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Usher Super Bowl Halftime Review: A Focus on Details With Alicia Keys, Lil Jon and More

In a halftime set that touched on more than a dozen songs, the R&B star delivered a raucous Atlanta party and a lesson in intimate showmanship.

A few minutes into Usher’s dynamic and sly Super Bowl LVIII halftime show performance Sunday night at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas came a moment of uncommon, almost startling calm.

Alicia Keys had just appeared, in a sequined red jumpsuit and matching encrusted gown, and rather gratuitously flubbed the opening note of her hit piano ballad “If I Ain’t Got You.”

She recovered, and as she approached the end of the chorus, you could hear Usher singing in quiet harmony as the camera panned back, settling on the two of them at opposite ends of Keys’s piano. Usher picked up the final line of the chorus — alone, smooth and confident, almost whispered — before Keys returned to share the last note.

Allegiant Stadium holds approximately 65,000 people, but in that instant, there were only two. It was one of the quietest sequences in halftime history, a remarkable testament to the gifts of Usher, a performer of precise detail who is enjoyed best with rapt attention.

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Usher was joined by Alicia Keys on Sunday.Credit…Bridget Bennett for The New York Times
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And H.E.R. played guitar during his halftime set.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Most of the rest of the performance — which touched on more than a dozen songs — was grander in scale, designed to fill a football field: A small-bore, granular-gestured showcase gave way to an explosive party. But what this set did so well was make plain that Usher’s commitment to minutiae and his capacity for grandeur are fired in the same cauldron. He can control the stage when it is packed to the gills, and he can do it alone.

5 Essential Usher Songs

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  1. album art for You Make Me Wanna... (1997)

    You Make Me Wanna… (1997)

    Usher

    The first single from his earliest collaboration with the producer Jermaine Dupri, “My Way” shows the hallmarks of their decades-long partnership: a mid-tempo, bouncing track about relationship woes that leaves room for a dance breakdown that defined the song’s video.Full track

  2. album art for Yeah! (2004)

    Yeah! (2004)

    Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris

    Usher’s longest-charting No. 1 hit, “Yeah!”, which spent 12 weeks in the top spot, was a late add to “Confessions” after the Arista label boss L.A. Reid asked the artist and Dupri to craft a lead single for the album. The result was this eminently danceable Crunk-n-B track with fellow Atlanta artists Lil Jon and Ludacris.Full track

  3. album art for Confessions Part II (2004)

    Confessions Part II (2004)

    Usher

    Usher wrote this magnus opus of cheating alongside Dupri and Bryan Michael-Cox, weaving a soap opera of infidelity over a sparse drum loop, programmed handclaps and a lilting guitar riff. The single became the third of four No. 1 hits from the album “Confessions.”Full track

  4. album art for Love in This Club (2008)

    Love in This Club (2008)

    Usher featuring Young Jeezy

    This paean to the bottle service era sees Usher delivering silky R&B seduction over synth-driven production and 808 drums, presaging his later forays into electronic dance music. Jeezy’s cocksure cameo verse turns the smoothly libidinous invitation into a full-on dare. Full track

  5. album art for Climax (2012)

    Climax (2012)

    Usher

    Though it wasn’t the first of Usher’s pop-leaning EDM collaborations – “OMG” featuring Will.i.am and “Without You” with David Guetta came before – “Climax” was his best marriage of the form, featuring a powerhouse vocal that swells and dives as he laments a love that’s “going nowhere fast.”Full track

Track previews and album art courtesy of

Spotify.

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