A Beautiful Haunting: The Weeknd's Super Bowl Halftime Show
With a rich history and fan following, the Superbowl Halftime show is perhaps equally as looked forward to by fans of American Football as is the iconic Sunday final game itself. Intrinsically linked with pop-culture over the years owing to iconic performances by artists such as Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Phil Collins, The Rolling Stones, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Travis Scott and many more; the most recent performance by The Weeknd at this year’s Pepsi Super Bowl halftime show is now considered one of the best in the past few years.
This is a deep-dive into that very visual and sonic universe of the performance, where Abel Tesfaye manages to scare you, make you feel loved and heartbroken all in under 15 mins of a hauntingly beautiful performance.
The show opens to a setting reminiscent of Las Vegas with its neon signs and bright lights, where his latest record-breaking album “After Hours” is set. We see The Weeknd walking out of his car with an elaborate choir dressed in robes with red laser eyes in in the background singing "Call Out My Name" the lead single of the singer’s EP "My Dear Melancholy”.
The first 30 seconds of the show give you a brief taste of what to expect for the rest of the performance, while keeping you on your toes the entire time. Reminiscent of a Scorsese film in the sense that it takes mind-bending twists and turns, the performance is wrought with atmospheric tension that leaves a strong imprint.
As we go forward, the choir in the background dances and sings in a way that feels like a ritualistic, secret society gathering and Tesfaye re-enter to the familiar synths of his hit single “Starboy” fading in slowly, eventually transitioning into the next song.
While the music of the version of Starboy in this performance is quite different from the original released track, it creates a certain theme which remains consistent throughout his performance maintaining a sense of newness and mystery that has now come to define his brand as a whole.
After performing "The Hills” the artist, donning his staple red suit – an homage to the iconic red suit worn by Robert Di Nero’s character Sam “Ace” Rothstein in the movie Casino, goes into a golden light-filled hallway with multiple corridors, a visual recall to his album "After Hours".
As the melody from the title track starts playing, he pivots into singing "Can't Feel My Face" surprising the viewers with the chaotic camera movements that support the segment, unearthing the multiple award-winning artist’s love for cinema and attention to detail.
In the maze-like hallway we are suddenly sprung with 20 replicas of The Weeknd dressed in matching red suits with faces covered in bandages (a continuing reference to his character from the “After Hours” visual series), moving around in an inebriated way often clashing into the singer.
Post this head-spinning segment, Tesfaye slowly transitions into some of his more radio-friendly songs finishing “Save Your Tears”, when a sample from his darker, underground RnB days with “Glass Table Girls” comes in and goes out.
The stage is now set for the violin-backed ballad “Earned It” from the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey" and The Weeknd hypes up the crowd just before the final act of his performance begins.
It is now that the entire performance begins to culminate to the big finale – the piece de resistence. The sample from before turns into a full-on marching band anthem where the Weeknd replicas stomp on to the field with coordinating choreography displaying bold movements and laser-lights on their palms.
Tesfaye enters the field singing on top of Siouxsie the Banshees' sample reminding us of his hedonistic days filled with atmospheric music of the early 2010s and then, with a bang, the melody changes to one of the greatest hits of music history – “Blinding Lights”. Redefining the entire energy of the performance, the place turns into a one big dynamic and unforgettable party as the artist finally signs off.
This performance just reinforced the age-old notion of how dreams do come true - a Canadian boy, almost homeless, is now one of the biggest artists in the world singing to millions of ardent fans each show. It is truly an inspiration to artists like me to continue to believe in their vision and craft.