If this is the future of rolling out a new single, the future is a bleak (yet delicious) hellscape.
It started, like most of these things do, with a news story. “Usher Is Releasing His New Song In Honey Nut Cheerio Boxes.” What those stories didn’t say was that those Honey Nut Cheerio boxes were only available at Walmarts. They also didn’t say that the promo codes available in those boxes, despite the very public rollout of the single—which included Usher starring in an ad with the Cheerio Bee—would not work, leaving me with two boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios I don’t even want. And they also didn’t say that I would spend the better part of the last 36 hours going to two different Walmarts three times, contacting customer service departments, and fruitlessly trying to work a stupid web portal. I tried to hear the new Usher single after buying two boxes of cereal most eaten by babies. And I fucking couldn’t.
Usher chose to release “Clueless” exclusively at Walmarts. Luckily, there are four within a 30-minute drive from my apartment in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. On Tuesday morning, it was my duty to go out, buy a box of Usher Honey Nut Cheerios, listen to the song, and write about what it was like to go to Walmart and buy cereal exclusively for a song. I would hear the new Usher single the way Usher, his accountant, and General Mills had intended, via a promotional download code printed on the inside of a $3.32 box of Honey Nut Cheerios only available at Walmart stores. I would have trenchant observations about breakfast cereal—were you aware it was originally invented to help curb masturbation?—and about how weird it is as a culture that it’s probably easier for Usher to get his music into more people’s hands via cereal (which has a huge two-sided aisle in every Walmart) than via a CD (which now only has a small side of one aisle in every Walmart).
I should have known things wouldn’t go smoothly. When I went to the Walmart closest to me, the huge “Supercenter” in Monona, WI, one of the suburban enclaves that circle the city of Madison, I looked high and low for the Honey Nut Cheerios, like Omar Little in the corner store, and I only saw the Halloween edition boxes. Usher was nowhere to be found.
An employee happened to walk by at the exact moment I was about to quit looking, and despite knowing from personal experience as a former big box retail employee that the last thing he wanted to do is help me, I asked him.
“Hey man, do you guys have the Usher song Honey Nut Cheerios?”
“You know, the Honey Nut Cheerios with the free Usher song.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. We have Honey Nut Cheerios right over here,” he says, pointing to the literally hundreds of boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios in the aisle.
“Usher put out a new song today, and it’s only available in Honey Nut Cheerio boxes at Walmarts.”
“Really? That’s crazy. I didn’t hear that.”
“Yeah, it was all over the internet today. Do you think you have any in back?”
“Nah man. All we have is what we have out here.”
That’s retail employee slang for “go fuck yourself,” so I decided to drive across Madison to the west side Walmart. Not sure what to expect, I found the Usher edition boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios just in the aisle, on the bottom two shelves mixed in with the regular cereal. There was no display. There was no floor sticker. There was nothing but a dozen boxes on a shelf, bearing the new single from one of the best singers of my lifetime. If this is the future of rolling out a new single, the future is a bleak (yet delicious) hellscape.
I got the box home, and entered the promo code. Instead of it working and immediately sending me the song like I rightfully assumed, it didn’t work at all. A notification popped up on the screen that said that my promo code was either incorrect, or it had already been redeemed. I tried entering it about 12 different ways. All caps, no caps, dashes, no dashes, half-caps, backwards, forwards. In frustrations, I tried typing “420 69” and “Fuck-This-Bull-Shit.” None of it worked. I stepped back and thought that maybe a nefarious Walmart employee entered the code, so it was back to the store. I trudged the 30 minutes back across town—through a light snow, I might add—get another box, bring it home, and... get the same error message.
It’s at this point I’ve realized either that I have stumbled upon the stupidest song piracy ring of all time—the song hasn’t even been leaked yet, two days later, which must be a record—or that Usher and nobody on his team seems to have bothered to make sure this download system actually works. I confirm via literally one other person on Twitter that this is the case for her too. This is worse than the time I couldn’t get the Littlefoot handpuppet from Pizza Hut after four tries asking.
I’ve contacted the customer service departments of both Sony—the label that is releasing Usher’s song—and General Mills, and as of noon today, I haven’t heard anything back. One of the many marvels of living in a technologically advanced time is that if you want to hear a song, basically any song ever, that song is just a cursory Google search away. Want to hear Toto do “Africa” live? There are roughly 12,000 versions on YouTube. One minute Riff Raff songs? Right here. The theme song for Cowboys of Moo-Mesa? The internet has that too.
“Clueless” has become the hardest song to hear on earth. I had to spend seven dollars on cereal, drive almost 35 miles, enter promo codes, contact customer service departments, have a problem with self-checkout and have to search for a customer service employee, wander two Walmarts three times in two days, and I still haven’t heard the song. Let it burn, I guess.
UPDATE: Since this article ran on Thursday, I’ve had many people ask me—in real life and URL—if I’ve heard “Clueless” yet. Well, I have. Finally.
On Friday afternoon, we were finally contacted by someone at Honey Nut Cheerios. After apologizing for me having “difficulties” downloading the song, the spokeswoman said that the company had just ensured that the downloads were working. This was literally two hours after I tried downloading the song on Friday morning—entering the codes multiple ways, again. The person from Cheerios also helpfully suggested that I was probably just putting the code in wrong.
I tried again on Friday afternoon, and it finally worked when I put the code in without dashes and all lowercase, a method I tried probably 15 times between Tuesday, when I first bought the Cheerios, and Friday. I guess it’s possible I messed up the code about 50 times, but I mean, I also know how to read and work a computer. Take that for what you will.
So, how is “Clueless”? It’s pretty good I guess. It’s a slow burning track; its heartbeat never gets above a medium thump. This is “I’m serious and in love” Usher, not “let’s dance in the club and forget our problems” Usher. There’s a reason this is premiering underneath a bunch of Cheerios: It’s not going to be Usher’s next “Yeah” or “Confessions Part II” or even his next “Climax.” If it were going to be that, it’d be premiering on The Voice—where Usher was a judge—or on a more traditional musical distribution platform. It’s as disposable as a plastic ring or whatever they have at the bottom of cereal boxes these days.
I’m the guy who spent $6.64 to hear a single Usher song, and was I mildly disappointed. Sometimes you do get what you pay for.
Andrew Winistorfer's favorite kind of cereal is Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Follow him on Twitter.