A couple of minutes into Usher’s dynamic and sly Super Bowl LVIII halftime present efficiency Sunday night time at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas got here a second of unusual, virtually startling calm.
Alicia Keys had simply appeared, in a sequined crimson jumpsuit and matching encrusted robe, and reasonably gratuitously flubbed the opening word of her hit piano ballad “If I Ain’t Got You.”
She recovered, and as she approached the tip of the refrain, you could possibly hear Usher singing in quiet concord because the digital camera panned again, deciding on the 2 of them at reverse ends of Keys’s piano. Usher picked up the ultimate line of the refrain — alone, easy and assured, virtually whispered — earlier than Keys returned to share the final word.
Allegiant Stadium holds roughly 65,000 individuals, however in that prompt, there have been solely two. It was one of many quietest sequences in halftime historical past, a outstanding testomony to the items of Usher, a performer of exact element who’s loved finest with rapt consideration.
Most of the remainder of the efficiency — which touched on greater than a dozen songs — was grander in scale, designed to fill a soccer subject: A small-bore, granular-gestured showcase gave solution to an explosive get together. But what this set did so properly was make plain that Usher’s dedication to trivialities and his capability for grandeur are fired in the identical cauldron. He can management the stage when it’s packed to the gills, and he can do it alone.
Thirty years into his profession, Usher, 45, is a showman along with his voice, to make sure, but in addition — and possibly extra so — along with his physique and his toes. From the opening, the telecast was cautious to not waste any of his actions, the digital camera resting on him as he labored via cautious footwork and body-bending routines. The indisputable fact that he was doing many of those strikes on grass, particularly within the first section — “Caught Up,” “U Don’t Have to Call” — was particularly spectacular.
He started with dance-centric hits with indelible opening traces, took a quick spoken interlude to acknowledge God and his mom, then supplied a sprinkle of the ballad “Superstar” earlier than being joined, loudly, by a marching band on “Love in This Club.” Keys’s subsequent set piece ended with the 2 vocalists singing “My Boo” whereas tenderly sashaying.
Then the transition to get together mode started. The Atlanta producer Jermaine Dupri did some crowd warm-up work earlier than Usher delivered “Confessions Part II,” one of the vital upbeat songs about sexual infidelity in pop historical past. After a quick detour via “Nice & Slow” (with a quick acknowledgment of the tune’s current afterlife as a meme) and the saucily pressing “Burn,” he got here to “U Got It Bad,” by which he did an prolonged dance routine with an agreeable microphone stand.
Up till this level, Usher had been in a gradual procession of dishabille — a white fur coat giving solution to a cropped white blazer giving solution to a closely sequined sleeveless T-shirt. Here, he accomplished the journey, stripping to a tank prime after which right down to nothing above the waist however his signature U diamond pendant. (In equity, the jokey preshow warning did say that the efficiency could trigger “possible relationship issues.”)
This was the present’s peak: his strongest singing along with his most detailed dancing. It was small-stage Usher — not dissimilar to the one who spent a lot of the final yr performing a residency on the Park MGM Hotel and Casino simply 10 minutes up the highway — holding down an impossibly grand presentation.
From that time on, every little thing was free, unburdened enjoyable. H.E.R. performed some thrusting guitar, and shifted into the silky funk of “Bad Girl.” Soon, the stage was cluttered with dancers on skates — an embrace of Atlanta’s Black curler rink tradition. Usher himself, now carrying a glittering black-and-blue motorcycling get-up, was on skates, too, and nimbly at that.
An Atlanta get together had commenced. He did a tiny little bit of “OMG,” a collaboration with Will.i.am that largely served to underscore the widespread threads between pop-EDM and the Atlanta crunk music that preceded it by virtually a decade. Lil Jon arrived for some motivational shouting, after which transitioned into “Yeah!” That 2004 collaboration took among the most serrated textures in hip-hop and made them inescapable pop. Ludacris was there, too, managing to sneak in a number of of his bawdiest lyrics on this most sanitized of levels.
This finale was a halftime present bonanza: a 20-year-old hit that also sounds prefer it’s from the long run, a rip-roaring get together of tons of, a hyperlink between Black school marching bands and the hip-hop and R&B that they typically interpret on the sphere. Everyone onstage did the A-town stomp, the muscle, the thunderclap, the rockaway. “I took the world to the A,” Usher chanted, reminding everybody that in his arms, the worldwide and the native are one and the identical.