It was always foolish to discount Usher’s talent and power ahead of the R&B icon’s Super Bowl LVIII halftime show. Of course, you could argue that the crooner’s peak of success peaked 20 years ago, despite his several hits in the years that followed. But after the riveting display of breathtaking showmanship and sex-on-legs charisma he brought to the world’s biggest stage, there’s no denying that Usher has been – and always will be – a certified hitmaker.
If you’ve paid even a fraction of attention to current events in recent weeks, you know that the Super Bowl has been overtaken by celebrity. This is apparently no longer a sporting event, but a satellite stop on Taylor Swift’s Eras tour. Newscasters spent their airtime, pointers in hand, showing viewers how Swift was able to get from her four shows in Japan to Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas in time to see her boyfriend Travis Kelce play. (Mind you, Swift is only attending the game and not performing.) But Swift’s successful journey around the world is nothing compared to Usher’s journey to the Super Bowl stage; this performance was the real unmissable spectacle of the evening. When Usher performed, there was no one else in the stadium worth watching.
Well, that’s partly true. There were, of course, some special guests who joined Usher on stage to celebrate the longevity of his career. But make no mistake: This was Usher’s show, something that a triple threat (singer, dancer, and swoon-worthy underwear model) wanted to prove from the jump.
Just before the set started, a fake MPA warning with red band was displayed, warning that the set was rated ‘U’ and that it could cause ‘singing, dancing, sweating, gyrating and possible relationship problems’. If there’s anyone who can talk a big game and back it up, it’s Usher. After Rihanna’s less exciting (but still very fun) halftime show last year, the bar was lower than in recent years, as J.Lo, Shakira and the Weeknd delivered exciting medleys of their biggest hits. But Usher commanded the whole the stage with his special presence looked like no sweat – despite how much he visibly perspired.
The show proper started with those unforgettable synths from “Yeah!”, enough to make any millennial around you sit up in their seat. But we’d have to wait a little longer for what would inevitably be the jaw-dropping final issue. First he opened with “Caught Up,” a lesser-known but still wildly popular song from his biggest album, 2004. Confessions. “Caught Up” set the tone for the show, which kept the song’s powerful energy throughout, even at the softer points when Usher ballad reminded us exactly what his voice can do.
The show was a huge spectacle from the start, starting with Cirque du Soleil-level acrobatics. However many feathers, sequins and stilts there were to watch it, it was Usher’s fluid choreography that turned heads. He hasn’t lost a single bit of the agility that made him such a star. Usher may be 45 years old, but he’s oiled those joints, thrown a few pieces of titanium into his knees and kept him moving. Thanks to a throwback headset microphone – the amplifier of choice for him and his 2000s contemporaries like Britney Spears and NSYNC – Usher could pop, lock, drop, bump and spin as much as he wanted.
And he did! Usher plowed through “Love in this Club” before catching his breath during “My Boo,” when artist Alicia Keys gave him a much-needed break. Keys unfortunately had a bit of vocal crack at the beginning of the song. But once her voice warmed up, the nostalgia train couldn’t hold back as the two of them sang the hit song responsible for the conception of thousands of children around the world.
Producer Jermaine Dupri came by to hype the crowd even more, while Usher released the remaining singles Confessions—”Confessions Pt. II” and “Burn” – for all they were worth. “U Got It Bad” followed, with all of us at home watching the song title as Usher took off his jacket to reveal a white tank that didn’t stay on for even a moment before it too was removed to reveal the singer’s ripped body. Usher has always used his looks as part of his appeal; he understands that he is sexy, and he uses it to his advantage. The music sounds even better because someone so damn beautiful is singing it, and it should come as no surprise that he used that effect to hypnotize the millions of people watching.
But it wasn’t just his looks that made the set so enchanting. After a quick change, with HER – the music industry’s premier psyop, who appeared at every awards show and gig under the sun – playing a little guitar, Usher was back. Now it was on wheels. Usher and a team of roller skate dancers paraded across the stage to “Bad Girl” and “OMG” with guest will.i.am. before hitting some seriously impressive moves to a cover of Lil’ Jon and DJ Snake’s ‘Turn Down For What’. “My Boo” may have led to thousands of pregnancies over the past two decades, but “Turn Down For What” gave hundreds of thousands of white people alcohol poisoning in 2013.
The song was just a tee-up for the grand finale: “Yeah!” Despite being from 2004, “Yeah!” is a song known to every generation, all over the world. It may be ubiquitous, but it’s one of those songs that just doesn’t get old. But it was more than just a dose of wistful memories, as Usher, Lil Jon and Ludacris proved when they took the stage together. “Yes!” is the kind of floor filler that musicians just don’t make anymore, and the energy radiating through Allegiant Stadium was palpable, even through the television screen. As the song ended with the marching band from top-ranked HBCU Jackson State University playing a stirring instrumental version of the song, it was clear that Usher’s set was not just a victory lap in his career, but a loving thank you to black culture and the institutions that have allowed his star to shine so brightly for so long.
With the movement of his hips and that velvety voice, Usher reminded us all why he deserved to play on this stage. This was his moment and he rose to the occasion. The wildest part of the whole performance? What we saw was not even close to on the total of Usher’s hits. He opted to avoid special appearances from his protégé Justin Bieber for “Somebody to Love (Remix)” or Pitbull for “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love.” Instead, he basked in the culture – and specific people – that raised him and made him a star. “We made it, mom,” Usher said at the top of the set. It was a tender moment, a reminder that Usher’s innate magnetism and endless gratitude have made him as beloved as his talent. His set was a reflection of that, an effective mix of nostalgia and pure, undeniable talent and charisma. It was the kind of retrospective we haven’t seen in years, and one that will be hard to top in 2025.