The Weeknd’s Super Bowl performance was weird, but what else is new?

February 13, 2021 — by Viraaj Reddi

In the weeks leading up to Super Bowl LV, sports and pop music fans alike hotly anticipated this year’s halftime show, which would be hosted by Canadian artist The Weeknd. From his social media posts of a bandaged face to reports that he had spent $7 million of his own money to fund the performance, rumors swirled about how he would approach such an atypical year. 

The end result was nothing less than controversial, and for good reason; whether they enjoyed it or not, viewers agreed that the performance was … odd. When fans think of the Super Bowl halftime show, they probably think of Travis Scott hyping a crowd up, or maybe Prince performing in the middle of a storm. They probably don’t imagine The Weeknd’s nose 2 inches from the camera, looking like a grandmother who just discovered Facetime and inspiring an entirely new slate of memes. They likely don’t envision The Weeknd finding his way through a House of Mirrors like he’s at an amusement park, nor his background dancers running around, their faces covered in bandages.

And yet, from an objective perspective, the performance was an incredible story. The Weeknd told a poignant story of the dangers of love and drugs through a combination of his hit songs. From “Can’t Feel My Face” (describing his love-hate relationship with drugs) to his recent hit “Blinding Lights” (about how nothing can stop him from success no matter what), there was a truly fascinating story hidden within the lyrics. 

The performance was nothing we’ve come to expect out of a Super Bowl, which turned some fans off. At some points, the cinematography looked more like a vlog than an actual performance, with the camera pressed up against his face. Unlike more grand performances such as when Katy Perry brought out a giant animatronic tiger, The Weeknd didn’t even start his concert on the stage, instead doing it in the stands. The end of his show, with his bandaged background dancers marching in perfect unison, gave more horror movie vibes than football game hype vibes. 

At the same time, though, it’s everything we should have seen coming from The Weeknd, who is known for his unique and polarized brand. The fact that his performance was the same way should come as a surprise to no one. It’s not necessarily a  bad thing that he pushed the boundaries of what makes a Super Bowl performance, which opens the door for more unique approaches in the future. 

He even used the COVID-19 restrictions to his advantage. For example, it was an artistically genius move for his background dancers to wear bandages on their faces, which simultaneously allowed them to wear masks and fit in perfectly with his marketing theme. 

Yes, it may not have been normal compared to our expectations, but nothing was ever going to be normal about this year’s Super Bowl. In a time where every day seems to hold some breaking news or unprecedented, historic event, watching The Weeknd sing to an audience with more cardboard cutouts than actual people is no more out of place than everything else.