After last year’s halftime show had Facebook moms flocking to social media to decry the “moral degeneracy” of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, the NFL was no-doubt looking for a controversy-free, safe halftime show — which they found with The Weeknd.
The 30-year-old performer lit up the Super Bowl with a fun yet mom-friendly halftime show. Because his toe-tapping, infectious earworms have dominated the airwaves for the better part of six years, he’s popular enough to satisfy the young viewers while moderately viewer friendly enough for the older viewers to tolerate him.
The Weeknd’s set design was brilliant considering the COVID-19 restrictions put in place for the performance. The stage was not allowed to be built on the field, and as a result, it was placed in the stands. The Las Vegas-themed backdrop fit well with The Weeknd’s stylistic choices over the past few months in support of his new album, “After Hours.” Throughout his performance, The Weeknd was highly mobile, moving from the stage to inside the stands to on top of the set-piece and down on the field. This made the performance dynamic, keeping the audience engaged while The Weeknd ripped through his setlist.
One interesting aspect of the performance was the use of backup singers and dancers. Backup singers filled the set-piece, giving the impression of a church-like chorus. Their masks featured glowing red eyes, giving the performance a more sinister feel. Once The Weeknd moved into the stands, a group of bandaged backup singers crowded around him. The masks served two purposes, one practical and one stylistic: protect the performers and stay within Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, while also drawing attention to The Weeknd’s ongoing critique of beauty standards and plastic surgery in Hollywood. The utilization of these strategies was one of the show’s highlights, giving depth and filling out the performance.
The setlist was another crucial aspect of The Weeknd’s performance. The Super Bowl halftime shows are unfortunately very short, leaving artists to cut many of their songs and even trim them into smaller bits. This can often feel rushed, but The Weeknd pulled it off well, running through a quick eight song setlist that showcased all of his hits, including an amazing show-stopping, firework-filled finish with his most recent hit, “Blinding Lights.” The low camera angle on The Weeknd, combined with the fireworks lighting up the sky behind him, creates the perspective of the performer as larger than life as he belts out the final number in the setlist.
Unfortunately, no performance is perfect. While The Weeknd’s performance was good, it was not great. Many audience members took to Twitter to express their boredom with the performance, which seemed to drag at times. Some minor sound and vocal issues popped up now and then, but overall, they were not prominent. While the performance was not a mind-blowing, prop and gimmick filled performance, it was exactly what the NFL needed it to be: safe and entertaining.
The Weeknd’s performance might have been boring at times, but it was refreshing to see an artist use props to supplement their performance, not overshadow it. The Weeknd gave the NFL exactly what it was looking for: a performance, not a show.