Label volunteer, Harjan Sahota, summarises The Weeknd’s 2021 Super Bowl LV Halftime Show performance, alongside some background on the artist’s rise in the music scene.
The Weeknd faced the spotlight during his February 2021 Super Bowl performance. Ah yes, the show that led to the circulation of viral memes across social media…
The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, the popstar-BOY (pardon the pun), has evolved from an enigmatic man who would never show his face to now an omnipresent one. Abel transformed himself into a pop star. He experimented with different sounds and genres such as pop and dance, collaborating with the likes of Daft Punk, Lana Del Rey, Ariana Grande, and more. Throughout his career, Abel has showcased his versatility; from using his dark R&B sound when singing about lustful and drug induced rendezvous, to then rapping with artists such as Future, and singing in Spanish with the well-known Colombian singer Maluma. His rise can be symbolised through his album, ‘After Hours’, which broke the Apple Music record for most pre-saves of an album!
In 2011, The Weeknd dropped the mixtape, ‘House of Balloons’, which shared his stories of: wild parties and afterparties, strip club experiences and sexual escapades. Abel set the tone of the album with the attention-grabbing lyric, ‘you don’t know what’s in store’. This lyric has a double entendre; it alludes to a drug experience, whilst alternatively acting as a metaphor to the listeners who do not know what to anticipate from his music, thus showcasing The Weeknd’s musical forte of escapism. This theme of escapism was also reflected in his Super Bowl performance as viewers were able to vicariously live in his chaotic world.
Abel’s Super Bowl set entailed the artist’s greatest hits, celebrating a decade of his dark R&B sound delving into the mainstream. The set adopted the Lost in Vegas theme from the ‘After Hours’ music videos. The Weeknd incorporated 9 songs in his 14-minute set. His set initiated with his hit song Starboy which then escalated into The Hills, with the choir arrangement elevating the sinister sound of the latter. Soon, Abel was accompanied by a swarm of lookalike dancers in red jackets and face bandages, reconstructing the ‘After Hours’ vibe and persona. The dancers bounced against each other in an eerie hall of mirrors during Can’t Feel My Face, an exhilarating aura which reminded me of The Joker. Following this, The Weeknd performed his 50 Shades of Grey track, Earned It, featuring the heavy sound of violins among the background choir which helped to establish a smooth sexy mood. This transitioned to the early House of Balloons anthem with a military twist, where we see a flash mob of The Weeknd’s dancers marching.
Prior to the performance, Abel spoke to Variety about the symbolism behind the head bandages worn by his backup dancers. It was noted that the bandages echo the toxic Hollywood celebrity culture that manifests in people changing themselves in order to impress others. Abel also confirmed that the music videos in the ‘After Hours’ era reflect the character’s journey which escalates into intensified levels of danger. Abel’s ‘After Hours’ era is dark and iconic, almost reminiscent of his ‘Trilogy’ era. Yet, the songs on ‘After Hours’ adopt ‘80s synth and pop beats which are combined with dark and heartfelt lyrics.
The Weeknd’s Super Bowl performance faced complaints from people who expected bigger things, pointing out how Katy Perry once rode in on a CGI lion. I strongly feel that demands for the same level of stunts from every Super Bowl performer only conveys a misconstrue of musical art. The Weeknd is an epitome for what has been depleted from Hollywood culture. His performance intended to be provocative and was not supposed to be for everyone. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed The Weeknd’s performance. What stood out to me the most was the smooth and jaw-dropping transition from House of Balloons to the TikTok hit song Blinding Lights. Considering the circumstances this year, he put on quite the show.
Header by Christos Leo Alamaniotis – Head of Design
Article Edited by Matthew Rousou – Label Music Editor