After the simplicity of Rihanna’s performance last year, Usher’s may have seemed busy, but it was meticulously planned.
Usher’s thirty-year career has been so iconic that social media users dubbed the Super Bowl the event where Taylor Swift’s boyfriend plays football at an Usher concert. TikTok millennials, including Josh Peck, hilariously predicted Usher’s performance by doing his signature pop and lock dance moves and footwork accompanied by several lyrics from his famous song “Yeah.”
People were understandably confused when Usher was announced as this year’s Super Bowl performer. However, despite not having the same level of popularity as his prime, Usher’s musical legacy has never been questioned. The Super Bowl isn’t a paid gig, so it’s primarily promotional, and with his new album, Coming Home, releasing this year, this decision is a no-brainer.
After watching the performance, it’s evident that the Super Bowl occurring in the middle of Black History Month was not lost on Usher. He peppered in many easter eggs throughout the thirteen-minute performance, referencing black history and culture.
The performance started with “Caught Up,” with Usher wearing his signature all-white outfit, including bedazzled gloves, surrounded by dancers. Around halfway through the performance, Usher is alone, standing on a platform with the projection of a clock, singing “Burn” and only wearing a single bedazzled glove in a subtle nod to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. When he transitions to “U Got it Bad,” he removes his two upper layers, winding up shirtless, but still wears the bedazzled glove.
Taking advantage of the football game setting, Usher brought attention to one of the most recognizable and respected aspects of black culture at historically black colleges, the marching band. First seen around the three-minute mark, the marching band from HBCU Jackson State University in Mississippi played as Usher displayed his impressive dancing prowess. The marching band played throughout most of the performance, even spelling out Usher near the end.
It may not have been performed by Usher himself, but H.E.R.’s guitar solo during “U Got It Bad” that transitioned into “Bad Girl” could also be considered a nod to black history. Electric guitar solos are famous in blues and rock music, two genres invented and made famous by black artists. The guitar solo as a musical interlude was created by black blues musicians.
While we’re on the topic of musical legacy, Usher is considered the King of R&B, a genre of music popularized by black artists. Usher featured some of his collaborators during his performance, including fellow R&B artists H.E.R and Alicia Keys singing “If I Ain’t Got You” and “My Boo.” Other performers featured during the performance include rappers Jermaine Dupri, Lil John, and Ludacris.
One of the prominent features of Usher’s performance was the minute-long roller skating dance, which may reference Usher’s upbringing in Atlanta, considering they have a large black skating culture. In general, black skating culture dates back to the ’60s, when African Americans introduced disco dance moves to roller skating that were later adapted to different distinctive styles depending on the city.
Usher’s Super Bowl performance was a nod to all the different avenues of black history and black excellence. His nostalgia-filled performance outshined every prediction in the best possible way and was still everything we could have wanted it to be. There was popping and locking, impressive footwork, and lots of yeahs. The only thing missing was his signature announcement, “Usher, Baby.”