In the days leading up to Usher’s Super Bowl performance, the singer waxed poetically about the significance of this moment not only in popular culture but for Black music.
Speaking with Kelly Carter on "Good Morning America," Usher reflected on the history of Black entertainers who performed for the masses under restrictive laws. Although a majority of those laws have been overturned, it would be remiss to not think about the recent series of court cases that have targeted Black musicians, such as Atlanta-based rapper Young Thug, whose music is currently being used against him in court.
For singers like Usher who have been privy to the ways in which Black music — and those who create it — have been mistreated, his halftime performance was as much as a statement as it was a tribute to those who came before him. "I'm coming through the front door with this one," Usher told Carter.
It is only fitting that the performance opened with lines from "My Way" — the title of his Las Vegas residency, which has featured a who’s who of prominent figures in pop culture — before launching into "Caught Up." Usher then descended from his anointed throne in a crisp, all white Dolce & Gabbana ensemble, he began a Michael Jackson-inspired dance routine with an array of backup dancers; the standout being renowned celebrity choreographer Sean Bankhead.
Usher made it clear early on, however, that his performance was no mere spectacle. He paused to deliver a testimony, one that bears repeating despite his new album and $100 million-earning Vegas residency: "They said I wouldn't make it, they said I wouldn't be here today, but I am."
Once the air cleared and Usher thanked his momma for her steadfast advocacy and faith in him, he led Allegiant Stadium in a sing along of "Superstar." The track from 2004’s Confessions recently inspired a viral challenge on TikTok.
A consummate performer and supporter of his peers, Usher wasn't content to simply highlight his own success. The singer transformed Allegiant Stadium to "The Yard" — the singular place at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, where students gather to talk, discuss, and have fun — and filled it with music.
Usher’s Yard included a performance of "Love In This Club" with the assistance of two members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., the second oldest Black fraternity in the U.S. The trio was supported by the Jackson State University marching band, known as the "Sonic Boom of The South," to finish the song.
Even his brief moment of affection with singer Alicia Keys, who joined the singer for "My Boo," can be described as a "homecoming hug." Homecoming is another HBCU tradition, where alumni convene at their respective campuses and greet their former flame with a hug.
When Jermaine Dupri entered the stage to announce the 20th anniversary of Confessions, the transportation was complete. The audience was no longer in Vegas, but in Atlanta, the Black Mecca of the world. And Usher is Atlanta’s nucleus.
It is here that the spirits of Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, and Prince accompanied Usher as he bewitched millions with a singular microphone and momentum stage presence. A haze of purple clouds and smoke led the way for singer H.E.R., the night’s self appointed "Bad Girl" and her crew of roller skating baddies.
While Usher may have began the halftime show with the enthusiasm of a young boy who just got his chance to perform a solo in the church choir, by its end he was fully inhabiting his chart-topping sex icon persona.Will.i.am’s voice rippled through the stadium as Usher, donning a blue and black Off-White outfit reminiscent of football shoulder pads, glided onto the stage with an aura that is equal parts charismatic and sinful sweet.
Skating, a main tenant of Atlanta’s culture, is embedded in Usher’s ethos and a part of his larger business. The singer loves skating and owns several skating rinks.
Usher finished the extravagant performance with "Yeah!" — a song beloved in Atlanta and far, far beyond. That the song is turning 20 this year and still resonates with a global audience (not to mention a football-loving one) is further evidence that Usher truly is the "King of R&B."
"Your moment is your moment. And this is a moment I’ve prepared for during the last 30 years," Usher told Billboard ahead of the Super Bowl.
He certainly owned his moment. Usher's Super Bowl halftime show was no singular performance or an audition, but a coronation. He was receiving the torch carried by all the Black entertainers who preceded him, and reminding the world that the South still has something to say.
Surrounded by Ludacris and Lil Jon, strippers, and his own marching band, Usher closed the night out with the A-Town Stomp and one important phase: "I took the world to the A!"
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