Over the last few months, The Weeknd has become a pro at putting on brilliant performances in line with coronavirus restrictions. Last year, Abel Tesfaye took part in all of the major music awards shows in the US, bringing his ‘After Hours’ era to each, with increasingly more bandages and blood each time.
Given that, it was never really in doubt that he would pull off something of a spectacle for his Super Bowl half-time show. If times were different and freer, perhaps he would have had other plans for his set, but what he gave us utilised the enforced social distancing to his benefit and put on a show that could stand up there with the greats of any time – in a pandemic or otherwise. These are the biggest moments from The Weeknd’s Super Bowl spectacular.
Starboy cashes at +350 for The Weeknd's opening song in Super Bowl 55pic.twitter.com/sNw65PgKpg
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No matter who’s performing and whether it’s in socially distanced times or not, all eyes are always on how the Super Bowl half-time performer is going to enter the stage. Given the pandemic, The Weeknd’s options were limited – no flying into the stadium á la Gaga – but he still made an entrance that was eye-grabbing and full of the kind of drama we’ve come to expect from the event.
At first, Tesfaye appears in a sleek sports car, surrounded by Vegas-like neon signs, before stepping out and walking along the top of the stadium stand and finding a perch. As an angelic figure slowly descends below him, the stage built into the stand parts, filled with blinding light (see what he did there?) and, from within it, The Weeknd emerges, ready to get things going properly and make his mark on the half-time show.
‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and Abel’s army of doppelgängers
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After opening with ‘Starboy’ and ‘The Hills’ from the stage, The Weeknd shows us his first switch-up of the night. He heads back into the chasm he’d stepped out from earlier, revealing it to be a lair of gold lights and mirror. With his face right up to the camera, jerking around wildly, he recreates the intoxicating feeling of ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and the dizzying effect of having just one drink too many. Yes, this has already become the internet’s new favourite meme.
Best of all, though, is when – out of nowhere – the star is joined by an army of bandaged up doppelgängers, dressed identically to his character from the ‘After Hours’ era. While Tesfaye doesn’t have any bandages on his face for this performance, his new friends do, seamlessly incorporating them into their face masks. They push and shove in the gleaming corridors, stumbling into each other and The Weeknd, only snapping into formation when he lets out an urgent cry of “Hey!” (everyone working on the production was tested for coronavirus daily, with lots of safety measures in place).
‘Save Your Tears’
‘Save Your Tears’ might not have too much in the way of glitzy extras – just a ream of fireworks and dancers and backing band dressed in glitter masks and outfits. It shines, though, as one of the standout songs of the set and one of The Weeknd’s best releases so far; a bright, ‘80s-tinged piece of perfect pop. It’s proof that, even when faced with a gigantic stage like the Super Bowl half-time show, Tesfaye knows when to let the songs do the work for themselves, rather than overshadowing them with gimmicks.
The dystopian marching band taking over the field
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As the final minutes of The Weeknd’s set come around, he comes good on his promise to use the field as well as the stadium’s stands. He does so by filling half of it with his doppelgängers, taking on the form of some dystopian marching band. Seconds later, Tesfaye joins them, dancing through the middle of them, parting their red jackets like a modern-day Moses. As his band launches into ‘Blinding Lights’, things feel dangerous and unsettling – a feeling you don’t often associate with the Super Bowl half-time show.
It could just be the sight of so many people so close together after 11 months in a pandemic that has forced us apart, or just the creepy nature of his dancers’ face coverings, but there’s something thrilling about a half-time performer taking us out of our comfort zones.
The nod to his roots
Back when The Weeknd released his debut mixtape ‘House Of Balloons’ nearly 10 years ago, it would have seemed more than a little ambitious to predict a Super Bowl half-time show in his future. Not because he wasn’t good enough, but because back then he was an underground favourite who it was hard to imagine settling into the mainstream consciousness.
During his set tonight, Tesfaye throws things back to the very beginning just for a minute, giving a nod to where he started from. A quick snippet of ‘House Of Balloons’ plays as he takes over the field, just before ‘Blinding Lights’ comes in, and it’s a brilliant reminder of the unpredictability of life and music.
The simple and assured finale
As ‘Blinding Lights’ rings to a close, the camera zooms in on Tesfaye, who sings his final notes, throws his head back and his arms out and basks in his own glory. Around him, his dancers are lying prone on the floor, making him look like the victor in an apocalyptic battle, the fireworks crackling over his head cheering him on. It’s a classic and simple way to finish a prestigious set, but it’s one that speaks to The Weeknd’s knowledge that he’s more than capable of crushing this big a stage.
The performance might have started out slow but, by the end, Tesfaye is in complete control – of both the bandaged crew behind him and everyone watching at home. It might leave you wondering what he spent that $7million on but, for the most part, it’s a masterclass in putting on a show that’s exciting and enticing, despite our current restrictions.