Usher's Journey From Las Vegas to Super Bowl 2024

Following the release of his latest album "COMING HOME," Usher, the King of R&B, is set to take the stage at the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show in Vegas — and he's doing it his way.

Usher's Journey From Las Vegas to Super Bowl 2024
Jaelani Turner-Williams
Jaelani Turner-Williams
February 9, 20247 min read
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Written by Jaelani Turner-Williams, a Third Bridge Creative contributor.

The music industry has been trying to kill R&B for a long time. Critics have tried deciphering what it’ll take to crown a new King of R&B. Some male R&B newcomers lack the choreographed dance moves that used to grace 2000s countdown shows like Total Request Live or 106 & Park. Heartthrobs have been rare since the boy band era, where lead vocalists often saw breakout success. The vocals aren’t quite there either, as there’s a frequent dependency on pitch manipulation or outright autotune. But one artist is gracefully sitting on the throne: R&B debonair Usher, whose impact on the genre and music industry at large spans three decades.

Usher is set to be the halftime show performer for the Super Bowl LVIII on February 11, 2024, where the 45-year-old will bring his bona fide showmanship to Las Vegas’ Allegiant Stadium. Now on the media multi-platform and record label gamma., Usher will also be the first independent artist to headline a Super Bowl halftime show. Though much media attention has been given to the likely appearance of superstar Taylor Swift at the showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and her boyfriend Travis Kelce’s team, the Kansas City Chiefs, all eyes will be on User when he takes the field. Poised to demonstrate R&B’s longevity in under 15 minutes just five days after announcing his upcoming “Past Present Future” tour and two days after he releases his eagerly awaited ninth album, COMING HOME, Usher is set to prove why his legendary status isn’t up for debate.

How R&B Re-Routed Back to Usher

Nearly anywhere you looked since 2022, there Usher was. His breakthrough 1997 album, My Way, celebrated its 25th anniversary with the R&B crooner remaking the front cover for record subscription club Vinyl Me, Please. The 8-time Grammy-winner appropriately timed his Las Vegas residency “My Way” for the LP’s silver jubilee, inviting legacy R&B acts like Keith Sweat, Keyshia Cole, Tevin Campbell, Faith Evans, Robin Thicke, and Teddy Riley to join him onstage. While Usher’s Las Vegas run began in 2021, where he performed at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, recent mania for the artist originated from an unlikely place: NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts.

Clocking in at 21 million YouTube views since its Black Music Month premiere in June 2022, Usher’s resurgence was sealed five minutes into the special. In the video’s most played segment, Usher effortlessly floats through his 2004 deep cut “Superstar,” which saw prominence through the #SuperstarChallenge on TikTok, which now has 74.5 million views across 25k posts. On the app, novice and established vocalists gave their best shot at Usher’s melisma, before he silenced the competition during his Tiny Desk set. Elsewhere in the performance, Usher brought the titular track of his RIAA diamond-certified album Confessions to life, turning the song’s “watch this” introduction into a meme.

Tiny Desk viewers rushed to catch the former The Voice co-judge’s Las Vegas residency the next month, although Usher hadn’t released a proper single since 2020’s “Bad Habits” (29.3 million Spotify streams), which came four years after his eighth studio album, Hard II Love. Buzz for the LP landed on a thud despite the clever Young Thug-assisted single “No Limit” (130.2 million Spotify streams), a nod to No Limit Records founder Master P (who was also on the song’s all-star remix). Two years later, Usher and trap producer Zaytoven connected for A, a love letter to their Atlanta origins. The 8-track project was helmed by the sultry lead single “Peace Sign.”

Apart from his solo work, Usher’s post-aughts granted him relevancy among late millennials and Gen Zers. On Summer Walker’s 2019 debut album Over It, the nostalgia play of her Usher-assisted single “Come Thru” reworked Ush’s hit “You Make Me Wanna…”, which was his first entry on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1997, peaking at No. 2. Usher was a baby faced teenager when “You Make Me Wanna” dropped, but “Come Thru” made him fresh again, as he also lent his talents to songs with Ella Mai (“Don’t Waste My Time” in 2019), City Girls (“Good Love” in 2022), and more recently, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz (“Transparency” in 2023).

As of late, Usher’s listenership relies on his material as a legacy act, with fans opting to spin his signature songs like “Yeah!,” “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love,” and his Alicia Keys duet “My Boo.” Even the recent Latin fusion single “Dientes” with J Balvin and DJ Khaled features Usher and a heavy "Yeah!" sample.

Usher might dabble in universal sounds, even giving selections from his catalog an Afrobeats twist at the Global Citizen Festival in Accra, Ghana in 2022 — but he’s still a purveyor of the genre that shaped him. “My music offering will always be routed in R&B,” he confessed to The New York Times in October. Usher’s core fanbase has unflinchingly re-embraced him and the catalog he delivered in the nineties to early 2010s, with his performances and viral moments in 2023 pushing him back into the spotlight.

