Arts, Review

Yeah! No: Usher Fails to Deliver at Halftime Show

When eight-time Grammy Award winner Usher was announced as this year’s Super Bowl halftime show performer, many had doubts about the arguably out-of-his-prime singer. Based on his performance, it’s safe to say that these doubts most certainly had basis.

Right off the bat, it was clear that Usher would not go down as one of the better halftime show performers. Panning through a crowd of background dancers, the artist shed his oversized coat as the initial verses to “Caught Up” commenced. As Usher fell into line, his dancing seemed to overwhelm his singing. Not even two minutes in, a mixture of unengaging vocals and overdancing had only amounted to an underwhelming start for Usher.

As he transitioned through his next three songs, Usher ended up solo on stage as a marching band played the opening to “Love in This Club.” While creating impressively layered instrumentals, Usher’s overly sensual dancing paired with the band’s music took away from his admittedly solid vocals. 

The trend of Usher’s dancing ruining otherwise nice singing is what mainly contributed to his overall mediocre performance. Take, for instance, Usher’s version of a “robot” dance move, which he attempted to execute after unnecessarily stripping off his shirt during “U Got It Bad.” On the theme of excessive sexual dancing, Usher’s background moves during his duet with guest Alicia Keys particularly distracted from his vocal performance.

If Keys’ introduction with a stripped down “If I Ain’t Got You” said anything, it’s that she needed no help to sound amazing—ignoring her initial voice break. Despite that, Usher managed to detract from his guest’s incredible skills as they sang their joint song “My Boo.” His overdancing stood out in comparison to Keys’ simpler, more mellow movements.

Usher’s guests were generally underused. Artists like H.E.R.,, and Lil Jon were only shown for the occasional 30-second clip that left audiences wanting more—another theme of this year’s halftime show. 

Many fans were quite disappointed when Justin Bieber, who was rumored to be joining the stage given his “Somebody to Love Remix” with Usher, was not included in the performance. Even then, if treated similarly to the other guests, Bieber would not have been used to his full potential.

Now, there were portions of the show where Usher hit his stride. In particular, the transition from H.E.R.’s guitar solo for “Bad Girl” brought the entertainment to a better level. then joined the stage to aid a rollerskating Usher in their song “OMG.” Ignoring the ridiculous futuristic-styled costumes donned by the skaters and the roller skating in general, “OMG” was the first song where Usher started to seem like an acceptable choice to perform the biggest show of the year.  

Add on Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What,” which acted as a transition into one of Usher’s most popular hits, “Yeah!,” and the show was salvaged to a certain extent. Still, the overuse of dancing to fill voids where Usher’s music was absent—like the chorus of “Yeah!,” which is mostly pauses besides the word “yeah”—weakened the performance.

The singer even managed to lose all the momentum he had built up in “Yeah!” at the very end of his performance, which added an element of disorganization to criticisms. Although Lil Jon and final guest Ludacris joined on stage for a final climax, Usher decided to finish the show by repeating the phrase “I turn the world to the A” after the obvious end to the song. With Ludacris awkwardly trying to still sing back up, Usher’s final impression was ultimately unexceptional.

While many at home had low expectations for Usher, an artist whose hits are all from more than a decade ago, this halftime show did nothing but prove them right. Coming off one of the more well-received performances in past years, it is clear the NFL will have to step up its game for next year.

February 18, 2024