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Super Bowl LVIII: Event Producers Give Usher's Halftime Show a B+

Event professionals shared their thoughts on the Apple Music-sponsored halftime show, which was headlined by the eight-time Grammy winner.

Rating Usher's Super Bowl LVIII Halftime Show
Photo: Andrew Mather/Kansas City Chiefs via AP

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LAS VEGAS—The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers (25-22) to win Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium—but the real highlight for viewers (other than glimpses of Taylor Swift, of course) was the Apple Music-sponsored halftime show with headliner Usher. 

The R&B icon performed more than three decades of hits across the 13-minute show, bringing out guest performers Alicia Keys, H.E.R., Jermaine Dupri, Lil Jon (this year's Connect Marketplace special guest!), and Ludacris—along with a slew of Vegas-inspired performers like showgirls, acrobats, stilt walkers, and even a marching band. (Miss the performance? Click here to catch up on YouTube.)

BizBash asked nine top event producers to review the nostalgia-inducing performance's event production, lighting, staging, set list, and more. Here's what they had to say. 

Matt Stoelt

Letter Grade: A-
How do you follow up the mega performance and production of last year's Super Bowl featuring Rihanna, floating stages, and progressive modern design? Usher, that's how!

What started off a bit slow and dark quickly became one of the best halftime shows we have seen. Surrounded by showgirls, dancers, aerialists, a marching band, and just about every performer Vegas has to offer, the show kicked off on the field with Usher in his trademark gloves, sitting in a geometric LED-lined throne before dancing his way through a few numbers to the midfield and ultimately to the main stage situated in the center of the field.   

Anchored by the high-resolution LED screens in the new Allegiant Stadium, vivid lasers, and what seemed to be a hundred or more moving lights, the main stage was circular, with two thrusts with circular ends serving as secondary stages. The entire stage was comprised of LED video from below, and the producers did a fantastic job with the content, matching moments in the performance and turning Usher's shadow into clock hands on the stage. The expansive live band was placed upstage and made the performance so much more impactful versus playing to tracks. 

Following a quick performance on one of the side stages with a few backup dancers, the cameras cut away to an overhead shot of a woman in a red dress sitting at a piano with a train larger than the stage itself, spilling down and onto the field. As the shot moved back onto the stage, Alicia Keys was sitting behind a one-of-a-kind, glossy red piano reminiscent of a flowing, modern sculpture, something you would expect to see in the Hunger Games series. Definitely a must-see if you missed the show. 

Following the duo number together, Usher once again moved to center stage and hyped the audience by stripping away his jacket and shirt before being joined onstage by Jermaine Dupri who introduced H.E.R., who emerged with backup dancers on roller skates in futuristic costumes that exploded onto the stage. Following a seemingly endless jam session with H.E.R., also took the stage with another wave of roller skaters only to have Usher return to the stage on skates himself, skating through's legs in an all-out skate party that ensued afterward. But the party didn't stop there. Lil Jon, who was in the crowd and on the shoulders of the fans, performed "Turn Down for What" just before Ludacris came onstage to perform Usher's hit song "Yeah!" to close things out.

The producers did a fantastic job of closing the gap between the field and stage this year with the lighting design that made the show feel connected and cohesive. The costuming was impeccable, and the vibe was nothing short of incredible and iconic. Usher was polished, poised, and brought us all back to a place of genuine performance, not to be outweighed by stage design or technical production.

Matt Stoelt is the CEO and creative director of Stoelt Productions, an experiential and creative firm with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Miami, and clients like Louis Vuitton, Instagram, Adidas, eBay, and Pandora. 

Jordan Kaye

Letter Grade: A
Usher delivered an outstanding halftime performance that left us saying "Yeah, yeah, yeah!" With a mesmerizing sensory overload, Usher and his surprise guest performers captivated our watch party, delivering a sensational experience that was both a visual and auditory feast. The show was a testament to Usher's multifaceted talent, showcasing his impressive music catalog; dance moves; and a notable lineup of entertainers including Vegas showgirls, acrobats, roller skaters, a marching band, and outstanding dancers.

I find myself torn between admiration for the sheer talent displayed on the field and a sense of longing for the more groundbreaking production elements of years past. The opening centerpiece of Usher's performance, his LED and mirror throne, initially promised a visually striking spectacle but ultimately led to the circular stage design that felt somewhat lackluster, especially when compared to the unforgettable floating stage Rihanna graced us with last year. The lighting, reliant on a lot of conventional lasers, similarly played it safe. It lacked the inventive flair that could have elevated the performance. It left me craving the kind of production innovation that has defined many a Super Bowl halftime show, where the stage and special effects are as much a part of the performance as the artists themselves.

This year's approach, favoring minimalism in production, seems to suggest a pivot back to basics—an emphasis on the human element of performance over the dazzle of tech. While there's undeniable value in spotlighting the raw talent and energy of artists like Usher, part of the Super Bowl's halftime magic lies in its ability to deliver a creative overload, a marriage of top-tier musical performances with cutting-edge production that leaves us in awe.

However, one of the show's standout technical moments was the dynamic and well-orchestrated camera work during the roller-skating sequence, which was a major improvement from The Weeknd's dizzying fun-house camerawork.

Beyond the performance, I was thrilled that this year marked a milestone in sustainability, making it one of the most eco-conscious Super Bowls to date. Super Bowl LVIII was the first to be powered by 100% renewable energy, thanks to a 621,000-panel solar farm and battery storage in the Nevada desert—not to mention the stadium’s on-site waste diversion, recycling, food scrap collection, and composting. It’s awesome to see the NFL making this a priority, and we hope to see more of these sustainability efforts in brand activations throughout future Super Bowl weekends.

Jordan Kaye is the founder and CEO of Analog Events, an experiential marketing and event production company based in Los Angeles that works with brands, celebrities, and entertainment companies. He is passionate about a commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility in his events.

Jovanca Maitland

Letter Grade: A+
OMG!!! Usher won Super Bowl LVIII. His catalog spans a wide range of music and decades, so it was important and strategic that he selected the right songs and guests for his historic performance. I love that the performance opened with a movie rating “U” and the disclaimer stated that this performance may cause singing, dancing, sweating, gyrating, and possible relationship issues! Now, if you are a true Usher fan, you know that this can happen—or you’ve at least seen it on social from his Las Vegas residency and the upset with some baby daddies.

In one interview, he said that it is in his DNA to keep love alive in his music—so no doubt we’d expect to hear the love tunes. Enter Alicia Keys, “My Boo.” She looks ah-mazing, has a JAY-Z connection, is married to JAY-Z’s friend, and has an art show to promote—oh, and just happens to be the voice of the theme song to CBS’s new show, Tracker, that premiered after the game. Synergies are important, as are connections when artists are selected and partners are brought into the mix. Collaborations are intentional, and we see a lot of that in the Usher Super Bowl performance.

First, let me congratulate the producers of this Apple Music Halftime Show as it is no easy feat to build a stage during the few minutes of the State Farm Halftime Report. The brilliance of this setup was that it was a modest black stage with minimal extras except the “U” on the chair and that the flooring was prepped for roller skating.

My favorite moment was the stage as a clock, 7 o'clock on the dot to be exact—then it burned right on cue. These producers collaborated with Team Usher to make sure that his vision was executed. For me, the set focus was on him, his dancing, and the show, and not an elaborate custom build (less budget was used). Your eye was drawn to that, and he said it with the opening disclaimer. He paid homage to Vegas by opening with the stilt walkers and Cirque-like, burlesque, and casino-tailored-looking dancers. It was wild and crazy and had you looking everywhere just like the Vegas Strip. If you’ve seen his Vegas residency, you know that this, the roller skating, and the trip to Atlanta while still in Vegas was the trip of a lifetime where you ran into Ludacris and the strippers (in clothes for TV) and Lil Jon (hyping the clubgoers). Jermaine Dupri and could not be forgotten as they were pivotal to Usher’s career.

Any producer knows that lighting is key for any show, and these producers used red, a soft white, blue, and amber (fire, “Let It Burn”). If you look at the clothing, it was also red, white, and blue. Usher started in a designer look fit for a king with a long, ornate robe and sparkle gloves. He began to disrobe, and you eventually saw one glove like the king Michael Jackson. You saw Michael present in the group dance moves where for one moment it looked like the routine from the “Beat It" video, but it was “U Don’t Have to Call.” When Alicia Keys entered, she was in red for a reason. Even the long draping from the piano was in red as if she was one entity. It’s important to have a good camera team to catch all the frames as this team did. That top-down view of Alicia—gorgeous!

