Usher crammed three decades of hits into 13 minutes as the halftime performer at Sunday’s Super Bowl LVIII — a feat of quick-cut razzle-dazzle from a veteran showman who spent the last year and a half thrilling audiences on the Las Vegas Strip.
Appearing on pop music’s biggest stage 30 years after the release of his debut album, Usher, 45, began his set dressed in a regal white outfit surrounded by feathered showgirls on the field of Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium, not far from the site of his ballyhooed 100-date residency at the Park MGM casino.
He mashed up the crisp R&B rhythms of “Caught Up” and “U Don’t Have to Call” before welcoming a marching band to join him for the throbbing “Love in This Club.” Then he threw to Alicia Keys, who sang a bit of her “If I Ain’t Got You” and dueted with Usher on their “My Boo.”
Wearing one sparkly glove à la his idol Michael Jackson, Usher combined “Confessions,” “Burn” and “U Got It Bad” — three of the heavy-breathing R&B hits that made him one of the biggest pop stars of the early 2000s — then brought out H.E.R., who ripped a squealing solo on electric guitar. Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas appeared for Usher’s rendition of “OMG,” which the singer performed while gliding casually on roller skates across a small elevated stage.
Usher closed his set with a boisterous take on the crunk-infused “Yeah!” with help from Lil Jon and Ludacris that he said took the world to his adopted hometown of Atlanta. Overall, the performance showcased Usher's range and dexterity, though it might have moved too fast to properly demonstrate the emotion in his singing or the heady thoughts on romance that distinguish his songwriting.
Usher’s halftime show was the fifth since Jay-Z’s Roc Nation company took control of the NFL’s high-profile musical offerings — an unexpected partnership, perhaps, given Jay-Z’s criticism of the way the league treated former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick after Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police violence toward Black people.
Yet the deal has paid dividends in terms of diversifying the talent showcased at halftime — previous headliners include Rihanna last year and the all-star hip-hop dream team led by Dr. Dre in 2022 — and bringing attention to musical styles not always guaranteed a place in Super Bowl history.
Indeed, you can look at Usher’s booking as the Black-pop equivalent of the many appearances by legacy rock acts (such as Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones) in the early 2000s: Even if Usher is no longer making inescapable radio hits, his deep catalog is enabling him to do huge business on the road, as he demonstrated with the Vegas residency and with an upcoming tour he just announced that will stop for four nights in September at the Clippers’ new Intuit Dome in Inglewood.
Before kickoff Sunday, the veteran country star Reba McEntire sang a glitzy yet down-home rendition of the national anthem that nodded to her own past as a Vegas act, and Post Malone performed a folky “America the Beautiful,” accompanying himself on acoustic guitar while dressed in tight jeans, cowboy boots and a bolo tie. (Never let it be said that Jay-Z doesn’t understand the intricacies of pleasing an American audience in the era of red states and blue states.) Andra Day, the singer and actor nominated for an Oscar a few years ago for her portrayal of Billie Holiday, opened the pre-game entertainment with a stately reading of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the century-old hymn often referred to as the Black national anthem.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.