R&B singer Usher makes a memorable cameo in Hustlers, leading many to wonder if he was also involved in the true story the movie is based on. Directed by Lorene Scafaria, the crime drama is a fictionalized version of Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York magazine article "The Hustlers at Scores.” Here’s why Usher was cast in Hustlers, and what it means for the storyline.
In Hustlers, exotic dancers living in New York City devise a plan to rob Wall Streets patrons. The story begins in 2008, with Dorothy aka Destiny (Constance Wu) reaching out to co-worker Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez) for industry advice. Usher was a legit 21st century superstar at the time, thanks to albums like 8701 and Confessions, with the former producing the pre-social media anthem “Yeah!” and the break-up classic “Burn.” However, while Usher had a reputation for rolling up to strip clubs and acting like royalty, he never actually met with the real-life Hustlers.
It may be fictional, cut Usher's Hustlers cameo strengthens the film’s authenticity factor and complements the soundtrack full of mainstream hits from 2008. Usher was topping the charts at the time, so Lizzo's reaction to his arrival at the night club in Hustlers, (quote: “Motherf***ing Usher is here. Usher, b***h!”) is understandable. The dancers rush out to meet him collectively perform to his aforementioned 2008 hit “Love in This Club." Usher’s youthful appearance hasn't changed much since 2008, though he did have to wear a hat to conceal his now grown-out hair. Scafaria recalled in an interview with Cosmopolitan:
“Usher looks exactly the same as he did in 2008, but his hair is different… He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to do it because he didn’t want to have to change his hair… I was googling pictures of Usher and hats, and then he had pictures of himself in hats to prove that he could play himself in 2008.”
Usher’s cameo essentially sets up the film’s primary conflict. At first, Dorothy simply wants more money, and hopes to improve as a dancer - and when Usher arrives, she’s done exactly that. But everything changes in Hustlers after the financial crisis. Dorothy and company need to improvise in order to sustain their lifestyle, so they concoct a special drink that will make their customers happy (MDMA) and also lose their memory (ketamine). Usher’s cameo symbolizes the end of Dorothy’s naivety; it’s the all-night celebration before the inevitable hangover.
Usher’s Hustlers cameo also connects to internet culture. In 2008, cultural norms were slowly shifting thanks to the rise of YouTube and social media, and celebrities like Usher became even more famous through accessible catchphrases. In Hustlers, Lopez’s character approaches Usher and asks “What’s your name?” - already knowing what to expect next. “Usher, baby,” the singer says - a catchphrase associated with his music and performances. Lizzo's character, Liz, also refers to Usher as "Urscher" - popular wordplay associated with the musical superstar's name.
Usher’s Hustlers cameo not only marks a turning point in the film, but also highlights just how much has changed since 2008 - even if the man himself seemingly hasn’t changed a bit.