Then, when H.E.R. performed, she was in blue—meaningful I’m sure—but her look, and Ludacris in particular, reminded me of Missy Elliott’s “Sock It 2 Me” video (a nod to hip-hop), and the guitar gave me Prince feels (a nod to a legend).

There was little turnover for this production. He used the existing field to expand his stage, and brought in the “faux audience,” which gave him the energy he would need so as not to depend on the actual audience. The use of space was considerable as you could see Usher from any position. The lighting dimmed out the actual audience, so it appeared more intimate and less distracting, but then widened the camera on them on his verse. His wardrobe changes were layered until he was topless! The dance once topless was reminiscent of Prince, and that’s also when H.E.R. entered. He acknowledged his mama and the Almighty. He shone a light on Jackson State University’s marching band. He pulled you into a musical and Black cultural journey that ended with him shouting out his hometown (nod to “Coming Home”).

This performance was a party from top to bottom, but also a celebration of his story. Everything was intentional and had me “Caught Up.” In the end, Usher remained true to himself versus the expectations of others. Respect for his longevity, creativity, and brand that is unmatched. He is the ultimate “Superstar” (my favorite song, by the way!). Next time, someone better bring him a towel—or does the sweaty look add to the sex appeal?

Jovanca Maitland is the founder of JANE Events Consulting LLC in New York and formerly the longtime director of events for ESSENCE. She works with various brands and private clients to manage part of the event process or the entire production, ranging from intimate gatherings to large-scale sponsor activations. 

Steve DellaPietra

Letter Grade: B+
There was no doubt that Usher had just concluded a Las Vegas residency as he kicked off a Vegas-worthy spectacle, employing circus-style acts, dancers, and showgirls, pulling out all the stops in an unforgettable opening. Usher began his performance directly on the turf—I can't recall the last time this show opted out of staging or protective flooring. It was an ingenious twist that elevated the authenticity and immersed Usher among ecstatic fans.

Usher sang live, a bold departure from the lip-sync norm of prior Super Bowls. With the hurried changeover and stadium challenges, live singing introduces difficulties prerecording circumvents—all the more precarious for a televised mega-event like the Super Bowl. A few early headset mic glitches gave way to improved audio with his handheld. Still, many Twitter/X viewers seemed less forgiving. But authenticity has trade-offs, and Usher embraced the challenge, connecting on a genuine level rarely achieved on this scale.

Usher seamlessly packed over 16 hit songs into his 13-minute set, paired with nearly as many wardrobe changes. I found myself getting lost in the music several times—a testament to his captivating performance. As he transitioned to the first circular stage, belting "spotlight, big stage," my lighting designer past reignited as the stadium's video rings activated and moving lights fired up from multiple levels.

Usher’s first surprise guest was Alicia Keys, dramatically revealed onstage as a mammoth, billowing silk cape was pulled away kabuki-style. The camera pulled in on Alicia behind what appeared to have been a custom Bogányi grand piano, a stunning scenic element. 

I had a bit of nostalgia for the grander sets of previous years—like Rihanna’s floating stages or the "Compton" sets from a couple of years ago; however, the technical elements here delivered in their own right. The stage design featured three interconnected circular platforms bordered with LED tape and active video floors. This clean setup was then able to transform into a multitude of distinctive looks via the moving lights, lasers, audience LED lanyards, small LED screens woven in the seating levels, one large screen, and the stadium's video rings with dynamically changing content—used creatively for both video content and to supplement the lighting. It was enough to provide a variety of looks as Usher brought on his friends to perform. Particularly striking moments for me included the clock and fire visuals, as well as the imaginative content mirroring the GLP light bars during "Yeah!" 

Sharp, clean camerawork delivered complex shots as Usher played to both sides of the stadium and maneuvered around the main circular stage at one point, even on roller skates. Excellent camera framing with solid blocking amplified the broadcast, like the tight crowd shot perfectly capturing Lil Jon among cheering fans on the field—captured like a studio shot!

In the end, Usher delivered an exhilarating performance of songs from his 30-year career. With his charismatic stage presence alongside his star-studded guests, even with a bit of a literal stage flex, boosted by a creative, well-designed production, he left me wanting more.

