“We were going to the 2013 BET Awards,” T-Pain said on the new Netflix docuseries, This Is Pop. “We were all in first class and I went to sleep. I was awoken by the flight attendant, who said ‘Usher would like to talk to you in the back.’”
While T-Pain didn’t know it at the time, Usher was about to send him into a whole world of depression and doubt. See, 2013 was an interesting time for both artists—it had been almost 20 years since Usher’s self-titled debut dropped, whereas T-Pain’s seminal first record was only 8-years-old. With an exciting, bold energy, T-Pain’s signature auto-tune sound sparked a musical revolution, inspiring countless rappers and pop artists to follow suit. But in 2013, the dust of that paradigm shift had yet to settle, and Usher had a bone to pick.
“I got up and went back to Usher—he was like ‘Hey, how’s everything going?’” T-Pain continued. “We had some quick small talk, no big deal. Then he was like ‘Man, I gotta tell you something.’ I was like, ‘What’s good man?’ He seemed really concerned. He was like ‘Man… you kinda fucked up music.’”
At first, T-Pain didn’t understand—he and Usher were friends and the success they were both sharing felt like a dream-come-true. “He was like ‘Nah man, you really fucked up music for real singers,’” T-Pain said. “Literally, at that point, I couldn’t listen, like ‘Is he right? Did I fuck this up? Did I fuck up music?’ I don’t think I even realized this until after, but that was the very moment that started a four-year-long depression for me.”
That candid confession is one of the highlight moments in This Is Pop, and it demonstrates how fleeting and fickle the world of popular entertainment can be. For T-Pain, this bombshell revelation from a “friend” was devastating and spurred a years-long period of turmoil, but he did bounce back. Not only has the continued usage of auto-tune validated T-Pain’s artistic merit—with everyone from Bon Iver to SOPHIE, Kanye West and more making contributions to the movement—but he’s also proved himself as a vocalist proper. In 2019, after weeks of wow-ing audiences around the world, T-Pain was unmasked as the winner of the first season of NBC’s The Masked Singer… and his natural singing voice was what brought him to his victory.
To that end, T-Pain and his artistic talents are unbound. Still only 35, his impact on the music industry has been immense, both in terms of auto-tune, but also in terms of his devoted passion to inventive R&B. Likewise, Usher’s influence and legacy is a palpable force in pop. While both artists may not see eye-to-eye on what constitutes “real singing,” they’ve certainly both inspired real singers around the world, which is ultimately what matters most.
Netflix’s This Is Pop is available now on Netflix. Watch the classic music video for T-Pain’s “I’m Sprung” below: