Usher Is the Horny Patron Saint of Freaks Everywhere

Usher wasn’t out of anyone's league—he was out of this world.

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Jul 26 2018, 5:35pm

Photo by Ebet Roberts via Getty Images

"You Make Me Wanna" is a column celebrating pop culture-fueled sexual awakenings—from crushing on cartoon characters to humping pillows while watching boyband videos.

I think my first crush was Indiana Jones—not Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, but Indiana Jones himself. It was a perfunctory attraction, clear-cut and not very sexual; Indiana Jones was appealing because he was evidently smart, brave, and handsome. Indiana Jones was appealing because he was supposed to be. But simply looking at or thinking about Indiana Jones never made my heart beat faster; watching him on screen didn’t feel as if my entire body was blushing. I didn’t know that feeling was even possible until I laid eyes on Usher.

Indiana Jones was a crush, but Usher Raymond was an awakening, a revelation, an opening of my third eye, heart, and probably pussy. Usher blew my young mind with the 1998 hit "My Way"—the video was unlike anything I’d ever seen before: genre-bending, subversive, and retro-futuristic in ways I didn’t entirely understand. "My Way" exploded my conceptions of (the fake and ultimately divisive) romantic phenomena like types, leagues, and expectations. And Usher unwittingly released, or at least unwittingly granted permission for me to acknowledge, my latent horniness.

Twenty years since its release, "My Way" rekindles the kind of sexual attraction that makes me squirm in my seat. The video opens with a distant scream and a semi-apocalyptic desert landscape. We’re hit with a vaguely old-timey wave of horns, bass, and percussion as the camera pans over what looks like a parking lot of an abandoned amusement park from the 60s. A creepy, clown-themed bouncy castle appears, and in it, Usher jumps around with a beautiful young woman. She wears leather pants and a bustier while he is clad in a disarming, comic book–like ensemble: skater pants with a metal chain, a neon green button-up that’s barely buttoned at all, a Graffiti-patterned, multi-colored trench coat, and a Clockwork Orange bowler hat and eye makeup.

Suddenly, Usher’s bounce time is interrupted when a string of classic cars—and also a pickup truck—pull up. Out spills a gang of people wearing Canadian tuxedos that look both acid-washed and tie-dyed. The funky denim gang’s leader Tyrese exits the red pickup truck in a sleeveless jumpsuit and silver chain that perfectly complements the zipper going all the way from his collar to his waistband. Tyrese has arrived to confront Usher, for you see, his girl likes things…Usher’s way.

The sexy men must inevitably settle this dispute on the dance floor. Tyrese—stoic and confident—is a good dancer, but Usher—a wild card who moves erratically—is even better. While Tyrese is the picture-perfect embodiment of conventional sex appeal, Usher is arrestingly bizarre, contorting his body and exaggerating his facial expressions so that he looks nearly grotesque. He bucks traditions that Tyrese adheres to, crossing physical boundaries on the dance floor, casually rocking a cane, and somehow getting airlifted out of the dance battle. Tyrese is hot, but Usher is frantic and smooth, liberated and deliberate, dangerous and alluring.

This video was and remains an epiphany. As my peers drooled over the milquetoast Backstreet Boys, Usher presented a confident alternative that both scared and aroused me. Even the dancier boy band NSYNC couldn’t hold a candle to the way Usher moved, as if he always knew the precise location of every single one of his fingers and toes in time and space. While the young men of pop danced in perfectly synchronized moves we could easily imitate, Usher seemed to improvise his eccentric and over-the-top style. Dancing on and then jumping off dilapidated cars and literally bouncing off the walls, he moved like a playful maniac; like your caring yet menacing guide through the sexy underworld.

I didn’t even know what "it" referred to, but Usher was 100 percent correct: I liked "it" his way, too. Usher inspired me to foster a better, less expected desire. "My Way" taught me that attraction requires a deep, intuitive pull; that it’s not enough for someone to be hot—they’ve also got to own their strangeness.

Usher knew that his way wasn’t out of anyone's league—it was out of this world; out of this universe. And isn’t that just so much better?

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