Usher’s ‘Confessions’ is 20, and now is a good time to talk about how streaming services are ruining my listening experience

OPINION: Versions of several albums on streaming services are different from the original CD versions and have changed the listening experience.

Singer Usher at the Virgin Megastore Union Square in New York City, October 4, 2004 to sign copies of his new CD, "Confessions" Special Edition. The original Confessions CD has sold over 9 million copies worldwide. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

On March 23, Usher’s magnum opus, the diamond-selling “Confessions,” turned 20 years old. I vividly remember the fervor around the release of this album in 2004. “Yeah!” featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris was a monster record in the clubs, with a video that was all over video countdown shows like MTV’s “TRL” and BET’s “106 & Park,” back when both of those shows were a thing. According to MTV, “Yeah!” was the most-played song of 2004, and it certainly felt like it. Nobody complained, the song was and still is a bop and reminds me of a time of my life that was fancy-free and full of possibilities. 

It’s hard to fully comprehend the tsunami that was “Confessions” if you weren’t there. Nowadays, albums don’t sell like they used to because of streaming and the way we consume music. Albums don’t have the same weight as they used to unless you’re a supernova of an artist like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Taylor Swift, Drake, etc. While Muni Long’s 2023 song “Made For You” is one of my absolute favorite songs of the past few years, admittedly, I’m not waiting for her album to drop. That’s no shade to her — I’m a fan — I think I’ve just been conditioned to be more interested in singles; a great album from an artist is a bonus. 

Meanwhile, in 2004, you could not escape “Confessions.” Everybody was listening to it, dissecting it, discussing it, playing it and analyzing Usher’s place among R&B pantheon-level greats. It was our generation’s version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” “Confessions” wouldn’t sell as much as “Thriller” — nothing has — but its impact is undeniable. Usher became the standard-bearer for R&B then and into the future. Usher’s branches and roots run deep, even if he never gets the full credit he deserves, though he had an ongoing sold-out residency in Las Vegas and was accused of ruining relationships and breaking up homes so maybe I doth protest too much. 

Now that I’m in my mid-40s and often reflect on the defining artistic endeavors of my life, I love listening to albums that take me back to the time when I’d actually read liner notes. “Confessions” is obviously one of those albums. In March 2004, I was 24, going on 25, and belonged to the streets. Between “Caught Up,” “Superstar,” “Confessions Part II,” “Bad Girl,” “Throwback,” and “That’s What It’s Made For,” the album could take you through a whole range of emotions. I loved it. “Confessions” stayed in rotation in my house and car CD player. 

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That’s why I get so annoyed that the version on streaming services differs from the version I knew and loved that defined an era of my youth. For instance, on streaming services, “Throwback,” one of my favorite songs on the album is the version with Jadakiss’ verse. I love Jadakiss, but I prefer the rap-less version. Instead of moving from “Throwback” without Jadakiss into the interlude that leads into “Confessions Part II,” we have what is basically, “Confessions Part I” (just listed as “Confessions” on the tracklist). Admittedly, in 2004, we were confused as to why we had a part II and no part I, but artists gon’ artist and make stylistic choices. Well, on the deluxe version of the album, we got the first version, which is cool, but not nearly as good as its second part, which is probably why it wasn’t included on the album in the first place. 

Instead of the album ending on “Follow Me,” it includes the additional deluxe version songs “My Boo,” “Red Light” and “Seduction,” all fine songs in their own right but not part of the album that rode around in my car for years until that fateful car accident in 2008 that totaled my 2003 Honda Accord. Granted, I realize this is a first-world problem and, really, who complains about more music? “P, ‘My Boo’ was eventually released as a single!” 

So, what? I’ve never liked “My Boo.” And again, why can’t I get the album that was actually released as a time capsule of 2004? That’s what I want — the classic album that starts, lives and stops in March 2004 when I opened the packaging, listened to the album and was amazed at what I heard from start to finish. 

For what it’s worth, there are many albums that undergo these changes on streaming. Another quick example is Beyoncé’s “4” album, which, instead of starting with “1+1” as my compact disc does, starts with the single, “Love On Top,” a fine record but changes the way I listen to the album. “Party” featuring everybody’s favorite flutist, André 3000, follows “Love On Top,” which was not the album I bought. 

Again, first-world problems, and I can acknowledge that. But we’re talking about my youth here and I’m trying to hold on to its vestiges with everything I have. It’s me, not you. 

But if anybody from the streaming services is listening I’d appreciate it if I could get that old thang back. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.