Usher’s Festival Season Takeover

In between Usher’s residency shows, the hitmaker made time to co-headline music festivals throughout the spring. In its most star-studded billing yet, Dreamville Festival tapped Drake and Usher as co-headliners for the two-day event, as Dreamville Records head honcho J. Cole closed out the weekend. Usher’s set marked his debut festival performance of his single "GLU,” released on March 17, 2023, after a 40-second Valentine’s Day teaser. “GLU” was also a perfect storm of cultural cache since the teaser video starred Gen Z model and socialite Lori Harvey. The official lyric video garnered 4 million YouTube views and was followed by a Las Vegas rehearsal video, which dropped on April 18 and has 721k views.

By May, Usher was headed to Lovers & Friends, where he held down the Las Vegas Festival Grounds with co-headliners Mariah Carey and Missy Elliott. Joining Usher for his set (among others) were Summer Walker for their previously mentioned 2019 collaboration “Come Thru” and Muni Long for “Hrs & Hrs [Remix].” Usher’s set was nearly derailed by allegations of Usher and Chris Brown getting into an altercation the night before. Still, the show went on, and Usher continued his Vegas residency afterward, later replacing Diddy as a co-headliner for Philadelphia’s Roots Picnic in June.

Newfound Attention Thanks to Virality

In July, actress-singer Keke Palmer got the serenade of a lifetime from Usher at his Vegas residency. For the uninitiated, a part of Usher’s residency caters to a traditional sense of R&B, where male artist progenitors serenaded chosen audience members. Like he’s done with other female celebrity attendees, Usher graced Palmer’s VIP section with his 2010 ballad “There Goes My Baby,” which has 64 million Spotify streams. The clip of Usher serenading Keke went viral — as did the reaction of her son's father — and led to discourse across social media about respectability politics.

Usher put the publicity to good use, dropping the breakup single "Good Good" featuring Summer Walker and 21 Savage and accompanying a music video. But the midtempo cut was no match for the show-stopping “Boyfriend”, a tongue-in-cheek dance jam aimed at Palmer’s ex — the casino-themed music video even has a cameo from the former child star herself. Palmer was surely Usher’s muse, but instead of playing his love interest in “Boyfriend,” she transformed into the R&B extraordinaire, prepping for a girl’s night out to his residency (with Usher’s dancers, no less) and mimicking dance moves from his iconic 2001 “U Don’t Have to Call” video.

Along with a fun-filled single, the Palmer spectacle lionized Usher as a music icon who could still keep up with the times. “It was a pop moment, and it was fun to have at least [a] conversation going, and we just keep it light,” he told People days before “Boyfriend” was released.

From Paris to the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Kicking off the final part of 2023, in September, Usher was announced as the next artist to touch the Super Bowl halftime stage, succeeding Rihanna. While Usher won’t be debuting a baby bump for the occasion, he chatted with Apple Music 1’s Zane Lowe about potential guests, COMING HOME, and 2024 marking the 20th anniversary of Confessions

In October, Usher took Vegas overseas for his Rendez-Vous Á Paris residency at La Seine Musicale during Paris Fashion Week. Usher made the City of Lights groove during the residency’s eight nights of shows, transforming it into a captivating Parisian affair after nearly two years in Sin City. One night, Migos member Offset was a special guest and he and Usher brought their Dirty South simpatico to Paris. Returning to Vegas for the last streak of the My Way residency that same month, Usher was honored with his own day and a key to the city.

Usher IS the King of R&B After All

Usher is well ahead of the new class of R&B, continuing to outperform his successors. On TikTok, the singer has 5.7 million followers, despite the app launching over 20 years after his debut album was released. Among R&B/Soul acts, he’s unquestionably influential, as Chartmetric data shows that Usher ranks within the top 15 artists in the genre. The popularity of “Dientes” skyrocketed after its September release, with “Yeah!” only becoming more popular with Latin music and reggaeton fans in tandem. 

Bumps in Usher’s music streaming and video plays will likely come following the 2024 Super Bowl, and the cross-promotion for COMING HOME will regain interest in fans who’ve attended his residency and crave new music after nearly ten years of anticipation. If the electronic sounds on 2010’s Raymond v. Raymond weren't enough, Usher promised to diversify his musical palette with COMING HOME having R&B and hip-hop, crossing over into amapiano and Afrobeats. Usher spruced up R&B with enthusiasm throughout 2023, the stats complimenting his shows and hype for his upcoming album while on the road for the Super Bowl. He’s been teasing a tour which was just announced, where he’ll reportedly bring his Vegas act to international arenas. The last year has been filled with preparation priming fans for the next chapter in his career. It's as if he's still behind that Tiny Desk, saying "Watch this."

Graphics by Nicki Camberg and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of Feb. 9, 2024.