No, H.E.R.’s Super Bowl guitar solo probably wasn’t played live. Does it really matter?

No, H.E.R.’s Super Bowl guitar solo probably wasn’t played live. Does it really matter?

The Super Bowl happened over the weekend, and despite the organisers’ insistence on putting the part of the event everyone actually ends up talking about in the middle of what appeared to be some strange version of rugby, the show itself was a lot of fun. And, obviously H.E.R.’s surprise guest solo in Usher’s performance was killer, played on a sweet custom red version of her signature Fender Stratocaster.

READ MORE: Watch H.E.R. breeze through her surprise guest appearance during Usher’s Halftime Show at the Super Bowl

“OR WAS IT?” you bellow at the top of your lungs into our Facebook comments, and into various other guitar forums across the internet. Some particularly enthusiastic social media users expressed absolute incredulity that would be so excited about a guitar solo happening in one of the most-watched TV events of all time. Because the whole thing was so obviously fake, duh.
But, how fake is fake? And, does fake matter?
Let’s get one thing straight – I’m obviously not going to manage to establish, right here, definitively, whether the whole thing was pre-taped. It’s much more likely that is was a mix: at least some live vocals were happening, as evidenced by Usher’s vocal levels going up and down across the performance, and by Alicia Keys’ slight vocal crack as she started singing (later fixed for the YouTube upload, of course).
Which brings us onto H.E.R.’s role in the entire thing. Watching her hands it’s absolutely clear that H.E.R. knows that solo note-for-note, because, well, of course she does. She’s a professional musician with millions of fans. There were, however, a few moments – particularly some slides up and down the neck – where her hand movements didn’t quite match the audio exactly.

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The most likely reason for this? Well, we do have a guitar precedent for the same show – for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ performance, the instrumentals were recorded in rehearsals the day before. And they were definitely miming, because their guitars weren’t even plugged in. So it is safe to assume that something similar happened in 2024.
But if she can play it, why didn’t she just do that on the night? Well, the reality is that the Super Bowl halftime show is not about the searing power of raw, unfiltered live performance. In 2024 in particular, it was a 20-minute advert for Apple Music. Did you know that for a limited time you can get 3 months of Apple Music free and listen to Usher’s new album Coming Home in beautiful, crisp Spatial Audio?
The whole thing is an incredibly carefully-choreographed television event. As evidenced by Alicia Keys’ vocal fix, even a human voice is too unreliable for the level of slick production perfection it requires. The show has hundreds of millions of live viewers, worth many millions of dollars in sponsorship money. Why bank all of that on a plank of wood with some coils of wire inside?
Even the best guitarists have off-days, but much more likely than that is a broken string or a failed wireless pack. Even a single string drifting a quarter-tone out of tune could spell a total disaster, one destined to be shared and re-shared for years in YouTube videos with titles like “TOTAL GUITAR FAIL – EMBARRASSING!”
But, obviously, the boring reality of making a very expensive advert comes up against the enthusiastic derision of internet guitarists. Those in our Facebook comments absolutely loved to point out that the whole thing was “AIR GUITAR” or “TOTAL FAKE CRAP” because guitar, as an instrument, still carries with it some aura of honesty.
If you’ve got a guitar slung over your shoulder, you’ve gotta be real, man. We’d expect miming from those pop singers, but from guitarists? Man, this is just like at the end of that Adam Sandler movie. You know, where the evil record label tries to make the rock band mime a live performance so they destroy all their instruments, yeah? Because they’re just so real and authentic, yeah? And then there’s a montage and the credits roll?
Seeing a guitar solo represented in one of the biggest TV events since the bloody Moon landings should be the thing to focus on here. Not dragging H.E.R., who is, again, a professional musician and excellent guitarist with millions of fans, because she, like many musicians before her, had to play by the rules of a slick, expensive production that cannot afford to fail. If the guitar was live, would it suddenly have made the Super Bowl Halftime Show a transcendently beautiful, meaningful performance? Or would it remain a piece of fun Sunday night entertainment, meant to sell you on an Apple Music subscription and/or give you 20 minutes to go put some more beer in the fridge before the rest of the football?
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