Open main menu

"Climax" is a song by American R&B singer Usher. It was released on February 22, 2012, by RCA Records as the lead single from his 2012 studio album Looking 4 Myself. The song 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.

Climax cover.png
Single by Usher
from the album Looking 4 Myself
ReleasedFebruary 22, 2012 (2012-02-22)
FormatDigital download
Usher singles chronology
"Without You"

As a single, "Climax" debuted at number 81 on the Billboard Hot 100, with 31,000 digital units sold in its first week. It 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 recordingEdit

Diplo (pictured in 2005) produced and co-wrote the song.

"Climax" was written by Usher, Redd Stylez, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Diplo, who also produced the song.[1] Diplo introduced the song's concept to Usher, who was working with him on a new album.[2] Usher wanted to expand his music's style and depth by working with Diplo.[2] 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."[2] 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."[2] After conceiving some melody lines, they wrote the song in about an hour.[2]

Usher and Diplo worked on the song's production for two months, recording in studios in Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta.[2] 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.[2] 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."[2] According to Diplo, Usher proposed the idea of "tak[ing] the strip club to the stadium" with the song's production.[2] Classical music composer Nico Muhly contributed with the song's string arrangement.[3]

Music and lyricsEdit

"Climax" is set in common time.[4] Diplo called the style "Radiohead quietstorm", and both Spin and Rolling Stone agreed that the song was a mix of quiet storm style and electronic music.[5][6] It is written in the key of C minor, and Usher's voice ranges from B3 to G5.[4] The music is built around a haunting riff, complemented by sparse drum machine and some musical accompaniment.[7] Its varying soundscape incorporates electronic effects such as clicks, hisses, whooshes, and low-frequency synths,[5][8] as well as subtle strings and scattered piano notes.[6] Music writers have noted Diplo's production as uncharacteristically reserved and understated.[7][8][9][10]

The song's musical structure is characterized by intervals in which the music builds to a potential break, but softly decrescendos instead.[9] As each verse concludes, the song's snapping, electronic rhythm track gradually softens and rippling synth chords repeat throughout the song.[6] 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."[6] 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."[6] 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."[9]

The song is a breakup lament dealing with the theme of commitment.[5][6] Its title refers to the turning point of a relationship.[5] 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?"[9] Usher sings in a pleading falsetto and a plaintive tone on the song,[5][6] alternating restrained vocals and anguished howls.[9][10] 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."[11] 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".[11]

Release and receptionEdit

The song was first released onto the internet on Valentine's Day 2012 through SoundCloud.[9] 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".[3] It was released as the lead single for Usher's 2012 album Looking for Myself.[12]

"Climax" debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 81, with 31,000 digital units sold in the week of March 10, 2012.[13] It peaked at number 17 and spent 20 weeks on the chart.[14] 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.[12] It peaked at number three on the Dance/Club Play Songs, on which it charted for 13 weeks.[14] In the United Kingdom, "Climax" debuted and peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart, selling 41,617 units.[15][16] It charted for seven weeks and peaked at number 29 in Australia.[17]

Critical responseEdit

Recently, a new wave of revisionist Love Men—Frank Ocean, The Weeknd—have given R&B a bleak, angsty overhaul. But Usher got there first, with less self-importance, and far punchier hooks. On "Climax" he throws down the gauntlet—firing his hair-raising falsetto at Ocean, The Weeknd, and other critics’ darlings.

— Jody Rosen on "Climax" for Slate magazine [18]

The song was well received by music critics. In Rolling Stone, Jody Rosen gave the song four out of five stars and stated, "Quiet storm gets a freaky sci-fi makeover",[5] while Will Hermes hailed it as "spring's best quiet-storm jam".[19] FWRD writer Aiden Harmitt-Williams regarded its mix of quiet storm with EDM as "a genius move".[20] Pitchfork journalist Carrie Battan deemed it "a doubly satisfying departure from [Usher and Diplo's] respective strains of club-ready fare."[9] 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."[1] 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."[6] 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."[21] 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."[7] 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."[10]

Rolling Stone ranked "Climax" number 15 on their year-end best songs list for 2012.[22] Entertainment Weekly ranked it number 14 on their year-end list of best singles.[23] It was voted as the third best single of 2012 by The Village Voice's 40th annual Pazz & Jop critics' poll [24] and the official best single of 2012 by Time magazine.[25] At the 2013 Grammy Awards, "Climax" won Usher a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance.[26]


