The Weeknd’s 2021 Super Bowl Halftime Performance

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Creator: Chris O’Meara

Karyna Hetman

Canadian singer/songwriter and record producer, Abel Tesfaye, A.K.A The Weeknd, earned the honor of performing halftime at the 2021 Super Bowl. Taking place in Tampa Bay, Florida at Raymond James Stadium, the R&B artist put his own special twist on the traditional halftime performance as he was faced with new restrictions due to COVID-19. However, he prevailed and planned a narrative that unfolded a story months before the Super Bowl to convey a cinematic experience with a deeper message. 

The performance begins with Abel in a fancy car in a Las Vegas-themed background that proceeds with a choir singing “Call Out My Name” behind stage props shaped as buildings in the city. The Weeknd wore a red suit that represents his alter ego character, which he has been presenting months prior in correlation with his album. Only this time, his suit was made of sparkling rubies, which was said to have weighed 40 pounds. In addition to the infamous jacket, The Weeknd claims to have paid for the $7 million performance out of his own pocket. The performance was a fan favorite as he performed his biggest hits, including “Blinding Lights”, “Can’t Feel My Face”, and “Earned It”. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the performance was not allowed a live audience on the stadium floor, thus The Weeknd saw this as an opportunity to make unique choices in his performance that catered to the audience watching from home. For example, Abel disappeared into a room full of bright lights during “Can’t Feel My Face” in which he grabbed the camera and sang to it for dramatic effect. The Weeknd tells Billboard, “we’ve been really focusing on dialing in on the fans at home and making performances a cinematic experience, and we want to do that with the Super Bowl.” Additionally, in the same room entered a dozen backup dancers dressed to look like clones of The Weeknd, but with bandages wrapped around their faces. There was a clever placement of KN95 face masks hidden in the bandages to be COVID-19 safe. This was the first time The Weeknd had ever used backup dancers and included choreography as a major component of a performance.

The Weeknd had been planning this story he tells through his halftime performance for months, but the alter ego that he has been portraying first appeared in November 2019 in his music video for “Heartless”. The next appearance was made in March 2020 on the cover of his album, “After Hours”, this time with a bloodied face. Next, he showed up to the American Music Awards with his face wrapped in bandages and bruises under his eyes, in addition to his alter ego’s red jacket. Lastly, Abel sparked rumors of plastic surgery with his “Save Your Tears” music video in which he appears with exaggerated Botox, and a puffy, extremely sculpted face. However, as The Weeknd came to the Super Bowl with a natural face, it confirmed the look from his last video was merely prosthetics. The Weeknd explains the significance of his backup dancer’s look with “the significance of the entire head of bandages is reflecting on the absurd culture of Hollywood’s celebrities and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated.” This also explains the look of his alter ego in that it represents the way celebrities get caught up in their fame, or “blinded by the lights”, and go to extreme measures to continue to keep the public eye watching and entertained. This social commentary highlighted the culture in today’s use of plastic surgery as people feel the need to change themselves in order to keep up with beauty standards and to feel of value.

The Weeknd describes his performance when he is stumbling around the many versions of himself as “it’s all a progression and we watch The Character’s storyline hit heightened levels of danger and absurdity as his tale goes on”, he tells Variety in an interview. The performance then ends with the many versions of his alter ego laying on the field around him, ending the 2021 Super Bowl Halftime Performance with a bang. The Weeknd not only put on an entertaining performance of his most loved hits, but created a story to spread a subtle message of the dangers of Hollywood, whilst keeping the show family-friendly and mostly light-hearted.