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Usher will soon have Super Bowl halftime validation. But can he top Rihanna?

The king of R&B? It depends who you ask.
Kevin Winter
Getty Images for iHeartRadio
The king of R&B? It depends who you ask.

In the immortalized-by-meme words of Usher: Watch this.

Who is he?

  • The 44-year-old singer-songwriter has been making chart-topping hits for nearly 30 years, and has just been announced as the headline act at the Super Bowl halftime show in Las Vegas next year.
  • It's another achievement for the star who has sold more than 80 million records worldwide and won 8 Grammys.
  • Of course, this isn't his first time on the Super Bowl stage — he performed alongside the Black Eyed Peas and Slash back in 2011.
  • With a catalog full of bangers, Usher has been referred to as the "King of R&B" (though, when asked if he saw himself as such in an interview with The Shade Room, he deferred, saying, "I can't answer that. I'm a king of something, at least my sons.")

What's the big deal?

  • Being asked to perform at the Super Bowl has come to be seen as the ultimate form of mainstream validation and acceptance. "If nothing else, it's a massive, massive piece of validation for Usher himself," says NPR Music's Stephen Thompson.
  • In 2022, Usher performed a medley of hits as part of NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series. That video has more than 18 million views on YouTube and a moment from his performance, in which he motioned his open fingers over his eyes while he whispered "watch this," became a viral meme.
  • He'll have some big shoes to fill: Rihanna's 2023 Super Bowl halftime show pulled in more than 120 million viewers. "He absolutely has the catalog," Thompson says. "I absolutely think he's up to the job of putting on a really good show that people talk about. Whether it sets records, obviously, remains to be seen."

Who were the last decade of half-time performers?

  • 2023: Rihanna
  • 2022: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar
  • 2021: The Weeknd
  • 2020: Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, with Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Emme Muniz
  • 2019: Maroon 5, Big Boi and Travis Scott
  • 2018: Justin Timberlake
  • 2017: Lady Gaga
  • 2016: Coldplay, Beyonce, Bruno Mars
  • 2015: Katy Perry, Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott
  • 2014: Bruno Mars, Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • 2013: Beyoncé
Rihanna performs during the Super Bowl LVII halftime Show.
Gregory Shamus / Getty Images
Getty Images
Rihanna performs during the Super Bowl LVII halftime Show.

Want more on the NFL? Listen to the Consider This episode on how sports betting and the NFL are profitable partners.

What are people saying?

  • In a statement, Usher said: "It's an honor of a lifetime to finally check a Super Bowl performance off my bucket list. I can't wait to bring the world a show unlike anything else they've seen from me before."
  • Oliver Schusser, Apple's Vice President of Apple Music, Apple TV+, Sports, and Beats, also bigged up the booking, saying: "We are so proud of what we were able to accomplish together with the NFL and Roc Nation last year and now with the insanely talented Usher set to take the stage we're looking forward to another incredible Halftime Show from one of the world's all-time greatest performers."
  • Of Usher's long-standing relevance in the music industry, Thompson said: "Part of it is just songcraft. Part of it is the quality of that voice ... He's been able to kind of move along with trends while also staying sort of timeless, and I think he has been very smart about seizing opportunities when they've presented themselves ... [For example] he is dropping his next album the day of his Super Bowl halftime performance."

Learn more:

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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