Mattias Dahlström: Professional Usher – but the show is delayed

When Usher stepped out onto the Allegiant Stadium concourse Sunday to kick off this year’s Super Bowl halftime show in Las Vegas, he had filled it with dancers, an obligatory marching band and guest artists including Alicia Keys, Ludacris and a wild — and usually entertaining — gaping Lil ‘ John.

As the pro Usher is, the 45-year-old knows the singer of course how the grindstone should be drawn. There are bigger singers and sharper songwriters than Usher, he’s more a skilled craftsman than a breakneck innovator, more a solid song-and-dance man than a larger-than-life personality, but if you want solid precision in every detail of the show there is hardly anyone better.

The market-analytical opportunism that has become one of his hallmarks over the years, the finger-in-the-air tactics that enabled the surprisingly easy transformation from r’n’b singer to vocal cutter during the EDM era’s spread, also enables a cavalcade of hits that spans long time.

The Super Bowl halftime show – like the unofficial hit medley world championship it has become – is of course also a format that suits both artists of his caliber and the audience. An optimal setting for an information-stressed age, where music should ideally be a one-minute background on Tiktok. Instead of an entire concert, you get the summary, or highlightspaketet as it is called in sports parlance.

Twelve to fifteen minutes full blast from one of the music world’s giants. Arena rock maximalism with all that implies of clothing changes and guitar solos. Just the hits, no transport routes. In the face all the time. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

One might argue that Usher is past his prime, but which halftime show performer isn’t? If anything, there is justice in that even once upon a time, musically progressive r’n’b and hip-hop artists can sell unbridled nostalgia. It’s not just rock’s prerogative anymore.

At the same time, there is also something that rubs in that it is precisely Usher who is standing there and will kick off the world’s biggest – and shortest – all-nighter. Even though one of the songs on his timely (on Friday) and terribly uneven new album “Coming home” is actually called “I am the party”, it is a title he very rarely lives up to. “Caught up” and “U don’t have to call”, the two early finds that open the halftime show, for example, sound more like polite mingling drinks than hedonistic tequila shots.

That’s certainly nothing to hold against Usher – much of his strength and distinctiveness lies in twisting and turning relationship concerns into sober mid-tempo r’n’b – but it also means the show doesn’t really take off until Little Jon roars his first “turn down for what”. Then we are already at the end.

Read more texts by Mattias Dahlström and all about music here

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