Steve DellaPietra is a technical producer and the founder of DreamVisible, a New York-based production company catering to top producers and event planners including clients such as MoMA, Kering, Pandora, and IMG FOCUS.

Danielle Kates

Letter Grade: B+
Fresh off the heels of an album release, tour announcement, and 100 sold-out residency shows, Usher’s performance was nothing short of energetic and star-studded. His opening song, “Caught Up,” featured Vegas showgirls and Cirque performers, which was a fitting way to kick off the first-ever Super Bowl halftime show in Sin City.

Usher's guests were undeniably impressive and gave a fun dynamic to the performance. Alicia Keys emerged in a stunning red outfit; H.E.R. shredded on guitar; and Lil Jon, Ludacris, Jermaine Dupri, and also made appearances. However, given that Usher had to squeeze a 30-year career into 13 minutes, I thought the multitude of guests somewhat detracted from his individual spotlight. I would have loved to see a more focused approach, with one or two fewer guests and a couple more classic Usher hits.

Overall, the show’s energy was high, but occasionally felt a bit chaotic. There were moments where it was difficult to hear Usher’s voice, and I’m not sure if that was a mixing issue or him catching his breath. Nonetheless, his outfits were on point, his dance moves were slick, and bringing the roller-skate routine to the stage was an impressive spectacle.

Danielle Kates is a specialist on the talent partnerships team at G7 Entertainment Marketing, where she specializes in booking music, speaker, and comedy talent for private corporate and branded events. She's based in Nashville.

Jodi Wolf

Letter Grade: B+
This year's halftime show was all about Usher. He was quite the showman with lots of good energy and exciting choreography, including the impressive dancing set on roller skates. The show was very Las Vegas, filled with lots of local talent and glittery costumes, including Usher coming out wearing an all-white outfit with a cape. The Cirque acrobats and the showgirls were a fun nod to the more traditional Las Vegas entertainment.

The "Usher & Friends" concept was entertaining, and H.E.R.,, Ludacris, Lil Jon, and the [Jackson State] University marching band were interesting distractions for Usher's costume changes, but I would have liked a little more from them. While I love Alicia Keys, she didn't seem to fit the rest of the show and the duet was a little sleepy.

The stage seemed pretty simple other than the clock video that surrounded him during a solo performance and a few three-dimensional video effects on the stage surface. I would have liked to have seen a larger array of visuals, which would have enhanced the overall production.

My largest critique was that you never really got a bird's-eye view of the massiveness of the production and the excitement of the pomp and circumstance. The focus of the camera was all on Usher, so you never got a sense of the band or the dancers and how they interacted with the crowd in the stadium.

Jodi Wolf is the CEO of Paulette Wolf Events, a national event management company that works with Fortune 500 companies worldwide. During the Chicago-based company's 40-plus years in the industry, it has acquired and produced over $300 million in musical acts, entertained over 80 million guests and consumers, and produced over 5,000 events. 

Shane Quinn

Letter Grade: C
If anything, this year’s halftime show seemed to channel the highs and lows that its host city best exemplifies. Amid all of the pomp and circumstance, big moments, and memorable guest appearances, the overall production felt a bit disjointed. And as a viewer, that’s the feeling I walked away with.

The Apple Music sponsorship and introduction did a good job of setting the stage and building some hype—but the performance kicked off rather abruptly with Usher on the field, somewhat indistinguishable amid a sea of performers, trying to find his pitch. The wonky start was helped by the fun “Vegas performer” integration, but it still felt like Usher—and the production in general—was trying to find his footing throughout the entire beginning phase of the show. An iffy audio mix didn’t help, although it noticeably improved as the show went on.

Once Alicia made an appearance, things picked up a bit. This, however, brings up another prevailing theme throughout the performance—Usher was consistently upstaged by his guest stars. From Alicia to H.E.R. (who absolutely crushed, and conjured up some Prince ‘07 halftime vibes) to Lil Jon and Ludacris, the guest performers served as the tentpoles of the experience that Usher was constantly working toward getting to. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but it was noticeable to this viewer.

The performance did have its high spots, and picked up more and more steam as it progressed. The roller skate bit was unexpected and very fun, and by the time Lil Jon emerged from the crowd, the vibes were strong. All in all, the show was fun enough, but I can’t help being left with a feeling of wanting more. This was a performance at odds with itself—and in the battle of big stars and grand moments versus wonky segments and strange choices, the result ended up being somewhere in the middle.

