R&B superstar Usher compressed 30 years of hits into a mere 12 minutes in last night's Super Bowl halftime show. And in doing so, he brought a little bit of Atlanta to an enormous audience. GPB’s Sonia Murray has been covering Usher for years, and she joins All Things Considered host, Peter Biello, to break down last night's performance. 



Peter Biello: What's the significance of having Usher as the star of the halftime show at the Super Bowl?

Sonia Murray: It's the biggest audience of his career. I mean, of a 30-year career. And this guy's won Grammys, sold millions of records, and now, in his mid-40s, he's now at a point where he can, you know, take his hundred — 100 sold-out shows, I think he said, at Vegas and then play the biggest audience of his life, you know, the next month. So it's gigantic.

Peter Biello: Mm-hmm. Huge audience. What stood out for you in this performance?

Sonia Murray: How how prominently he placed Atlanta and Georgia. I mean, he lives here, part-time here. You know, he's been in Vegas, as everyone knows, for the past year or so with his residency, but I how prominently he placed Atlanta, not just bringing Atlanta artists on the stage that he'd worked with. I mean, even walking in before the game even started, I saw him walk in — or, you know, the cameras showed him walking in with Jermaine Dupri, who he's — produced him. As well as Johntá Austin, who may — people may not know, but is also an Atlanta artist and producer and songwriter. So from that to Jermaine is on stage with him. He obviously brings out Ludacris and and Little — and Lil John for "Yeah." But then, I mean, there are also Atlanta elements that, you know, we may want to shy away from, like the stripper pole that was out there in the end, to you've got, you know, him actually repeating that he's bringing the world to the "A". 

Usher (in Super Bowl audio): I turnt the world to the A, baby! I turnt the world to the A!

Sonia Murray: And the roller skating, which is very much an Atlanta part of the, you know, part of the Atlanta culture as well. 

Peter Biello: Yeah, no, let me ask you about the roller skating. So that — Is that an Atlanta thing, to roller skate like that?

Sonia Murray: Absolutely. It's — No, roller skating rinks are an Atlanta thing. If you grew up in Atlanta there's still Cascade Skating Rink, which is, I mean, it goes as far back as Beyonce had her 21st birthday there. It's very much an Atlanta thing. That's why the movie ATL is based in a skating rink. Usher skates in, you know, his residency. I hadn't had a chance to make it there yet, but I that's very prominent. Going to skating rinks is an Atlanta thing.

Peter Biello: There was a lot of talk about how he was going to possibly squeeze in 30 years worth of hits into a 12- or 13-minute performance. As someone who's been covering him for a long time, how do you think he did as far as like covering the, the, the biggest of the big hits that he's had?

Sonia Murray: I, I agree with some of the reviews that I've seen, some, including on our site, that says it was kind of rushed in a bit, but I mean, he hit the high notes, he hit what everybody was expecting him to do, which was "Yeah," you know, as the closer. Here's a little bit of Usher performing "Yeah" the closer — the big closer.

Usher (singing "Yeah" in Super Bowl audio)

Sonia Murray: He really — I mean, his catalog really is huge. And he has a lot of featured artists. I personally was, you know, surprised that he brought H.E.R. and Alicia Keys up there.

Peter Biello: Why was that surprising?

Sonia Murray: Well, and in part because I wanted other people..

Peter Biello: Who'd you want? Who'd you want?

Sonia Murray: I wanted, uh — I mean, Beyonce could have been there with him. He's been in Beyonce's "Naughty Girl." Maybe they haven't had a song together, but he was in her "Naughty Girl" video. She was there, you know, and it was her night as well.

Peter Biello: Yeah. She was off releasing her own new album, which is a whole separate conversation.

Sonia Murray: I exactly I mean, I would, I would like to have seen Nicki Minaj, who he has a song with. You know, just in terms of performers for, for that kind of audience. I wouldn't have chosen Alicia Keys. Though she looked great and the song is big: "My Boo." I get it. And it was a nice pairing. But you know, in terms of his energy and just what I would've liked to have seen, and it might not have been Alicia Keys and H.E.R.

Peter Biello: For folks who haven't gotten enough of usher after that Super Bowl performance, I believe he's going to be here in Atlanta quite a few times through.

Sonia Murray:  Whew. Boy.

Peter Biello: Like five times, right?

Sonia Murray: Well, I just heard five times, as you said. It started out they announced the tour on Friday, Super Bowl Sunday, and there were only two dates on Friday and now there are five. It is amazing.

Peter Biello: All right. Plenty of chances to see Usher here in Atlanta, although some may say not enough. GPB's Sonia Murray, thank you very much.

Sonia Murray: Thank you.