A couple of minutes into Usher’s dynamic and sly Super Bowl LVIII halftime present efficiency Sunday evening at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas got here a second of unusual, nearly startling calm.
Alicia Keys had simply appeared, in a sequined purple jumpsuit and matching encrusted robe, and reasonably gratuitously flubbed the opening observe of her hit piano ballad “If I Ain’t Got You.”
She recovered, and as she approached the tip of the refrain, you may hear Usher singing in quiet concord because the digicam panned again, selecting the 2 of them at reverse ends of Keys’s piano. Usher picked up the ultimate line of the refrain — alone, easy and assured, nearly whispered — earlier than Keys returned to share the final observe.
Allegiant Stadium holds roughly 65,000 individuals, however in that immediate, 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 discipline: A small-bore, granular-gestured showcase gave option to an explosive party. But what this set did so nicely was make plain that Usher’s dedication to trivia 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 certain, but additionally — and perhaps extra so — along with his physique and his toes. From the opening, the telecast was cautious to not waste any of his actions, the digicam resting on him as he labored via cautious footwork and body-bending routines. The proven 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 short spoken interlude to acknowledge God and his mom, then provided 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 party mode started. The Atlanta producer Jermaine Dupri did some crowd warm-up work earlier than Usher delivered “Confessions Part II,” one of the upbeat songs about sexual infidelity in pop historical past. After a short detour via “Nice & Slow” (with a short acknowledgment of the track’s latest afterlife as a meme) and the saucily pressing “Burn,” he got here to “U Got It Bad,” wherein 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 option to a cropped white blazer giving option 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 “potential relationship points.”)
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 part 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 party had commenced. He did a tiny little bit of “OMG,” a collaboration with Will.i.am that largely served to underscore the frequent threads between pop-EDM and the Atlanta crunk music that preceded it by nearly a decade. Lil Jon arrived for some motivational shouting, after which transitioned into “Yeah!” That 2004 collaboration took a few of 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 phases.
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 party 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.