Shane Quinn is the senior director of strategy at George P. Johnson (GPJ), a global experience marketing agency, where he leads experience strategy and design for clients like Google, PwC, IBM, and State Farm. He's based in Boston.

Rachel Cohn 

Letter Grade: A
Usher’s performance was spectacular: a master class in showmanship and pure, unadulterated fun. From the first moment to the last, the performance captured the energy of Las Vegas, starting off with hundreds of dancers and acrobatic performers and ending with an incredibly fun party with no shortage of surprise-and-delight moments in between. Performing snippets of over a dozen songs, the jampacked performance didn’t waste a moment, with highlights including Usher dancing and performing on roller skates and H.E.R.’s surprise appearance absolutely slaying the electric guitar.

The entire performance was a reminder that the devil is in the details. Between the dancing, the special guests appearing at just the right time, the costume changes, the digital content on the stage, the lights in the audience, and leveraging the venue’s digital signage and lighting, it was clear how well thought out each element was and that those details contributed to the overall production value.

The staging and camerawork also brought the performance to the next level and felt worthy of the moment. Starting off on one end of the field with Usher on a lighted, faceted throne, we transitioned to an intimate moment between Usher and Alicia Keys, before the at-home viewers were introduced to the full stage set halfway through the performance. This buildup to the big reveal kept the performance fresh visually and guided the viewers’ focus. The camerawork and content capture were also masterful, knowing exactly when to go tighter, like the introduction of Lil Jon, and when to go wider to show the full stage and showcase fun details like the dancers spelling out “Usher.”

Maybe it’s millennial nostalgia, but this performance was everything I could have hoped for and more.

Rachel Cohn has a background in architecture and environmental design. She is a creative director for George P. Johnson (GPJ), where she leads sales and partner events for Fortune 500 technology brands. She's based in San Francisco. 

Hasmig "Jasmine" Boyajian

Letter Grade: B-
The Super Bowl halftime show is something I look forward to every year—waiting and anticipating to be dancing away for those 12 minutes! 

The magnificent skill set of the production teams, the coordination of the show, and the internal communication utilized to bring this show to life were absolutely incredible. There were so many moving parts, from the choreography, costume changes, guest appearances, marching band, dancers, contortionists, and stilt walkers! I also enjoyed the not-so-subtle salute to Las Vegas with the showgirls and the Cirque du Soleil dancers! Event pros everywhere were trying to see what else was happening on that field!  

The stage design and lighting were simple and effective. At first, it was underwhelming, and I wanted more. It all came together toward the end when the stage became the roller skating rink. The roller skating entrance by Usher and his dancers was awesome, and gave the audience the fun, nostalgic, and high-energy feeling they were craving. That’s when the party started!

Even with that, it seemed Usher was one second too slow. While singing, he was lacking in energy. If it wasn’t for the magnetic energy of Lil Jon and Ludacris, the show would have been a dud. They brought the hype, the power, and really got the crowd moving and dancing! That’s what is expected at a show of this magnitude! Additionally, the use of advanced technology is anticipated and I think they delivered with the stage and lighting, but needed some more depth to the overall production.  

With his 30-year career, I know it must have been hard to choose a set list, but “Oh My Gosh,” Usher has a ton of other songs that would have made this show spectacular! Maybe even a shake-up of the set list would have made a better impact on the overall flow of the show performance. Everyone around Usher—his backup dancers, musicians, the marching band—was bringing the heat! I felt their energy, but I didn’t feel it from Usher. He is so talented, and dances so well, I really feel like he played it safe and was too focused or nervous during the performance. It felt like he was watching the clock the whole time making sure he was on point versus having a blast and putting his whole soul into the performance like he usually does. 

With all this being said, it was still a great show. The amount of preparation by these incredibly talented event professionals should not be overlooked, bringing back fond musical memories for his longtime fans. Personally, I think the Super Bowl shows always need to be high-energy. You have to get everyone up and out of their seats and wanting more! I don’t think Usher delivered on that. We definitely did not get enough of the Usher experience!

Hasmig "Jasmine" Boyajian is the CEO and founder of PLANiT LAwhich produces corporate and social events for a portfolio of private clients, including some of the top universities, major entertainment brands, and large construction companies.

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