When Usher was announced as the Super Bowl Halftime headline performer in September last year, the news was met with collective adoration. Since his debut three decades ago, Usher has grown into his stature as music’s premier exhibitionist; a technically-astute, vocally gifted performer who understands intimately the art of marathon entertainment, of putting on a show. The eight-time Grammy Award winner launched his ‘My Way’ Las Vegas residency in July 2022, becoming the most lucrative live shows of his career; it was serendipitous that Usher’s moment in the Superbowl spotlight happened in the domed multi-purpose Allegiant stadium.
Last week, I wrote in my review of Usher’s ninth studio album that his return to music felt peripheral to the live spectacle. Having viewed the 13-minute career-spanning Halftime performance (longer than previous halftime shows) with clear-eyed morning clarity, it rings true. Not one new song from Usher’s new album ‘COMING HOME’ featured. Instead Usher’s halftime show was predicated around history and legacy; a retrospective hit parade beamed through dazzling projections in sometimes overwhelming, haphazard fashion.
Decked in a bejeweled and beaded white overcoat, Usher lived up him to his regal stateliness, opening with ‘Confessions’-era throwback joint ‘Caught Up’, before seguing into The Neptunes-produced anthem ‘U Don’t Have to Call’. It set the tone for a performance piece transitioning between clipped thirty second segments at whiplash pace. There were strength in numbers; H.E.R. appeared for an electric guitar solo, and RnB peer Alicia Keys slowed the proceedings with a dewy-eyed but pitchy rendition of ‘My Boo’. Doused in effects, Usher made sure to honour his days as a purveyor of romantic discord; abbreviated versions of ‘Burn’ and ‘You Got It Bad’ the opportune moment for the singer to take his top off, arms aloft in the air lapping up the call and response.
The choreographed moments deserve a mention; the intricately-timed pace with which the troupes, rotating dancers and rollerbladers circled their leading man was a sight to behold, adding the requisite pomp needed for this superabundant ceremony. Midway through, Usher changed into an embellished Off White ensemble, and raced through the climax with ‘OMG’ and ‘Yeah!’ – the frenetic finale taking me back to the pre-social media blitz, when TRL and BET were the primary mediums of music entertainment, when releases lingered for longer. When you had time.
Usher’s Halftime show was ultimately a career-spanning overture to this year’s ‘Past Present Future’ tour. If you weren’t in the know, and needed reminding who the world’s greatest showman is, this is all the evidence you’ll require.
Photo Credit: Timothy A. Clary for Getty Images