When the Weeknd headlined this Sunday’s Super Bowl LV halftime — in the middle of a pandemic, in a two-thirds-empty venue — he obviously faced unprecedented obstacles. Many other artists in Abel Tesfaye’s position might have opted to do something stripped-back and scaled-down, or mostly pretaped and virtual, this year — and no one would have blamed them.
Instead, the Weeknd brought live vocals; a hydraulic, back-to-the-futuristic sports car; a neon Vegas cityscape; a funhouse-mirrored, fisheye-lensed, gold-plated, instantly meme-able carnival maze; a choir of LED-eyed Mr. Robotos; a responsibly masked Jabbawockeezian army of Rhythm Nation-formation mummy dancers; a skyful of pyro; a string section; and $7 million of his own investment money to Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. And he just went for it. And it worked, aside from some sound issues at the start of the performance. The shape-shifting pop star ultimatelly pulled off one of the most dazzling halftime shows in recent memory — a self-described “cinematic experience” inspired by his dark-night-of-the-soul After Hours video series — right up there with last year’s Jennifer Lopez/Shakira co-headlining spectacle or Lady Gaga’s 2017 tour de force.
Like Gaga four years ago, the Weeknd didn’t have any special guests join him on the field — not even Daft Punk (or, let’s be realistic, a couple Daft Punk impersonators in football/space helmets), whichcaused “Daft Punk” to trend on Twitter among disappointed techno fans who’d hoped that the French disco duo (who performed with the Weeknd at the 2017 Grammys) might show up for “Starboy” or “I Feel It Coming.” But, much like Gaga's halftime, Tesfaye's show didn’t really need any cameos.
And goth fans on Twitter were certainly delighted by a cameo of sorts: the unexpected inclusion of the 2011 mixtape track “House of Balloons,” thus marking the first time that a Siouxsie and the Banshees sample was heard during a Super Bowl halftime show (and probably the last).
The Siouxsie sample was actually the edgiest element of the Weeknd’s performance — pearl-clutching viewers concerned that the pop provocateur’s halftime revue would at all resemble his totally NSFW “Too Late” music video, or feature icky closeups of bloody noses and botched plastic surgery, needn’t have worried. But Tesfaye’s halftime show was certainly as artful as it was tasteful.
Somewhere, the bookers for next month’s Grammy Awards ceremony must really be kicking themselves. Last year, after the Weeknd was shockingly snubbed by the Recording Academy despite having one of the biggest albums (and the biggest single) of 2020, TMZ reported that negotiations over whether he could perform at both the Grammys and the Super Bowl had grown “testy,” with the Academy allegedly issuing an “ultimatum” demanding that the pop star choose between the two events. If that actually was the case, suffice to say, the Weeknd made the right choice.
The Super Bowl LV game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers took place Sunday, Feb. 7 at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. The Weeknd’s halftime setlist was:
“Call Out My Name” (choir intro)
“Can't Feel My Face”
“I Feel It Coming”
“Save Your Tears”
“House of Balloons”
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