Over the echoes of his flashy 1997 hit “My Way,” Usher opened the halftime show of Super Bowl LVIII dressed in head-to-toe white, including a floor-length bedazzled cape and matching studded gloves. Amid occasional microphone glitches, he led with a pair of choreo-rich numbers: the Confessions hit “Caught Up” and 8701’s dazzling “U Don’t Have to Call.”
“They said I wouldn’t be here today, but I am,” Usher proclaimed, kinda lying before launching straight into his fan-service serenade “Superstar” and a brass version of one of his sleekest records, “Love in This Club.” Really, no one who’s followed Usher’s career—from his self-titled 1994 debut to his star-making albums, 8701 and Confessions, and recent legacy tour—is surprised that Usher is performing at the Super Bowl. Least of all, Usher.
But the pretense is all part of the act, which involved Usher pulling out every glide, twirl, hip-thrust, and spin-move in his repertoire to sell the moment, to sell R&B as legitimate pop music. And, of course, going shirtless. His halftime set had all the energy of a juiced-up 12-year-old stealing the show during Thanksgiving family spats by doing endless backflips in front of relatives, unprompted. Could we have gotten a few more minutes of begging and pleading during his trio of ballads: “Nice & Slow,” “Burn,” and “ U Got It Bad”? Yes. Usher instead dipped off stage for an outfit change, ceding the stage to H.E.R., who riffed “Bad Girl” on guitar.
Usher slid through the night with ease. He pirouetted around Alicia Keys as if performing a mating dance to their duet “My Boo.” (Keys, behind a fiery red piano, wearing a stunning sequin corset bodysuit, made it through a poor opening note to deliver tender nostalgia.) A lighter setlist might’ve allowed Usher to savor more moments like this, channeling the sweet soulful duets of his past. But Usher, the exquisite performer that he is, went for maximum hype, spending the second half of his set running through a medley of hits, dancing improbably well on roller skates, bringing the best, flashiest elements and fanfare of his Vegas residency to the NFL stage.