over the last few weeks, Usher Raymond wasn’t necessarily the musician people were talking about when discussing the upcoming Super Bowl 2024. But even if the formation of a new American power couple in Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce was the force attracting eyeballs, the R&B star gave a performance that was more than sufficient to keep them. In just over 12 minutes, Usher and a star-studded cast of guests, including Alicia Keys, H.E.R. Lil Jon, will.i.am, and Ludacris, packed in about 16 songs from around his three-decade musical career, marrying a visual spectacle with unusually strong musicality.
In the run-up to Sunday night, he said it would be inspired by his long-running Las Vegas residency, and the setlist mirrored the one he has used at those shows. In a custom oversized white suit with playfully baggy pants designed by Dolce & Gabbana, Usher looked like an Atlanta Liberace. The show’s beginning had a circus-like atmosphere, featuring dancers in the iconic feathered showgirl costumes and others in sequined outfits in midcentury-referencing silhouettes.
The wisdom of adapting a Vegas residency was obvious, and it’s an approach the NFL should return to again. A practiced band allowed him to move among his hits swiftly, and the more-is-more approach to the setlist allowed him to play a medley of his more beloved ballads without sapping the energy. Eventually, the mood transitioned towards his more club-focused music and he did a quick change into a custom Off-White vest and pants.
The addition of his guests meant that the show was a one-night-only affair, however, and a sampler of the music that millennials associate with their teen years. Keys joined to sing “If I Ain’t Got You” and duet “My Boo,” will.i.am performed “OMG,” Lil Jon came for “Turn Down for What” and “Get Low,” before Ludacris joined for his exuberant verse on “Yeah!”. From Babyface-led R&B to club-focused bangers during EDM’s imperial phase, Usher’s career kept pace with changing tastes, documenting a contradictory industry in a period of rapid transition. The Super Bowl show proved just how powerful a charismatic performer can be in anchoring all of those trends in talent.