H.E.R. appeared at the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show as a guest of Usher yesterday (February 11) for a guest solo par excellence, slotting in alongside a rotating cast that included Alicia Keys, Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris.
The guitarist – aka Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson – took to the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas around eight minutes into Usher’s halftime performance, closing out the pop icon’s U Got It Bad with a stunning R&B-inflected alternate ending, complete with shred-y runs and some beautifully soulful bends.
As the full Usher halftime show footage makes clear, H.E.R. is then faced with the unique musical challenge of moving seamlessly into the next track Bad Girl, while simultaneously navigating a stage filled with Usher and his dancers – whom by that point are all mounted on roller skates.
The surprise performance was actually H.E.R.’s second Super Bowl appearance, following her rendition of America the Beautiful at Super Bowl LV in 2021 and the musician took to Instagram afterwards to reflect on the experience and thank Usher.
“Can’t spell Usher without H.E.R.” she joked on social media. “Halftime show?!?!???? Whaaaaaat. And it was the greatest ever. Thank you for your talent, your love, and for sharing this moment with me. Wow I have no words. #superbowllviii @usher we love you.”
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The show also marked the second Super Bowl appearance for H.E.R.’s signature Fender Stratocaster – distinguished by its matching headstock, chrome pickguard and trio of Fender Vintage Noiseless pickups.
However, a special show calls for a special instrument and this Deep Chrome Red variant with its distinctive dark scratchplate appears to have been whipped up especially for the appearance, courtesy of Fender’s Custom Shop.
“Sometimes we get asked [to] do things last minute,” wrote Fender’s Brian Thrasher on Instagram, when he posted some pics of the custom build.
“Our team pulled it off with another Super Bowl guitar. @hermusicofficial Custom Chrome Red finish Stratocaster.”
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We should offer a final caveat (before the BIG GUITAR conspiracy theorists take to YouTube) that – as is the case with all Super Bowl halftime shows – the performance was indeed mimed, albeit to a live rehearsal recording.
However, focusing on this feels a little churlish: no-one should be questioning H.E.R.’s playing credentials. What’s more, the Super Bowl is without doubt the country’s single largest entertainment platform and the fact that its centerpiece is a killer guitar solo – from a Black female artist, no less – is cause for celebration.
In that sense, it’s a moment that speaks to both the renewed health of the six-string on the world’s biggest stages and, perhaps more importantly, its continued evolution beyond the confines of the big beasts of classic rock – and, for all our abiding love of rock’s guitar icons, that’s no bad thing.