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Usher's Super Bowl Halftime show was chaotic but cemented his R&B legacy

Usher performs onstage during the Apple Music Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jamie Squire
/
Getty Images
Usher performs onstage during the Apple Music Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Going into the Super Bowl Halftime Show, Usher didn't really have anything to prove – in a career that's going on three decades, he's managed to cultivate a significant amount of good will and, in recent years, a resurgence in cultural relevancy, thanks to a hugely successful grown and sexy Las Vegas residency. (And a very viral lo-fi moment.)

Nevertheless, getting to headline the event can be akin to earning an EGOT for any pop superstar, and on Sunday evening, Usher approached it as a hard-earned capstone to his legacy.

"They said I wouldn't make it, they said I wouldn't be here today, but I am," he pronounced early into his ebullient set, before shouting out his mother. For anyone who's been a fan of his going back to the days of "My Way" and "U Make Me Wanna," it was hard not to feel joyful about this moment.

The "rated U" performance (per Apple Music) was, admittedly, chaotic and hurried for most of its runtime. The opening song, "Caught Up," found him echoing the flashy vibes of Vegas, with an (over)abundance of background performers: ladies adorned with feathers, acrobats, stilt walkers, etc. Usher stood out, if only because of his bright all-white and sparkly getup, but the camera editing was a whirlwind and seemed to pull focus away from the star out the gate. (The vocals/sound mixing also left much to be desired here.)

What followed was essentially a montage of his immersive catalog that at times whipped by too quickly – a single line from "Superstar" here, a very short taste of "Nice and Slow" there. The medley was at its best when he gave us a bit of time to revel in his smooth, swaggering choreography and sit with a song for a bit, as he did with his classic ballad "U Got It Bad." (This was the moment he stripped off his shirt, the vocals got a chance to shine, and he brought out H.E.R. to shred on the guitar solo. Magic.)

Usher and Alicia Keys perform "My Boo" during Super Bowl LVIII.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Usher and Alicia Keys perform "My Boo" during Super Bowl LVIII.

As was previously reported, some of Usher's notable collaborators were also on deck to showcase his bona fides. Alicia Keys, performing a bit of her solo hit "If I Ain't Got You" and their duet "My Boo"; Jermaine Dupri for "Confessions (Part II)"; Will.I.Am for "OMG"; Lil Jon and Ludacris for "Yeah," the obvious choice for the final song.

If the show was kind of all over the place, Usher's ultimate point still stands – the man's got a lot of hits, and no real challenger to the current title of King of R&B. (As most of us can all agree, the less said about his EDM era, the better.) It wasn't his best performance, but it was still fun, and a testament to his star power. As "Yeah" brought the show to a rousing conclusion, Usher and co. had by then transformed the aesthetic theme to that of a glitzy football game, with costumes resembling football gear, dancers winding on poles, a marching band, and the chorus jumping up and down, puffing their chests as if they'd just won the trophy.

"I took the world to the A," he chanted a few times, referencing the city where he spent many of his formative years as an adolescent. Indeed.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Aisha Harris
Aisha Harris is a host of Pop Culture Happy Hour.