Usher’s chaotic Super Bowl half-time show couldn’t steal focus from Taylor Swift

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You would be forgiven, almost 50 years into the tradition, for having Super Bowl halftime show fatigue. Every year at this most American of events, the world tunes in to watch a 12-minute mini show by a famous pop star, and every year it is glitzy, excessive, expensive and, if they’re lucky, newsworthy. The routine of it is necessary to fuel hype – who will play! What will they do! – but it also threatens to undermine the novelty. Perhaps all this is why Usher’s offering this year was slightly underwhelming.

Or perhaps it was because Taylor Swift made the noble decision to charter her private jet from Tokyo to be at the game, in which her boyfriend Travis Kelce was playing for Kansas City. She sat in the stands, gasped theatrically at the right moments, drank beer (she’s not like the other girls) and gave Kelce a kiss when he emerged triumphant. The general consensus is that all this was altogether more interesting than Usher’s valiant 12 minutes of fancy footwork and melismatic vocal riffs. But whose fault is that?

Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift following the NFL Super Bowl 58 football game (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

The 45-year-old R&B star has returned to music all guns blazing, with a new album, which was released on Friday, bragging about his sexual prowess and lothario status via characteristically honeyed, slay-worthy pop tunes. He appeared on a sort of Perspex throne in a sparkly white cape, white suit and bejewelled white gloves, launching into the 2004 hit “Caught Up” with Michael Jackson-esque moves and surrounded by dancers in circus get-up, wielding blue feather fans.

It was a decidedly maximalist offering, particularly after Rihanna’s stripped-back show last year, which was mainly newsworthy for the reveal of her second pregnancy and the fact that she seemed thoroughly unenthusiastic about being there. Usher, by contrast, is extra through and through, winding through the dance troupe set against a live band complete with horn section, at one point stripping off to perform shirtless. There is a decided lack of male stars in today’s pop landscape; this was a reminder that it’s possible for them to be just as magnetic as the women who currently dominate.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 11: Usher performs with Alicia Keys during the Apple Music Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show at Allegiant Stadium on February 11, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images)
Usher performs with Alicia Keys (Photo by Lauren Leigh Bacho/Getty Images)

But while this old-school atmosphere fuels the nostalgia of the funky R&B, there is also a sense of chaos, and trying to do too much. There are multiple guest appearances – Alicia Keys for a snippet of her own song “If I Ain’t Got You”, which segues into their duet “My Boo”; the rapper Lil Jon for a noisy, in-crowd rendition of “Turn Down for What”. Will.i.am appears to helm the 2010 hit “OMG” – during which the dancers, and Usher, appear on rollerskates, to varying degrees of comfort and success (let’s just say that Usher, normally the king of smooth moves, is reduced to some angular limb movements, the crowd suddenly struck with a mysterious sense of impending disaster). The singer H.E.R. shredded on electric guitar for “Bad Girl” and “You Got It Bad”. It was all very celeb-y, all very show-worthy, but not exactly cutting edge.

Glitzy and nostalgic, yes. Immensely talented performer, yes. Plenty of bangers, from “Love In This Club” to closer “Yeah!”, which everyone had been waiting for. And yet – Swift on the big screen. Swift in the news. While Usher moonwalks, she knocks back her drink – while he sings his heart out, she stands up and whoops for Travis. And, though he gave a decent, if slightly chaotic showing, it’s clear who everyone is talking about this morning. Perhaps it’s Super Bowl fatigue. Or perhaps the hero-worshipping hype machine – glitz, excess, expense, news – is just getting started.

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