The audience for the Super Bowl was divided into a few camps: those watching for Kansas City, those watching for the San Francisco 49ers, those watching for glimpses of Taylor Swift, and a not-small number watching to see exactly what Usher would do with his halftime show.
In advance of the game, Usher noted it was a challenge “to squeeze 30 years into 13 minutes,” and said he’d decided to concentrate on past hits, moments from his popular Las Vegas residency and possibly draw from his new album, Coming Home, which came out on Friday.
And in his second appearance at the Super Bowl halftime (his first was as a guest star with Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am in 2011), the 45-year-old did exactly that.
The night had already started strong musically at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, with a patriotic rendition of the U.S. national anthem by Reba McEntire (currently clocking in at an unofficial 95 seconds), an acoustic America the Beautiful by Post Malone and Andra Day’s powerful version of Lift Every Voice and Sing. Earlier in the day, McEntire celebrated her longevity with a callback to an early anthem performance at the Nationals Finals Rodeo 50 years ago.
But the vocal spectacle of the night undoubtedly belonged to Usher, who was unafraid to share the stage with equally impressive talents and showed he still has all the moves he started with, and more.
Here’s a breakdown of Usher’s halftime show:
The set list – all the songs Usher performed
Usher was true to his word and performed a smorgasbord of mostly well-known hits with a troupe of entertainers who didn’t stop through the set. Here are the Usher songs he sang – though that wasn’t the full extent of the setlist:
- Caught Up
- U Don’t Have To Call
- Love in this Club
- My Boo
- Confessions Part II
- Nice & Slow
- Let It Burn
- U Got It Bad
- Bad Girl
The surprise guest appearances
Given Usher’s past collaborations with artists such as Jay-Z (who was at the game), P. Diddy, Pitbull and Nicki Minaj, expectations were high for potential guest stars on one of the biggest stages in the world, and he did not disappoint.
After kicking off his first few songs, he made his way to another stage where Alicia Keys sat behind a piano and performed her 2003 hit If I Ain’t Got You in a Jessica Rabbit-inspired red-sequined pantsuit, before Usher joined her to sing their duet, My Boo in an embrace that can only be described as smouldering.
Jermaine Dupri got on the mic to introduce Confessions in a shorts ensemble that earned plenty of attention online, and next was H.E.R., who entered with Prince-like dominance to play the guitar solo on Let It Burn. (Note: The lack of sound in tweets is because of rights permissions.)
Naturally Usher returned the favour of a Super Bowl halftime spot to will.i.am, who was almost unrecognizable beneath a half-face visor, singing OMG together.
Finally, Usher was joined by frequent collaborators Lil Jon and Ludacris for both Jon’s Turn Down For What and an epic rendition of Yeah! to close off the set.
Did Justin Bieber show up on stage?
Usher played an instrumental role in launching Justin Bieber’s career, acting as a mentor to the musician when he got started in the industry and helping him get signed to RBMG Records as a 13-year-old in 2008. So it was no surprise the rumour mill was working overtime about Bieber’s potential appearance during the halftime show, especially after he was seen arriving in Las Vegas with the Kardashians.
Unfortunately for fans, it seems he was only there for the football game – or to pay homage to Usher’s talent in person. Usher didn’t include Somebody To Love, the pair’s song together, in his set.
What did the performance look like?
Usher kept the stage itself relatively tame, compared to past performances such as Rihanna’s flying platforms from last year, but did move among several locations on the field.
The performers demonstrating their abilities all over those stages, however, were anything but usual, starting off with Cirque du Soleil acrobats, dancers with military-precision choreography, roller skaters zooming in and out of camera range, pole dancers effortlessly spinning around and an HBCU full marching band.
As far as costumes went, Usher started the performance in an all-white ensemble emblazoned with jewels, with his trademark gloves and layers that he slowly stripped away throughout the performance.
Once he was down to pants, he left the stage and returned in a blue-and-black sequined pantsuit with a six-pack built onto the front, in an outfit that looked like a combination of biker gear and kids’ superhero costumes – and yet, it worked.
Reactions to Usher’s performance
Overall, reactions to the high-energy performance were positive, with many commenting on the breadth of Usher’s talents and the hits they’d forgotten.
Others pointed out his homage to Black culture thoughout the performance, in big and small ways.
And of course, all of those guest stars got plenty of love too.