Now finally, in the 65th downer of the 38th innings of the 112th ovalwang, something for the mums. The 2024 Super Bowl game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kaiser Chiefs (to be honest, it’s all quite confusing) has felt for the past two hours like the sort of pitched tactical warfare that Gregg Wallace might enjoy while dodging child care of a Saturday.
But Usher’s arrival, seated on a giant crystal throne in the middle of a 1920s Great Gatsby dance party peopled by acrobats, hustlers and a full marching band, instantly ups the Allegiant Stadium’s swoon factor.
“I wanna make love in this club,” he oozes down the Jumbotron, and such a sudden juxtaposition of aggression and seduction is reminiscent of the scene in Bruno, where Sasha Baron Cohen turns a bloodthirsty cage fighting event into a tender display of homoerotic love to the tune of Celine Dion.
No matter the score, Usher is already the biggest winner of the night. Despite taking no fee, the exposure of the Super Bowl halftime show – with its global audience far exceeding 100 million – will prove priceless in flogging this week’s new album Coming Home, and his just-announced tour.
Eight years on from his last solo album, and fresh from several lucrative but low-profile residencies in Vegas and Paris, the Super Bowl offers Usher the biggest career reboot on the planet. Rihanna’s show last year sent 17 of her songs into the Spotify chart and made her the most streamed artist in the world. Even a sliver of this $7m-per-30-seconds advertising space works out great for guests too: Travis Scott’s performance fees allegedly doubled to $1m following his appearance in 2019.
Which makes the show a dream slot for big-name hook-ups, and Usher quickly looks as though he needs the assistance. Despite the soft-centred smoothness of his opening R&B segment (“Caught Up”, “U Don’t Have to Call”, a snippet of “Superstar”), he’s left a bit breathless by a bout of gentle grooving with his cane-twirling sidekicks. None of his tunes land anything like a touchdown and, for something so monstrous of budget, the whole thing starts to feel underwhelmingly cabaret.
Just as we start writing Usher off as the cheesiest halftime show since Walt Disney on ice, here’s Alicia Keys at a liquid red piano, decked out like a scarlet queen for an awkward shimmy through “I Ain’t Got You” and “My Boo”. Still, for a 13-minute medley, this low-energy set drags until some gritty rock chords strike up. R&B artist HER strides out demanding to know where all her bad girls are at (clue: they’re up in the VIP box necking pints with Taylor Swift, who’s clearly chugged one too many Buds to join in as rumoured).
From here on in, a rave-flecked chaos rules. As Usher swoops and totters around the stage on his own set of skates, will.i.am wanders through “OMG” in a bizarre mask that makes him look like the first act ever to play the Super Bowl via Apple Vision Pro.
Rapper Lil John essentially steals the whole thing by doing his own “Turn Down for What” out in a synchronised moshpit. And Ludacris takes us home by effectively fronting a popping “Yeah!” while Usher, presumably too knackered to sing by now, just concentrates on staying on the dance moves.
In the end, Usher’s show seems like a fun, half-memorable mess. But, with the likes of Justin Bieber, Paul McCartney and Lana Del Rey watching on from the luxury boxes, it could have shifted so many more tour tickets.