Climax (Usher song)
|Single by Usher|
|from the album Looking 4 Myself|
|Released||February 22, 2012|
|Recorded||2012; Jungle City Studios (New York City); Glenwood Place Studios (Burbank) Silent Sound Studios (Atlanta)|
|Genre||Quiet storm, electronic|
|Usher singles chronology|
"Climax" is a song by American recording artist Usher, released on February 22, 2012, by RCA Records. It was released as the lead single for his 2012 studio album Looking 4 Myself. It was written by Usher, Ariel Rechtshaid, Redd Stylez, and Diplo, who also produced the song. Usher and Diplo worked on the song for two months as part of their collaboration for the former's album. The song is a quiet storm slow jam with electronic influences and lyrics about the turning point of a relationship. According to Usher, the song is primarily about the complications of a relationship, despite the lyrics' sexual overtones.
As a single, "Climax" debuted at number 81 on the Billboard Hot 100, with 31,000 digital units sold in its first week. It ultimately peaked at number 17 and charted for 20 weeks, and also reached number one on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, becoming Usher's 12th number-one single on the chart. "Climax" was well received by music critics, who commended its musical direction, Usher's singing, and Diplo's production. Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly named it one of the best singles of 2012. In 2013, "Climax" won Usher a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance.
Writing and recording
"Climax" was written by Usher, Redd Stylez, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Diplo, who also produced the song. Diplo introduced the song's concept to Usher, who was working with him on a new album. Usher wanted to expand his music's style and depth by working with Diplo. Diplo recounted the experience in an interview for The Guardian, saying that "I had explained to him about a moment I had with a girl where I felt like I could die with her and be content, but I didn't and life moved on, and that point in my life was over. It was a sad feeling but it was beautiful. He was relating with me about the idea and how many times you think things are perfect and feel that way but they can pass." They discussed the concept throughout the song's development and how it relates to Usher's life, as Diplo "tried to help realise these lyrics and feelings." After conceiving some melody lines, they wrote the song in about an hour.
Usher and Diplo worked on the song's production for two months, recording in studios in Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta. Diplo originally pursued a house music sound based on a chord progression he wrote, but changed his direction after working in the recording studio alone on what he called a "wildfire" beat. He later said of his direction for the song, "the idea of pushing cut-off on a synth used so much in progressive house music but pulling back. I was making something like a minimal techno record with Atlanta strip clubs in mind." According to Diplo, Usher proposed the idea of "tak[ing] the strip club to the stadium" with the song's production. Classical music composer Nico Muhly contributed with the song's string arrangement.
Music and lyrics
A 23-second sample of "Climax", consisting of various electronic effects and other musical accompaniment.
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"Climax" is a quiet storm slow jam set in common time. It is written in the key of C minor, and Usher's voice ranges from B♭3 to G5. The music is built around a haunting riff, complemented by sparse drum machine and some musical accompaniment. Its varying soundscape incorporates electronic effects such as clicks, hisses, whooshes, and low-frequency synths, as well as subtle strings and scattered piano notes. Music writers have noted Diplo's production as uncharacteristically reserved and understated.
The song's musical structure is characterized by intervals in which the music builds to a potential break, but softly decrescendos instead. As each verse concludes, the song's snapping, electronic rhythm track gradually softens and rippling synth chords repeat throughout the song. Marc Hogan of Spin writes that Diplo "teases us with the sort of wubba-wubba subwoofer noises that have become inescapable in the past year or so of pop radio. But he never actually gives in with the full dubstep drop ... the song keeps swelling to one big wave after another, without ever really reaching a single, song-stopping crescendo." Hogan cites the bridge at around the three-minute mark as "the closest thing to a climax" on the song, "when the track gets as quiet as it ever has before becoming as lush as it ever gets." Pitchfork Media's Carrie Battan calls the song "an exercise in the power of restraint", commenting that "Diplo shows uncharacteristic subtlety behind Usher's sentiment, with a beat that seems to hang suspended in midair."
The song is a breakup lament dealing with the theme of commitment. Its title refers to the turning point of a relationship. The lyrics address a relationship in a state of tension and uncertainty: "We've reached the climax / We're together / Now we're undone / Won't commit so we choose to run away / Do we separate?" Usher sings in a pleading falsetto and a plaintive tone on the song, alternating restrained vocals and anguished howls. In an interview for V-103, Usher stressed that "Climax" focuses more on the complication of relationships rather than sex, saying that "it's really about the ultimate experience or lack thereof. Or the finale of an experience of love and life. When you're in a relationship and it has kinda reached the climax of where it can go, you gotta let it go if you are not going to commit." He viewed that his falsetto vocals and the song's tone give the song a sexual feel with music that works as a "double entendre".
