Opinion: The Weeknd’s Halftime Show was Kind of Groundbreaking

Mckenzie Post, Associate Editor

In the wake of Sunday’s lackluster Super Bowl 55, the highly popular halftime show is getting majorly mixed reviews. The show was performed by undoubtedly one of the most popular and talented musicians of our generation — Abel Tesfaye, known to the world as The Weeknd, who headlined the show as he has taken the music industry by storm the past few years. His halftime performance came in the wake of him becoming the number one streamed artist on the music platform Spotify, with nearly seventy million monthly listeners. His huge 80s inspired hit “Blinding Lights” will go down in history as the fourth biggest worldwide hit of all-time and was just declared the biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit of the century. With his legacy cemented with each new piece of music he releases, it was no surprise The Weeknd was chosen to play the halftime show for 2021. 

The performance itself faces mixed reviews ranging from people like me loving it and thinking it deserves all of the praise-to others who do not get it and will put it down. The biggest complaint is very superficial — it wasn’t “flashy” or “interesting” enough. With halftime shows, most of the audience needs to be spoon-fed crazy costumes and big, extravagant productions with no actual focus on the artistry or value of the performance. Today, I will be diving into what I think is a game-changing halftime show that will go down in history for being one of a kind during a time that is less than normal. 

With his latest critically acclaimed record After Hours being snubbed at the Grammys, the Weeknd focuses on the story of the album and the tale of a character he calls “The Character.” The Character struggles with gambling, drugs, and partying in Las Vegas also known in Blinding Lights as “sin city,” every song off of the album tells the tale of his descent into madness as he wears a symbolic red suit that he has worn this entire era. Many casual viewers and listeners may wonder why the Weeknd/The Character would show up to award shows or performances with his face bloodied or bandaged; it all comes back to the literal destruction of the man that is The Character. Many were shocked and confused with the background dancer clones that were bandaged and wearing the now-iconic red suits, but to fans, it couldn’t have made more sense. 

The Weeknd effortlessly dived in and out of each smash hit he has had over the past few years, starting the show with a very detailed Las Vegas set. He emerged in his red suit and glasses with the haunting live choir accompanying him with an intro of “Call Out My Name” as an angel was falling from the sky, symbolizing the destruction and loss The Character faces in Sin City. He then opened up with the 2016 hit “Starboy” and all vocals were done live, which led to the mixing of his voice being a bit low with the opening numbers. He then moved onto his first major hit —“The Hills,” which featured red led lights and aching guitar that provoked a sense of eeriness. Then there was the transition into the now infamous golden room, where a snippet of the title track off his album After Hours (one of his best songs) lurks in the background. The Weeknd went into uncharted territory as the camera gave us a dizzying POV into the delusion and confusion he was facing. This all led up to the climax of “I Can’t Feel My Face” as the background dancers came pouring in with bandaged faces that also were used as face masks for the pandemic. 

According to insider information I obtained from a post on the platform Reddit, one of the background dancers revealed the dancers started rehearsals on January 28th, about a week and a half before the show. The show also had many limitations as a result of the pandemic, which makes his performance even more impressive given the circumstances. When asked about the reason for the bandaged faces, the Weeknd told Variety, “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. It’s all a progression as we watch The Character’s storyline hit heightened levels of danger and absurdity as his tale goes on.” 

After he escaped the gold room, he came out with an overlooking view of the stadium with fireworks as he belted out “I Feel It Coming.” There was a swift transition into the upbeat sad-pop upcoming hit, “Save Your Tears” before he crooned to the four times platinum “Earned It” with a beautiful live orchestra from the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. 

Even though his mic was low, his vocals echoed through the stadium as he finished the song with a strong and sustained high belt. What I believe to be the best part of the performance was the final selection, where the dancers make their way onto the field with a haunting track unknown to most playing out. This song, “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls,” was for the real fans, as this song came out in 2011 on his mixtape House of Balloons (which he made when he was homeless). The track blares out as The Weeknd takes to the field with his dancers singing “This is our happy house” to close the journey of self-destruction. The song then beautifully broke out into hard electric guitar and drums before swiftly transitioning into the super-smash hit “Blinding Lights.” The crowd erupted as they heard the powerful pop synths and heard the all-too-familiar melody that took the world by storm. He finished the show by looking into the camera and smiling, fireworks popping, after genuinely having the time of his life doing what he was made to do. 

From an artistic perspective, from the the in-depth set, live vocals, and pouring seven million of his own money into his performance, I believe this was one of the best Super Bowl Halftime Shows. If you wanted an over the top, circus-like show with lip-synching and millions of props and costume changes, it might’ve disappointed you. But to those who value artistry, story-telling, and performance, this show will go down in history for being groundbreaking in those aspects.