In what many salty NFL fans are calling a “scripted win,” the Kansas City Chiefs walked away with the championship at the 2024 Super Bowl. But the real winner of the night was actually the Gen Xers and millennials who are currently icing their knees this morning thanks to the show stopping halftime performance King of R&B himself, one Usher Raymond IV.
When Usher was first announced as the halftime performer, the internet erupted in excitement because the decision just made sense. If I were to run down Usher’s many accolades as justification for why he was the perfect candidate for a Super Bowl halftime show, we’d be here all day. Everyone knows who Usher is as well as the kind of impact he’s had on music across genres and on pop culture as a whole. Usher’s been shaping the landscape for decades now, and that’s why we were so happy that Jay-Z and RocNation had finally decided to let him take the stage at the biggest sporting event of the year. (It really should've happened a long time ago, but that’s neither here nor there. Maroon 5 before Usher was a choice!)
While many of last night's audience was composed of ride-or-die football fans who'd been following the game all season, there was a significant portion of us who couldn’t tell you which team was leading in the second quarter (or even who was playing? Both teams are red, right? Go sports!), but please believe that we were front and center in our living rooms when the halftime show began. We just knew that Usher was going to deliver a one-of-a-kind performance of his greatest hits, and with so many bangers spanning his unique eras — including but not limited to EDM Usher, crying-in-the-rain Usher, and bachata Usher — it was really just a matter of which song he’d open the show with.
"Daddy's Home" was my guess for the kickoff, but Usher opted for “Caught Up” instead (a good choice!), storming the field at Allegiant Stadium with an entourage of dancers appropriately decked out in sparkling, larger-than-life Vegas-inspired costumes. Usher, dressed down in diamonds and all white, delivered vocals and choreography alongside his dancers before a hard pivot into his wheelhouse: R&B. The viral iconic opening run of "Superstar" echoed throughout the stadium (and my home) before a transition into "Love in this Club" and its unforgettable dance break. Did I almost twist my ankle trying to do it with him? Of course I did. Worth it, though.
As teased, Usher's 13 minutes on the Super Bowl stage also included a few very special guest appearances. Alicia Keys was the first, stationed at a ruby red grand piano in a matching ruby-encrusted cape and catsuit while belting out lyrics from "If I Ain't Got You." Usher joined her for a very...cozy rendition of "My Boo." (Your wife is not your wife when Usher's performing. I don't make the rules, Swizz Beats.) Then we went straight into the slow jams, and Usher very unsurprisingly took off his shirt (!) while H.E.R. served rockstar realness on the electric guitar. Longtime friend and collaborator Jermaine Dupri also popped up onstage, later accompanied by Lil Jon and Ludacris. Usher doing the A-town stomp with his fellow Atlanta legends onstage...what a time! (Justice for “Love in this Club Pt. II”, though — Beyoncé was in the house! This is me being delusional, but a “Bad Girl” moment à la 2005 would’ve sufficed, too.)
Between the thousands of people on the field with him, the abrupt transitions, and me screaming at my TV, Usher's halftime show was a lot at times — but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. It couldn't have been easy to condense a catalogue that spans over 20 years into 13 mere minutes, but Usher did just that. And he did it in the most Usher way possible, going back to his roots with the songs that made him a household name. Notably, a lot of Usher's non-R&B songs didn't make the cut for the halftime setlist, but I think that exclusion was intentional. Sure, he could've added other songs to the lineup, but Usher knew who his dedicated audience was, who the people tuning in despite not watching a single football game all season were. That moment was as much for the day one fans as it was for Usher, for the people who burned Confessions into mixtapes for their crushes and imagined that they were his other half in the "My Boo" music video. This was a show for us.
Usher won the Super Bowl. 3/4 of his set was straight up R&B at that. He didn’t downplay his catalog either. What an amazing and blackity black performance.— Romel ✌🏽 (@YoungOldMan_) February 12, 2024
The idea of returning to what he knows best seems to be heavy on Usher's mind, even with his new work. Coming Home, the brand new studio album that dropped just days before the big game, sees the R&B legend continuing to build on the solid musical foundation that made him into a superstar to begin with. Coming Home’s release alongside the halftime show is perfectly timed, too; 20 years after Confessions, Usher is reminding us that R&B is his bread and butter — and that he’s one of the best to ever do it, past, present, and future.