Legend, icon, Usher's legendary, iconic "Burn" is known for many things that have made it a culturally relevant, influential artifact of the 2000s. "Burn" epitomized the peak of high budget videos featuring slick dance choreography in front of burning vehicles and palm trees with little to no collateral damage, inspired a swath of homages including one iconic episode of The Boondocks, and, along with "Yeah", made Usher the longest reigning solo act atop the Billboard charts for nineteen consecutive weeks. However, perhaps the song's greatest achievement took place on June 18th, 2004. For on this day, unbeknownst to many, one of music's greatest battles occurred when Usher defeated a great, ancient evil called Hoobastank and prevented their audio torture "The Reason" from reaching number one on the Billboard charts.
You see, in 2004, the music industry was in a very different state. iTunes and digital downloads were still a novelty, yet to wholly consume physical retail models. You grabbed your tunes via Limewire, mistagged so that Journey were apparently responsible for "(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight." That, or you were still buying CDs, most of which had overly-glossy cover art that bore the brunt of early Photoshop techniques. In this playing field, Usher and Hoobastank were equals, titans of their respective worlds.
If you're not one of the 300 million plus who recount the philosophical significance of "The Reason" on YouTube, Hoobastank during this time was an all-powerful band with an infinity sign in their logo, which is actually the most concise summary of early 00s alt-rock bro-hippiedom you can get. All the while, they were boosted by an audience that was hungry enough for rock to still propel it into the Billboard charts. The genre was having its big moment, but so was R&B-tempered pop. Singles like "If I Ain't Got You" and "Me, Myself, and I" by Alicia Keys and Beyoncé respectively and a one-time musical blip from American Idol named Ruben Studdard dominated the top of the charts. But a large slice of that pie was taken up by Usher, who after several successful projects had finally reached his commercial apex. He was sex personified, a dancing machine with washboard abs bred of pure discipline—unlike that Nike hat wearing couch bum swag with bad skin who's so prevalent today—who possessed a voice that could soothe the souls of the soulless. Everybody wanted to be Usher but everyone looked like Hoobastank. Irrevocably these forces finally met and clashed, climaxing into a brief but significant battle for the ages.
Like all great rivals, the two share more similarities than they do differences, which makes this a true battle of reverse-polarity equals. Thematically, the songs appear opposed as the almighty "Burn" emphasizes letting go of a relationship whereas "The Reason" is about a relationship at its breaking point; where your partner encourages one to change for the better. However, if we dig deeper, the point is quite simply that the faceless protagonists of both of these songs are definitely not good people and it's definitely time for the courtships to end.
More curiously, the visuals of each video also share some resemblances as both share a questionable trope of a woman almost or actually being hit by a car as an emotional climax. Hoobastank can only replay disaster over and over again, while Usher just manages to avoid it. This says more than you think: despite their best instincts, Hoobastank were beholden to the leaden, overly serious traditions of rock, which treats loss as the ultimate artistic statement. Usher brakes, gets out and sets plants on fire.
Why "Burn" triumphs and triumphed over Hooba is that, well... objectively it's the better song. More people liked it, which is why it was number one for so long. Duh. But also, it has the same snare drum sample as "Ignition (Remix)" which too is one of the greatest songs of a generation and emphasizes that this song was bred for greatness. In retrospect, "Burn" may have prevented an alternate timeline from occurring. "The Reason" would have been the only non-rap or R&B single to top Billboard that year. Instead, butt-rock lost, and slow jams, crunk anthems, and their various kin reigned supreme for all 52 weeks. Alas, things have changed. Usher gave us another classic in "Love in this Club" before he sold his soul to David Guetta in exchange for empty EDM hits. He'd find a middle ground and secretly strike gold with "Climax" and "Good Kisser" some years later but the songs were largely overlooked in comparison to his prior hits and the Confessions era. Hoobastank would go on to tour, which they still do because that's really all that rock bands can accomplish.
Nevertheless, one can't forget one of R&B's last great hurrahs before its melodies were completely fused into hip-hop and subsequently distilled into post-Weeknd lite content. Meanwhile, post-grunge is still around and played at festivals sponsored by excessively-designed energy drinks. Throughout all this though, one thing will always remain the same: "It's been fifty-eleven days, um-teen hours, I'mma be burnin' till you RETURRRRRRRNNNNNNN."
(Let it Burn)
Jabbari Weekes thinks fondly about how Usher invented 'U' as a replacement for 'you'. Follow him on Twitter
Phil Witmer thought Finger Eleven was better. Follow him on Twitter.