The Weeknd, a Canadian R&B singer, was announced as the interval act for the 2021 Super Bowl Halftime Show, and he was compelled to perform from the stands rather than the field for the first time in the game’s 55-year history due to rigorous coronavirus protocols.
Thousands of cardboard cut-outs swelled the 25,000 socially distant supporters at Florida’s Raymond James Stadium as they “watched” his 12-minute act.
The performer, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, spent most of his performance in front of a set inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, with vertical layers and neon signs.
The cityscape parted as the opening lines of Starboy boomed out, revealing the vocalist, drenched in light, performing surrounded by a choir of red-eyed automatons.
He kept the attention on his voice with a dramatic rearrangement of The Hills before grabbing a camera and retreating into a backstage maze of lights and mirrors, aside from a few Michael Jackson-inspired dance movements.
He played a dizzying version of Can’t Feel My Face, jolted and buffeted by two dozen dancers in full facial bandages, before coming back into the stadium for a firework-assisted version of I Feel It Coming.
The climax – a medley of House of Balloons and Blinding Lights sung directly to the camera without the typical stunts, guest stars, or marching band interludes – took place on the playing field.
Tesfaye, who put $7 million (£5 million) into the project out of his own pocket, evidently decided it was best to let the music speak for itself.
He even planned a greatest hits record to coincide with the Super Bowl, the year’s most-watched television event in the United States.
Before Sunday night, there was a fear that The Weeknd’s dark-hued R&B might be an odd match for a program that usually demands upbeat, crowd-pleasing anthems like Purple Rain or Like A Prayer.
Tesfaye, on the other hand, intelligently framed the concert around his more upbeat tracks, such as Save Your Tears and Earned It, while the soaring melody of Blinding Lights provided a fittingly joyful finish.
To put it another way, he pulled it off, demonstrating how severely The Grammys screwed up by ignoring him in this year’s nominees.
This begs the issue of what his set might have looked like in a regular year. It’s likely that it would have been far more elaborate. The singer spoke of the aforementioned Ross-o-copter in astonished tones at a press conference before Sunday night’s gig.