The Weeknd’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

It’s that time of year, folks. Love it or hate it, no one in the United States can escape the Super Bowl. The big game took place on Sunday, February 7th, and there is no doubt that this week will be filled with nonstop discussions about the game, the commercials, and of course, the halftime show. 

Millions of people tune in to watch the halftime show each year. Past shows have been headlined by the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Madonna, and the Rolling Stones. This year saw a performance by Abel Tesfaye, known professionally as the Weeknd. Tesfaye, a Canadian singer known for his daring lyricism and vocal abilities, performed a medley of hits including “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Blinding Lights.”

The Weeknd began his performance in the stands of Raymond James Stadium, joined by a choir and instrumentalists against a backdrop resembling the Las Vegas Strip. Later in the performance, he moved down onto the field where he was accompanied by an army of dancers with bandaged faces. This costume choice appears to be a nod to Tesfaye’s look in recent public appearances, in which his face progressed from being bruised and bloodied to eventually being completely covered in bandages.

Many people have been confused by this look, speculating that it may be some kind of marketing tactic for the Weeknd’s recent album, After Hours. He explained this choice in an interview with Variety, stating that the bandages were meant to be a commentary on celebrity culture.

The significance of the entire head bandages is reflecting on the absurd culture of Hollywood celebrity and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated.”

The Weeknd’s performance was also set apart from others in that no special guests took the stage alongside him. While he is not the only headliner to have delivered a solo performance, this choice definitely deviates from the norm. Last year’s halftime show, headlined by Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, also featured special guests Bad Bunny, J Balvin, and Emme Muñiz. When asked about rumors of special guests ahead of the show, Tesfaye confirmed that he would not be bringing out any special guests because he did not feel that they would fit into the story he wanted to tell. 

So what story was the Weeknd trying to tell with his performance, exactly? Viewers have been divided on whether this year’s halftime show was any good, with many left confused or disappointed by the performance. Spencer Kornhaber, a writer for The Atlantic, described it as, “the first Super Bowl halftime show about the depravity of Super Bowl halftime shows.” As it happens, the narrative portrayed by the Weeknd’s performance was something of an extension of the one he has been telling through his battered appearance over the course of the last year. The show itself contributed further to his commentary on celebrity culture and superficiality. 

While there may be debate as to whether or not the Weeknd’s halftime show was well executed, no one can deny that at least conceptually, it was interesting. In a way, it seems fitting that these strange times would be accented by an equally strange Super Bowl halftime show. 

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