The Weeknd took the sole spotlight during the halftime show at the 2021 Super Bowl on Sunday.
The performer (real name Abel Tesfaye) stayed true to his promise of his “solo act,” and was not joined by any surprise celebrity performers during the show — if one doesn’t count the several look-alike dancers with bandaged faces.
The show kicked off with The Weeknd in a luxury sports car in front of what looked like the Tampa Bay skyline (the game is being played at Raymond James Stadium in the Florida city). As the performance began, a floating figure in white, wearing a mask with red glowing eyes, was lowered to the ground as a choir — all of whom were dressed in similar garb — began singing.
The Weeknd stepped out of the car, wearing a glitzy version of the red coat prevalent in his After Hours videos. He kicked things off with “Starboy” before segueing into “The Hills.”
In a hall of mirrors-type room, he performed “Can’t Feel My Face,” surrounded by several dancers wearing the same red blazer and black tie ensemble, but adorning bandages on their faces — keeping in line with the character that The Weeknd has been portraying throughout the past year, since his After Hours album dropped.
He then performed “I Feel It Coming” and “Save Your Tears” before slowing things down with “Earned It,” backed by an orchestra of violinists as well as backup singers.
Cut to dozens of backup dancers wearing the red blazer/black pants/bandaged face costumes on the stadium field, where they were joined by The Weeknd. (Even the camera operators were spotted wearing the red blazers and black pants.) On the field, The Weeknd then went into a lively performance of “Blinding Lights” for his finale, which was accompanied by fireworks.
The Weeknd told journalists Thursday that he would tone down the thematic violence from the videos coming out of his March 2020 album After Hours. “It’s a very cohesive story I’m telling throughout this year, so the story will continue, but we definitely will keep it PG-[rated] for the families. I’ll do my best.”
The singer has been appearing in “character” since he dropped After Hours in various videos, late-night appearances and awards-show performances. The continuing storyline follows a man on a night gone wrong, then on a violent streak, later with bandages showing first his injuries then later signaling a message about plastic surgery in Hollywood (in one video, he sings on stage after obvious facial surgery). The story gets more surreal as the videos and appearances go on.
“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,” the singer told Billboard. His manager also explained that The Weeknd put up $7 million of his own money to enhance the performance.
In November, The Weeknd made headlines when he criticized the Recording Academy after receiving zero Grammy Award nominations despite his commercial hit, After Hours. Calling the Academy “corrupt,” the three-time Grammy winner tweeted, “You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.” The criticism comes after the Academy was accused of not having a transparent nomination process.
At a press conference Thursday, The Weeknd pointed to past Super Bowl performances by Diana Ross, Prince, Michael Jackson, Beyonce as his biggest influences. The singer follows previous performers Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, Maroon 5, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Katy Perry and Bruno Mars.
Earlier this week, it was reported that The Weeknd is planning his After Hours tour for January 2022. The event was rescheduled after being delayed due to COVID-19.
Super Bowl LV is at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida, and is broadcast on CBS. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9.
In other performances Sunday, Miley Cyrus took the stage during a tailgate pregame show on Sunday afternoon, before the National Anthem was performed by H.E.R., “America the Beautiful” sung by country artist Eric Church and R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan, and youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman recited a poem.