Publication Accolade Rank
Billboard 20 Best Songs of 2012[27] 1
Time Top 10 Songs of 2012[25] 1
Beats Per Minute The Top Tracks of 2012[28] 2
The Guardian Best Tracks of 2012[29] 2
Pazz & Jop Single of the Year 2012[30] 3
Pitchfork The Top 100 Tracks of 2012[31] 3
Said the Gramophone Best Songs of 2012[32] 4
Consequence of Sound Top 50 Songs of 2012[33] 5
Spin 40 Best Songs of 2012[34] 11
Rolling Stone 50 Best Songs of 2012[35] 15
Complex The 50 Best Songs of 2012[36] 16
Slant Magazine The 25 Best Singles of 2012[37] 20
Fact The 100 Best Tracks of 2012[38] 21

Music videoEdit

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.[39]

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.[40] Jason Lipshut of Billboard found the "narrative arc" for the video to be "a bit perplexing".[41] 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."[42]

Live performancesEdit

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.[43] Usher appeared on Saturday Night Live on May 12, 2012, to perform "Scream" and "Climax".[44]


Credits adapted from liner notes for Looking 4 Myself (2012).[45]

  • Diplo – production
  • Natural – vocal production, arrangement
  • Ariel Rechtshaid – synthesizers, keyboards
  • Nico Muhly – piano, strings, string arrangement
  • Mark "Exit" Goodchild – recording
  • Ramon Rivas – recording assistance
  • Kory Aaron – recording assistance
  • Jorge Velasco – recording assistance
  • Jacob Dennis – recording assistance
  • Manny Marroquin – mixing
  • Chris Galland – mixing assistance
  • Delbert Bowers – mixing assistance
  • Usher – vocals



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[64] Platinum 70,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[65] Gold 40,000 
United Kingdom (BPI)[66] Silver 200,000 

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
 sales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Release historyEdit

Country Date Format (Version) Label
United States[67] February 21, 2012 Urban radio RCA Records
Worldwide[68] February 22, 2012 Digital download
United States[69] March 13, 2012 Mainstream radio
United Kingdom[70] April 8, 2012 Digital download

