Despite the limitations of pandemic protocols, The Weeknd put on an impressive, eerie and ultra-creative performance during the Super Bowl halftime show.
The Scarborough, Ont. singer spent nearly CAD$9 million of his own money putting together the show, which featured fireworks, light displays, background musicians and dozens of dancers in face bandages.
The Weeknd — real name Abel Tesfaye — performed most of his show on the stands, transformed into a cityscape with lighting and sets. He was accompanied by a choir made up of singers with blue-tinged robes and glowing red eyes, adding a sinister touch to his dark, pained but energetic repertoire.
Dressed in a black shirt, tie and pants with a glittery red jacket and a few dance moves that evoked Michael Jackson, The Weeknd, 30, sang a compilation of several of his biggest hits, including “Save Your Tears,” “The Hills” and “Blinding Lights.” During “I Can’t Feel My Face,” he went behind the stands, which had been turned into a bright, trippy hall of mirrors. He mugged straight to a selfie camera, his face pressed up close, until he was joined by dozens of dancers dressed in the same black and red outfit as him, but covered in full-face bandages.
The performance ended after The Weeknd and his dancers marched onto the field, with an elaborate display of fireworks. He treated longtime fans to an energetic rendition of “House of Balloons,” a track off his very first 2011 mixtape of the same title, and brought the stadium down with “Blinding Lights.”
The Weeknd became the first solo Canadian Super Bowl performer, which he said was “an honour” and “a blessing.” Shania Twain performed at the halftime show in 2003, but she shared the stage with No Doubt and Sting. Dan Aykroyd was part of a Blues Brothers halftime show in 1997, along with John Goodman and Jim Belushi.
The Weeknd made an effort to change up his aesthetic for the performance, the told Variety in an interview Thursday, three days before the game.
“I definitely want to be respectful to the viewers at home. I will still incorporate some of the storyline [from the music videos] — it’s a very cohesive story I’m telling throughout this year, so the story will continue, but we definitely will keep it PG for the families,” he said. “I’ll do my best.”
Most of his public appearances over the last few months have involved facial distortions of some kind — in his his most recent video, “Save Your Tears,” he’s wearing prosthetics to imitate the effects of extreme plastic surgery. He was covered in bandages at the AMAs, with two black eyes, and had a “broken” nose at the MTV Video Music Awards. Like the facial “surgery,” the injuries weren’t real, but were tied to his 2020 album “After Hours.”
In August he told Esquire that “Blinding Lights,” one of its first singles, is about “how you want to see someone at night, and you’re intoxicated, and you’re driving to this person and you’re just blinded by streetlights, but nothing could stop you from trying to go see that person, because you’re so lonely. I don’t want to ever promote drunk driving, but that’s what the dark undertone is.”
Speaking to Variety ahead of the show, he said his favourite Super Bowl halftime show of all time was Diana Ross’s performance in 1996. “She’s just so glamorous and the show just makes me smile,” he said.
Other past Super Bowl performers Prince, Michael Jackson and Beyoncé are also influences, he said.
The Weeknd previously said he likes playing shows in Tampa because the crowd is “insane.”
“They don’t sing the lyrics back, they scream them back at you,” he said. “It’s such an experience.”