Singers Just Don’t Beg Like Usher On “U Got It Bad” Anymore
In music, cynicism is becoming more prevalent. True love songs are difficult to find these days. Yellow Diamonds, which takes its name from Rihanna's "We Found Love," is a series of lyric breakdowns in which VIBE Senior Music Editor Austin Williams celebrates songs that sound like love in a hopeless mainstream.
"Can you name a love song from this century that you absolutely adore?" Kayla Greaves, the Executive Beauty Editor at InStyle, was the person I asked. As an R&B fan, she took far longer than necessary to name a single love song released in the last 22 years — Singers Just Do not Beg Like Usher On 'U Got It Bad' Anymore.
Kayla has a notoriously old soul, despite the fact that she is not an old person. She dislikes modern music. Not at all. None of it is true. She doesn't even like modern technology, as evidenced by the CDs, cassettes, and boombox on her living room media console. But, after much thought, she decided on a post-millennium love song close to her heart: Usher's "U Got It Bad" (released 21 entire years ago).
If I say Kayla has an old soul, you might think I'm exaggerating. No, I'm not. She has a 28-hour and 45-minute Spotify playlist dedicated to her favourite type of R&B, "Men Begging, Loving, and Yearning." Less than 30 of those 361 songs were released after the Clinton administration (and only half of those were released after the Bush administration). But I can't blame her for it. If love songs are hard to come by these days, songs about loving someone so much that you'd beg them to stay are nearly extinct. This is why the one she suggested I cover today piques my interest.
"U Got It Bad" isn't like most popular begging songs. Though it contains the fundamental elements of the subgenre — passionate singing, dramatic declarations of love, and a music video with a grand gesture of desperation — there's generality to its writing that has kept its resonance all these years later. Whereas other men who find themselves grovelling on wax do so with an unavoidable sense of wrongdoing, Usher and his co-writers leave room in "U Got It Bad" for all types of begging to apply. Even the type I've done myself.
See, I'm a very specific type of simp. As I write this, wood is being knocked on the head, but I've never done anything so bad that a woman would want to leave me. Every breakup I've had.
I'm a very specific type of simp. As I write this, wood is being smacked on the head, but I've never messed up badly enough for a woman to want to leave me. Every breakup I've been through happened for reasons that had less to do with anyone person's actions and more to do with the circumstances. This means I've never felt compelled to rekindle a smouldering flame. Instead, as a hopeless romantic (and a Cancer), the majority of my begging occurs during courtship. The lyrics of "U Got It Bad," believe it or not, fit this kind of head-over-heels, nose-wide-openness just as well.
When you feel it in your body, you found somebody who makes you change your ways like hanging with your crew Said you act like you ready, but you don’t really know And everything in your past, you wanna let it go I’ve been there, done it, fucked around After all that, this is what I found Nobody wants to be alone If you’re touched by the words in this song Then maybe
Usher's description of meeting someone who makes you want to forget your past and skip nights out with your friends could apply to the discovery of a new love just as much as the near loss of an old one. The song's pre-chorus is especially powerful for people who are truly ready for a serious relationship, as they yearn for a deeper connection than anyone on their current roster can provide.
"I've been there, done that, messed around/ After all that, this is what I discovered/ Nobody wants to be alone."
Plenty of big-city daters have come to this conclusion at some point, and it didn't take a broken relationship to do so. The intense attachment in the following chorus is also relatable for those of us who have been fortunate enough to find love despite adversity.
You got it, you got it bad When you’re on the phone, hang up and you call right back You got it, you got it bad If you miss a day without your friend, your whole life’s off-track Know you got it bad when you’re stuck in the house You don’t wanna have fun, it’s all you think about You got it bad when you’re out with someone But you keep on thinking ’bout somebody else You got it bad
When a person is finally open to love, regardless of how that readiness came to be, that is when their greatest sense of romantic urgency strikes. Essentially, this is what most begging music, including "U Got It Bad," is about. The fear that if you go another day without seeing the person you want, you will spontaneously combust in a fit of despair. This is true whether your actions are the reason that person isn't present, or if you've been ensnared in a seemingly never-ending "talking stage" and haven't yet committed to each other in the first place.
This is what it means to "have it bad." In 2001, it looked like, "When you're on the phone, hang up and you'll be fine."
This is what "having it bad" means. It looked like this in 2001: "When you're on the phone, hang up and call right back." In 2022, it appears that checking that DM or text thread every three minutes, as if your phone suddenly stopped sending push notifications, is the norm. The first step in yearning for someone is every minute without them feeling like an hour, according to the beginning of the above chorus.
The second half of the chorus is similar to what I discussed in my breakdown of Kehlani and Justin Bieber's "up at night," a song about relationship separation anxiety. In that piece, I discussed the restlessness I experience when I'm away on business trips and don't have my partner beside me to sleep with. Though I'm slightly more functional during the day than Usher is in this section of the song, as what he's describing could border on depression, the fact that my happily coupled self can relate to these lyrics at all demonstrates how timeless this type of simply is.
When you say that you love them and you really know Everything that used to matter don’t matter no more Like my money, all my cars (you can have it all and) Flowers, cards and candy (I do it just ’cause I’m) Said I’m fortunate to have you, girl I want you to know I really adore you All my people who know what’s going on Look at your mate, help me sing my song Tell her: “I’m your man, you’re my girl I’m gonna tell it to the whole wide world” Ladies say: “I’m your girl, you’re my man Promise to love you the best I can”
In real life, I'm not at liberty to discuss my friend Kayla's opinion on romantic pleas from men (I know what that opinion is, I'm just not at liberty to discuss it). But I know she appreciates my willingness to beg before and during a relationship. Kayla admires the way I publicly and privately profess my love for my partner, just as she does most of my other female friends (the men in my circle are of a different mind on the matter).
Knowing that grand gestures of devotion don't always have to come with a "baby, please come home" call to action is the key to still being able to beg even when it's not necessary. Sometimes pleading with your partner to understand how much you love and adore them is enough. This is something that can happen at any time. I did it because my girlfriend made me breakfast.
This type of verbal affirmation dominates the entire second verse of "U Got It Bad." It begins with Usher reiterating how little most things outside of his relationship matter now that he's realized how much love he's found. What follows are some of my favourite lyrics from the song, as well as some of my favourite Usher songs.
"I'm your man, you're my girl/ I'm going to tell the whole wide world," would sound incredibly earnest today. Usher's vulnerability in having it repeated back from a woman's perspective is unheard of in today's R&B. This verse, which concludes with the promise "to love you the best I can," has a straightforward brilliance that leads back to the pre-chorus and primary chorus before the song's end.
Kayla is frequently mocked for her lack of interest in discovering new music. When people say, "they don't make 'em like this anymore," what they really mean is that they don't make 'em this often. However, with jadedness and toxicity pervading much of today's R&B music, artists no longer create songs as sincere, egoless, and beautifully anguished as "U Got It Bad." Kayla has me hooked on this one.
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