Release and reception
The song was first released onto the internet on Valentine's Day 2012 through SoundCloud. Upon its release, Diplo commented on Twitter: "Seriously the best record I've been part of ... I'm pretty sure in 9 months there are gonna be a lot of new babies that this song is responsible for". It was released as the lead single for Usher's 2012 album Looking for Myself.
"Climax" debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 81, with 31,000 digital units sold in the week of March 10, 2012. It peaked at number 17 and spent 20 weeks on the chart. The song also reached number one on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, on which it charted for 33 weeks, and became Usher's 12th number-one single on the chart. It peaked at number three on the Dance/Club Play Songs, on which it charted for 13 weeks. In the United Kingdom, "Climax" debuted and peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart, selling 41,617 units. It charted for seven weeks and peaked at number 29 in Australia.
Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone gave the song four out of five stars and stated, "Quiet storm gets a freaky sci-fi makeover". Pitchfork Media's Carrie Battan commended Usher's collaboration with Diplo as "a doubly satisfying departure from their respective strains of club-ready fare." Jason Lipshutz of Billboard called the song "an ode to the bewildering thoughts and feelings of relationship purgatory" and wrote that it is "a sound that Usher should explore more often." Marc Hogan of Spin felt that the song is "as vividly communicative as it is decoratively beautiful" and praised its articulation, calling it "a tour de force of pacing and dynamics, giving listeners more and more, but then always easing up just enough to keep us begging for one more verse."
Priya Elan of NME cited "Climax" as Usher's "best song in absolutely years" and stated, "Goodbye cringe factor, hello Diplo, subtle electronic nuances and an expectation-defying vocal performance which is more Prince falsetto than depth-free showman. The results are jaw dropping." He also compared it to the work of The Weeknd and commended its "lack of smut" in the lyrics, stating "it's just Usher playing it fast and loose in falsetto. The result is as subtle as it is unbelievable." Eric Arredondo of Beats Per Minute viewed the song as an improvement over Usher's 2010 album Raymond v. Raymond and addressed the comparisons to The Weeknd, writing that, "though it still doesn't hold much of the innovations and risks of something like The Weeknd's House of Balloons, 'Climax' can do something that most songs on that album can't do without losing most of their fun: be played on the radio."
Rolling Stone ranked "Climax" number 15 on their year-end best songs list for 2012. Entertainment Weekly ranked it number 14 on their year-end list of best singles. It was voted the third best single of 2012 by The Village Voice 's 40th annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll. At the 2013 Grammy Awards, "Climax" won Usher a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance.
The music video for "Climax" was directed by Sam Pilling, filmed in Atlanta, and released on March 9, 2012. Director of photography was Adam Frisch. After filming, the video was given to the studio Surround for post-production, including editing its structure, title animation, and effects. The video shows Usher sitting in a car contemplating on whether to go inside his ex-girlfriend's home and rekindle their once-passionate love affair or leave and never return again. It shows different scenarios played out in Usher's mind, including him confronting his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend with a gun.
In the video, Usher sits in a car outside a house where his ex-girlfriend is being intimate with another man. He pulls a gun out of his glove compartment and agonizes over whether or not to enter the house. After ruminating over the different scenarios, Usher drives off at the end of the video. Jason Lipshut of Billboard found the "narrative arc" for the video to be "a bit perplexing". Jeff Lapointe of MTV News viewed that it "depicts the darker side of human nature as Usher drives up to his girlfriend/ex-girlfriends house to discover another vehicle, another man, another side of his love. In the realization of fury and anger, images distort Usher's reality with thoughts of taking his gun and shooting the intruder. Thoughts of running away with the girl. Thoughts of driving off to never be seen."
Usher first performed the song on the show "Off-Broadway's 'Fuerza Bruta'". In the show, he entered from the dark in a white suit and black tie, and walked across a conveyor belt in beat to "Climax". As the song's tempo increased, he clutched his stomach as a gunshot fired and blood spread across his torso. Usher appeared on Saturday Night Live on May 12, 2012, to perform "Scream" and "Climax".
- Manny Marroquin – mixing engineer
- Chris Galland – assistant mixing engineer
- Delbert Bowers – assistant engineer
- Nico Muhly – piano, strings, string arrangements
- Diplo – vocal production
- Natural – arrangements
- Mark "Exit" Goodchild – engineer
- Jacob Dennis – assistant engineer
- Jorge Velasco – assistant engineer
- Kory Aaron – assistant engineer
- Ramon Rivas – assistant engineer
- Ariel Rechtshaid – keyboards, synthesizer
- Usher – vocals
Charts and certifications
|United States||February 21, 2012||Urban radio||RCA Records|
|Worldwide||February 22, 2012||Digital download|
|United States||March 13, 2012||Mainstream radio|
|United Kingdom||April 8, 2012||Digital download|
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