The R&B titan enlisted a slew of past collaborators — including Alicia Keys and Ludacris — for a sparkling, Vegas-style spectacle.
Sunday evening in Las Vegas, at half past 5 o’clock, Usher was not in a drop-top, but instead a sequined sleeveless top, a twinkling cropped piece he eventually shed to reveal a plain white tank top, and then, soon after, no top at all.
It was the kind of display we’ve come to expect from a man with as many abs as top 10 hits, but in case you were one of the few uninitiated watching his Super Bowl halftime show at Sin City's Allegiant Stadium, Apple Music gave a warning before the proceedings commenced, flashing a message across the screen that they may cause “singing, dancing, sweating, gyrating, and possible relationship issues.”
Usher himself was drenched in sweat just two minutes into the 13-minute set, having kick-started it with “Caught Up,” a highlight off his career-defining 2004 album, Confessions. Reinvigorated by a brassy marching band, somersaulting chorus girls, and sassy feathered boa fans, the number was flashy and high-energy, a vibe the singer kept going as he transitioned into two more up-tempo tracks, “U Don’t Have to Call” and “Love in This Club.” With its stilts, bowler hats, and canes, the spectacle was almost too much, a circus-y sensory overload that, along with a few sound issues, threatened to distract from its main star’s own fancy footwork and satiny vocals. That said, when in Vegas…
Fortunately, what followed was less frenetic and centered more on the music, a collection of early-aughties gems ginned up with assists from several of Usher’s collaborators from over the years. As the rush of “Love in This Club” faded, the camera cut to Alicia Keys, rocking a blood-red gem-covered catsuit as she belted her hit “If I Ain’t Got You” seated at a sleek matching red piano that seemed to melt onto the stage like candle wax. Usher appeared, harmonizing with her perfectly, his Dolce & Gabbana blazer now peeled off to unveil that sleeveless top, which he paired with a single crystal-studded glove — a clear nod to his idol Michael Jackson. But the balladry quickly gave way to their duet, “My Boo,” Keys rising and strutting coquettishly as they engaged in a mini game of cat and mouse.
Next came uber-producer Jermaine Dupri to honor Confessions, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next month, egging on the crowd before Usher slid into a slice of “Confessions Part II.” The stage then transformed into a giant clock, a clip lifted from the “Where was Usher at 7 o’clock on the dot?” meme playing over some tick-tocking as the artist’s shadow landed at that time at the exact second he sang the opening line of “Nice & Slow.” But it was over before it really started — the clock projection was replaced with flames, engulfing him as he launched into “Burn,” urging the audience to sing along with his falsetto coos.
At this point, Usher was on his own, save for a very lucky microphone stand, which he teased and swiveled as he segued into 2001’s “U Got It Bad” (his third single to top the Billboard Hot 100). The performance was peak Usher, and not just because he delivered most of it shirtless, his chunky signature diamond pendant directing our attention to his glistening pecs as he jittered and moonwalked. It was also because the focus was finally on him and him alone, reminding us how the 45-year-old lothario landed this plum gig — as well as a sold-out Vegas residency that just wrapped in December — in the first place. He is a captivating, consummate entertainer.
But Sunday, the R&B titan was more than happy to share the spotlight, serving up a slew of cameos as he shifted from bedroom mode back to party mode. After H.E.R. popped up for a guitar solo and sang a bit of “Bad Girl,” the show went full Xanadu, as a horde of dancers on skates sashayed and backflipped their way into a rendition of “OMG,” Usher’s 2010 foray into EDM, with the song’s featured guest Will.i.am acting as ringmaster.
Usher reemerged, somehow looking even better than before, decked out in a shimmering black-and-blue Off-White motorbike ensemble. His ability to nail all the choreo of the futuristic roller-rink extravaganza while singing on skates was damn impressive, but the feat was fleeting. Less than a minute later, Lil Jon surfaced in the stadium’s sea of revelers, snarling out the refrain of his trap-rave anthem “Turn Down for What” as an intro to the moment many had been waiting for: a beefier live version of Usher’s biggest hit, “Yeah!,” which boasted an appearance not only from Lil Jon, but also its other famous rapper, Ludacris, who swaggered through his bars surrounded by some dexterous ladies twirling around stripper poles. The show culminated with Jon shouting out a string of moves — the A-Town stomp, the muscle, the thunder clap, the rockaway — as more dancers flooded the stage.
Who is Usher in 2024? The same guy he was in 2014 and in 2004: magnetic, eternally suave, impossible not to like, sex personified. His most illustrious years may be behind him, but no man did R&B like he did in his heyday, and three wildly fruitful decades later, he still has no rivals.
Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.