymnastics throughout should certainly do the trick. With these attributes in mind, it’s no wonder why the No. 1 hit garnered him his first Grammy in 2002.–J.J.


‘Climax’ (2012)

Looking 4 Myself is one of Usher’s most rewarding front-to-back albums, a mid-career hard left into EDM, trance, and experimental pop that yielded this collaboration with Diplo — easily one of the singer’s boldest, most singular songs. The title suggests a release that never quite comes, no matter what the hi-hats insinuate, always arriving breathlessly back at the same pulsing synth line. Usher’s classically emotive falsetto scales heights with little warning, etching out a liminal relationship. The song sounds sculpted from glass: a masterpiece of postmillennial, noirish R&B.–C.P.


‘You Make Me Wanna’ (1997)

Though the lyrics to “You Make Me Wanna” signal that Usher is embroiled in a rocky love triangle, the hip-hop influenced, Jermaine Dupri-produced track ranks among one of the smoothest jams in his discography. Combined with the performer’s passionate delivery and down-tempo production, “You Make Me Wanna” set him apart within the late-Nineties R&B crowd. Though he was 19 at the time of its release, he already sounded like a seasoned vet.–J.J.


‘Confessions Pt. II’ (2004)

Clean yet cutting-edge production, a storytelling saga for the ages, undeniable vocals. Not only did these sonic hallmarks allow “Confessions Pt. II” to become one of Usher’s signature songs, they also encapsulate what we love about R&B in general. While the star’s 2004 magnum opus LP Confessions features a seemingly endless string of hits, the title track and its iconic sequel in particular highlight his strengths as a vocalist, performer, and all-around musician. “Pt. II” not only stands among the giants in Raymond’s solo discography, it topped our list of the 100 Best R&B Songs of the 21st Century.–J.J.


‘U Don’t Have To Call’ (2001)

The story goes that Michael Jackson passed on this track, along with several of the Neptunes’ beats on Justin Timberlake’s 2002 debut Justified. But while you don’t have to squint too hard to hear MJ performing “Rock Your Body” or “Senorita,” “U Don’t Have To Call” sounds tailor-made for Usher, whose indefatigable swag carries the breezy night-out anthem into pop-music valhalla. Amid precision-engineered pings, jazzy chimes, and those kicky Neptunes drums, the singer turns a rejection into a reason to go out, projecting a celestial confidence that sweeps the listener along. The result is the ultimate Usher song, transforming the messy detritus of a relationship into pop-music perfection.–C.P.