Though he’s currently running through the paces of rehearsals for his first go at it, Usher knows the rigors of preparing a Super Bowl halftime show. With just 13 minutes to perform a career-spanning set and eight minutes to set up the stage, the singer told Vogue magazine in a new digital cover story that there he knows there is no room for error.
“It has to be perfect,” said the “Yeah!” singer known for his mind-bendingly smooth dance moves and elaborate staging. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I want people who have been a part of that journey to feel like it’s a celebration for everybody, for all of us, from the beginning up until this point.”
Because the pre-game specifics of the halftime show are notoriously tightly-held, there were no details to share about what songs fan can expect to hear, even though Usher did give the magazine a sneak peek about his Apple Music Super Bowl LVIII set. Among the items definitely on the checklist: roller skating, killer choreography, one major costume change and, unlike last year’s performer, Rihanna, some special guests.
“This night was specifically curated in my mind to have R&B take the main stage,” he said, teasing that he’s pulled together a team who represent the architects of the genre to help him compile the set list. “Not just R&B music, but R&B performance, R&B connection, R&B spirit.” The singer who tearfully closed out his 100-show Las Vegas residency in December, said he’s also been thinking about such other legendary Vegas icons as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley while putting together the show.
“I’m literally speaking to every woman. I want to make it feel like that,” the legendarily lusty singer said of aiming for a sensual intimacy in the 65,000-capacity stadium, while also keeping in mind other legendary Super Bowl halftime shows as he celebrates his own history.
“I’m thinking about the fact that I’ve been able to walk through the front door as a result of their sacrifice and ability,” he said of the legacy of such previous Black icons as Michael Jackson and Prince, as well as what R&B means in a country where some of its most famous practitioners had to enter the stage through the kitchen door in the 1950s and 60s due to segregation.
“It’s made me feel joyous. It made me feel like I want to go out there, and I want the world to smile when they look at me. I want them to feel something, and feel my passion, my love, feel like I was the right person to sit in this position, and I was the right person to bring this kind of energy and love and connection to the entire world,” Usher said.
“People will tune in for a football game, but I hope when they look at that halftime performance, I’m hoping they walk away with something that’s healing them,” he added. “Something that makes them feel hopeful, and not just look at the past, but have hope for the future, and have hope for a different type of future than we’re looking at right now in the present.”
The 45-year old singer is gearing up to release his ninth studio album, Coming Home, on Feb. 9, just two days before he takes the stage at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for the big game. It’s a gig that his fans will tell you is a long time coming, but which didn’t materialize until Jay-Z called up to ask Ush to do the honors this year.
“Every day I’m kind of sitting here and I take a moment to just look at where we’re going to be, which is right there,” Usher told the magazine while pointing to the shiny black glass spaceship of a stadium in the Nevada desert.
And, not for nothing, the writer reveals that they have already heard an “afrobeat-inflected earworm” from Coming Home, assuring fans that it is “20 tracks of absolute bangers.”