Save your tears: The Weeknd’s Super Bowl performance fell flat

February 12, 2021 — by Anjali Nuggehalli and Amanda Zhu

Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, emerged in a cloud as he stepped into the Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7 during the Super Bowl Halftime Show. In his iconic shimmering red blazer, The Weeknd kicked off the performance with his hit “Starboy.” His setlist also included tracks from his latest album “After Hours” and several of his older songs, such as “The Hills” and “Earned It.” 

Expectations were high for the 30-year-old R&B artist, whose song “Blinding Lights” had the most Spotify streams worldwide in 2020. Not to mention, The Weeknd spent an additional $7 million was spent on the performance to amplify the extravagant sets and lighting effects. 

Despite The Weeknd’s passion for creating a visual masterpiece, many viewers felt he did not meet the sky-high expectations for performances as iconic as the Super Bowl halftime productions. While it was admirable that his vocals were primarily live, his mic volume was too low, preventing listeners from hearing much of his singing. 

The Weeknd’s low-energy stage presence also offered a stark contrast to the set lights that were indeed, quite blinding. Rather than pairing his songs with the expected elaborate dance routine that Shakira and Jennifer Lopez flaunted at their performances, The Weeknd settled for awkwardly walking around while letting his backup dancers do the work. 

Even the dance numbers were less than impressive, as the climax of the performance consisted of a group of identically -dressed dancers circling around The Weeknd while fireworks boomed over the stadium. 

While this would have been jaw-dropping for an ordinary concert, fireworks and dancing circles are as predictable as Tom Brady winning another championship. Audiences were looking for something unique for the ending number, but like the rest of the performance, it was underwhelming. 

The Weeknd also attempted to maintain his “After Hours” persona. 

In August, he showed up to the MTV Awards with a bloody face. In November, he gave a speech at the American Music Awards with bandages on his face. In January, he released a music video for his single “Save Your Tears” where his face looks surgically altered to symbolize the disingenuous mask that people hide behind. 

His performance at the halftime show seemed to represent the grande finale of this character he has played for months.

The Weeknd opened his set with a choir behind him, representing an innocent singer chasing his dreams. He then found himself in a hall of mirrors, surrounded by countless versions of himself to represent remaking his identity to chase fame. At the end, The Weeknd stood on top of the world — literally — but spun out of control as the different versions of himself lay dead beside him.

This effort, although impressive, likely sailed over the heads of most viewers who are not diehard fans, preventing the general audience from fully understanding and appreciating his performance.

The Weeknd, understandably, mainly performed his most popular songs, such as “Blinding Lights” and “Starboy.” Though these songs were his claim to fame, it felt like he overlooked his lesser-known songs from older albums like “Trilogy” and “Kiss Land.”

It would have also been nice to see other stars performing alongside him as he had many opportunities to bring in guest features. Some of his biggest collaborations have included other renowned artists like Ariana Grande, Lana del Rey and Kendrick Lamar.

The Weeknd is undoubtedly a talented performer on his own, but the production of the performance simply did not live up to expectations put in place by previous Super Bowl performers, such as JLo and Shakira, Katy Perry and Prince. Although his dedication and commitment are commendable, The Weeknd’s performance felt more like a solo, backyard concert instead of a jaw-dropping Super Bowl Halftime Show.