Usher came to the Super Bowl to celebrate nearly 30 years of making love in this club, and that’s exactly what he did—he turned Allegiant Stadium in Vegas into his own personal seduction lair. His Super Bowl halftime show was a splashy tribute to millennial pop glitz, with a slew of hits from the 2000s and guest stars to march, running from Alicia Keys to Ludacris to Will.I.Am to the show-stealing Lil Jon. Usher tagged the show to the 20th anniversary of his classic Confessions, without reaching back to his Nineties bangers like “You Make Me Wanna…” He didn’t go for any thrills or surprises or musical curveballs. Just a lot of love and a lot of club.
Justin Bieber, despite all the rumors, did not show up onstage to honor his mentor, even though he was right there at the game, and Taylor Swift didn’t jump in for a duet on “Lil Freak.” Ush didn’t go for the DGAF swagger that made Rihanna such a blast last year, or the culturally ambitious history-minded outreach of Dr. Dre with Snoop, Kendrick, Mary J. Blige, and Eminem taking a knee. No unexpected guests, no ambitious moves or creative head-turners at all—just Usher at his slickest, in his role as the consumate Vegas entertainer of our times.
Usher said all along his goal was to bring his Atlanta flavor to Vegas, where he’s done a 100-show residency over the past year. “I’ve been able to bring a great deal of Atlanta and the melting pot that it is, musically and culturally, to Las Vegas,” he said last week. “It wasn’t easy to do but I turned Vegas into Atlanta. I took the V and turned it upside down.” He got there tonight, ending the show with the chant, “I took the world to the A!”
Usher took the stage after a warning that his performance was Rated U: “May cause singing, dancing, sweating, gyrating, possible relationship issues.” But he also gave an emotional shout out to his mother early on. “God answers prayers!” Ush raved. “They said I wouldn’t make it. They said I wouldn’t be here today. But I am. Hey mama, we made it. Now this, this is for you!” Then he did “Love In This Club”—okay, hey, it’s his show, he can dedicate any song he wants to his mama. Usher made it a career-spanning set, occasionally losing garments from his all-white ensemble but always wearing his Michael Jackson-like sparkling glove.
He got a lot of help from his friends. Alicia Keys, looking and sounding extremely glam in her red jumpsuit with a red piano to match, joined for a duet on “My Boo,” as well as some steamy eye contact that made it an affectionagte duet. (She also began with a moving snippet of “If I Ain’t Got You,” with a creak in her voice in the first line—“some people want it all”—to serve notice that Alicia was definitely singing live.) Jermaine Dupri proclaimed, “It’s rare you find people like us! Since we in here celebrarting the 20th anniverary of Confessions I need everybody to put one hand in the air!” H.E.R. absolutely destroyed, in her surprisingly long guitar-hero interlude, for “U Got It Bad” and “Bad Girl,” asking, “Where are all my bad girls at?” She rocked her mischievious solo, grinning in her black-leather space suit.
Will.I.Am joined for “OMG”—an ominous turn of events, triggering bad memories for anyone who witnessed the 2011 Super Bowl Halftime Show debacle from the Black Eyed Peas, easily the worst in history, with Usher had a brief guest appearance, as well as Slash and a Fergie duet on “I’ve Had The Time of My Life.” Surprisingly, Usher revealed last week that the Black Eyed Peas halftime show was his “cheat sheet” template for how to do it, though fortunately it didnt show. For “OMG,” Ush livened it up on rollerblades to skate away with his dancers.
But the halftime show really took off with its most obvious and inevitable moment, “Yeah!”—especially when Lil Jon emerged to yell the four most fateful words in crunk history: “Turn down for what!” Lil Jon was a badly needed energy boost, with Ludacris also joining to turn “Yeah!” into a roller-boogie skater-boi crunkfest from the windows to the walls. The quasi-Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles robot-blue superhero costumes were a nice touch, too. Usher wasn’t aiming very high tonight with this show, but he didn’t have to—it was just Usher doing what he does best, and buffing his own legend with his glitziest confidence.
It was a music highlight on a Super Bowl that had a few of them. Beyoncé did an ad teasing new music (she was also in a box with Jay-Z and…Jack Dorsey?) The camera couldn’t stay away from Taylor Swift in her box with Lana Del Rey and Blake Lively. Mark Wahlberg, sans his Funky Bunch, did an ad for Lent (“Stay prayed up,” yeeeesh), which would have been the most absurd moment at a Super Bowl where RFK Jr had stayed away. But the halftime belonged to Usher.
“U Don’t Have To Call”
“Love In This Club”
“If I Ain’t Got You”
“Confessions Pt II”
“Nice & Slow”
“U Got It Bad”
“Turn Down For What”