Arts and Entertainment

Super Bowl LV Halftime: A Break from Tradition

At this year’s Halftime show, the Weeknd offers audiences a brilliantly produced performance that tells an even better story.

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This year’s Super Bowl was unorthodox, to say the least, but unorthodoxy is nothing new to The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye).

For an artist that built a career off the mysterious allure of his persona, the dazzle and glamour of the concept of a halftime show could not be more different from The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye)’s brand of dark, raw R&B. It’s likely that for this very reason, The Weeknd took his performance in a different direction from his predecessors. Stepping away from the excess and extravagance of most halftime shows, The Weeknd took his 13 minutes in the limelight to tell an intricate, vulnerable story.

The show opened with a Las Vegas-inspired neon set—an homage to his latest album “After Hours.” As the camera panned out from the extravagant cityscape he had constructed and down to the stands of the Raymond James Stadium, the set split in two, and The Weeknd walked on stage.

Backed by a gospel-meets-terminator style choir, The Weeknd kicked the show off with his 2016 smash hit “Starboy” (featuring Daft Punk) followed by “The Hills,” a deeper, moodier cut. He then disappeared into a maze of mirrors and lights reminiscent of the “Heartless” music video. Surrounded by a crowd of dancers with face bandages, The Weeknd burst into his poppy, chart-topping “Can’t Feel My Face” (2015). While the maze was a bit disorienting for viewers at home, it utilized the backstage of the performance space in a way audiences hadn’t seen before. As he ascended to the top of the bleachers, another iconic collaboration with Daft Punk, “I Feel It Coming” (2016) played in the background. Arguably the most memorable visual from the show, The Weeknd stood atop the stands, backed by the vast stadium and an array of fireworks. After his synth-heavy “Save Your Tears” (2021) performance, the tone shifted as he moved back in front of the choir to perform his Grammy-winning ballad from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise, “Earned It.”

The performance fully delivered the seductive charm audiences have come to expect of the artist. The bright spotlight focused the audience’s attention on The Weeknd while the dramatic instrumentals complemented his vocals. At the end of the performance, he made his way down to the field playing his throwback hit “House of Balloons” (2012). Just as seamless as his transition to superstardom, the music quickly shifted to the all too familiar tune of “Blinding Lights” (2021), the biggest chart hit of the century. Surrounded by an army of dancers dressed in costumes identical to his, the Weeknd maintained eye contact with the camera amidst the chaos of a well-deserved climax in the performance. Even though the Weeknd abandoned the elaborate choreography of most Halftime shows, his superb delivery of the song made for a dynamic and engaging performance. The last line of the song was met with a roar of cheers from the audience as he stretched his arms out to bask in the applause.

After a year filled with worry and tragedy perpetrated by the coronavirus, the Weeknd offered us a few minutes of escape at home. From his bejeweled red blazer to the Diana Ross-inspired spectator shoes, the attention to detail was present in every aspect of the show. What set this show apart, aside from the peculiar conditions surrounding it, was that it was undeniably The Weeknd’s doing. Halftime shows can easily get repetitive, giving audiences the same overplayed pop songs and generic dance moves. Not only did the Weeknd’s halftime show stand out in terms of production and genre, but it told a story: like he said during his NFL press conference, “It’s a very cohesive story I’ve been telling throughout this era and throughout this year.” His performance stayed true to this promise.

Another way The Weeknd strayed from the norms of a Halftime show was the absence of a guest performer. From his longtime collaborator Daft Punk, to his “Love Me Harder” (2014) duet partner Ariana Grande, there were a lot of great picks for possible guests. It’s undeniable that The Weeknd is an accomplished and talented artist, but bringing on another performer would have allowed for a more lively dynamic.

At this year’s Super Bowl, The Weeknd broke from the traditional expectations of the Halftime Show. While restricted by COVID safety protocol, he managed to put on a great performance with stunning visuals, wonderful vocals, and—most uniquely—a remarkable story.