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Lipshutz, Jason (March 2, 2012). "Track Review: Usher, 'Climax'". Billboard. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Robinson, Peter (April 20, 2012). "Diplo: the man who brought Usher to Climax". The Guardian. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Pelly, Jenn; Phillips, Amy (February 14, 2012). "Listen: Diplo Produces New Usher Track "Climax"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Usher – Climax". EMI Music Publishing. 2012. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Rosen, Jody (February 23, 2012). "Climax". Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner. Archived from the original on May 4, 2014. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Hogan, Marc (February 15, 2012). "14 Ways Usher and Diplo's Slow Jam 'Climax' Keeps Peaking". Spin. New York. Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Elan, Priya (February 15, 2012). "NME Track Reviews – Usher, 'Climax'". NME. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Copsey, Robert (March 30, 2012). "Usher: 'Climax' – Single review". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Battan, Carrie (February 14, 2012). "Usher: "Climax"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  10. ^ a b c Arredondo, Eric (March 12, 2012). "Track Review: Usher – "Climax" [Prod. Diplo]". Beats Per Minute. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  11. ^ a b "Usher: 'Climax' Is Not About Sex". Rap-Up. Devin Lazerine. February 29, 2012. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  12. ^ a b Santiago, Karinah (April 22, 2012). "Chart Juice: Usher's 'Climax' Reaches R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Peak". Billboard. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  13. ^ "Usher's 'Climax' Arrives, Young the Giant's 'Glee' Gain, Maroon 5's 'Hands' Hits 1 Million". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "Climax – Usher". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  15. ^ "Usher". Official Charts Company. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
  16. ^ "Official chart analysis: weekly album sales plummet to record 21st Century low, Adele back at No.1". Music Week. Intent Media. April 16, 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2012.
  17. ^ a b " – Usher – Climax". ARIA Top 50 Singles. Hung Medien. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  18. ^ "Can't Stop Won't Stop". Slate. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  19. ^ Hermes, Will (June 18, 2012). "Express Yourself EP". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  20. ^ Harmitt-Williams, Aiden (May 16, 2017). "The Climax of Usher Raymond". FWRD. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  21. ^ Elan, Priya (February 21, 2012). "NME Track Reviews – Usher feat. Diplo – 'Climax'". NME. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
  22. ^ "50 Best Songs of 2012: Usher, 'Climax'". Rolling Stone. New York: Jann Wenner. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  23. ^ Staff (December 21, 2012). "Best and Worst 2012: Carly Rae Jepsen, Taylor Swift, and the other best singles of the year". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 31, 2012.
  24. ^ "Singles — All Votes". The Village Voice. Village Voice Media. Retrieved 2013-01-18.
  25. ^ a b "1. Usher, "Climax"". Time. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  26. ^ "Grammys 2013: Complete list of nominees and winners". Los Angeles Times. February 10, 2013. Archived from the original on February 15, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2013.
  27. ^ "20 Best Songs of 2012: Critics' Picks". Billboard. 18 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  28. ^ "The Top Tracks of 2012". Beats Per Minute. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  29. ^ "Best Tracks of 2012". The Guardian. 14 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  30. ^ "Single of the Year 2012". Pazz & Jop. 16 January 2013. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  31. ^ "The Top 100 Tracks of 2012". Pitchfork. 17 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  32. ^ "Best Songs of 2012". Said the Gramophone. 10 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  33. ^ "Top 50 Songs of 2012". Consequence of Sound. 7 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  34. ^ "40 Best Songs of 2012". Spin. 10 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  35. ^ "50 Best Songs of 2012". Rolling Stone. 5 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  36. ^ "The 50 Best Songs of 2012". Complex. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  37. ^ "The 25 Best Singles of 2012". Slant Magazine. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  38. ^ "The 100 Best Tracks of 2012". Fact. 13 December 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  39. ^ "Usher Goes Through Relationship Drama in 'Climax' Video". PopCrush. Retrieved July 24, 2012.
  40. ^ Daw, Robbie. "Usher's Dramatic "Climax" Video: Watch". Idolator. Buzz Media. Retrieved May 13, 2012. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |work= (help)
  41. ^ Lipshut, Jason (March 9, 2012). "Usher Busts Out a Gun in 'Climax' Video: Watch". Billboard. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  42. ^ Lapointe, Jeff (March 12, 2012). "Usher's new video "Climax" is about pain not sex". MTV News. MTV Networks. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  43. ^ Horowitz, Steven (April 28, 2012). "Usher Premieres New Album Off-Broadway". Rolling Stone. Jann Wenner. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  44. ^ Sciarretto, Amy (May 12, 2012). "Usher Makes Fans 'Scream' + 'Climax' on 'SNL'". Popcrush. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  45. ^ Looking 4 Myself (CD liner). Usher. RCA Records. 2012. 88691 97177 2.CS1 maint: others (link)
  46. ^ "Top 40 Urban Albums & Singles Chart". Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Archived from the original on March 11, 2012.
  47. ^ "Usher – Climax –" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Hung Medien. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  48. ^ " – Usher – Climax" (in Dutch). Ultratip & Hung Medien / Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  49. ^ " – Usher – Climax" (in French). Ultratip & Hung Medien / Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  50. ^ " – Usher – Climax" (in Danish). Tracklisten. Hung Medien. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  51. ^ "Chart Track". Irish Singles Chart. Irish Recorded Music Association. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  52. ^ "Usher chart history". The Official Lebanese Top 20. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
  53. ^ " – Usher – Climax" (in Dutch). Mega Single Top 100. Hung Medien / Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  54. ^ "Archive Chart". Scottish Singles Top 40. Official Charts Company. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  55. ^ "Gaon Digital Chart" (in Korean). Gaon Chart. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
  56. ^ "Archive Chart". UK R&B Chart. Official Charts Company. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  57. ^ "Archive Chart". UK Singles Chart. Official Charts Company. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  58. ^ "Usher Chart History (Rhythmic)". Billboard. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
  59. ^ "GAON DIGITAL CHART : 2012" (in Korean). Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  60. ^ "End of Year Charts: 2012" (PDF). UKChartsPlus. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  61. ^ "2012 Year End Chart: Adult R&B Songs". Billboard. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  62. ^ a b c "R&B/Hip-Hop Songs – 2012 Year End Charts". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  63. ^ "Rhythmic Songs – Year-End 2012". Billboard. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  64. ^ "ARIA Charts – Accreditations – 2018 Singles". Australian Recording Industry Association.
  65. ^ "Canadian single certifications – Usher – Climax". Music Canada.
  66. ^ "British single certifications – Usher – Climax". British Phonographic Industry. Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Climax in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  67. ^ "Urban/UAC Future Releases". All Access. Archived from the original on February 22, 2012.
  68. ^ "Climax – Single". iTunes Store. Apple Inc. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  69. ^ "CHR/Top 40 – Week Of: March 13, 2012". Radio & Records. Retrieved July 24, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  70. ^ "Singles Release Diary". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines. Retrieved July 24, 2012.

External linksEdit