Super Bowl 2021: The Weeknd, Amanda Gorman and all the performance highlights

From a new kind of half-time show to a poetry first, here are the best bits from the performances on the night

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After a year spent shrouded in mystery with a bloodied and bandaged face, The Weeknd finally took centre stage for the Super Bowl half-time show.

It was a subdued performance for a subdued year, with the 14-minute set providing only a fragment of those wow-factor moments that traditionally come from the Super Bowl stage. Instead, the singer, whose real name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, let his moody back catalogue of hits do the talking.

But The Weeknd's decision to shun the guest appearances that have made Super Bowl performances so memorable over the years was felt, with many taking to social media to compare his performance with that of Jennifer Lopez and Shakira the year before, who together served up a Latin-infused medley with J Balvin and Bad Bunny as special guests.

And it wasn't Covid-19 restrictions that stopped The Weeknd – who has reportedly ploughed $7 million of his own money into making his half-time show vision come to life – from going it solo.

"There wasn't any room to fit it in the narrative and the story I was telling in the performance. So there are no special guests, no," he told the NFL Network.

While that sparked disappointment for spectators, the performance showcased The Weeknd's star power, and commitment to the story he tells through his music.

Opening the show flanked by a robotic gospel choir and the lights of a faux Las Vegas, he launched into a version of Starboy, before slowing things down with The Hills, during which his vocals were impressive.

Things took a turn as the singer – joined by a lone cameraman and, later, a troupe of bandaged dancers – took a wander into a maze-like mirrored set-up inside the centre of the stage and away from the crowd outside, which felt frenzied, claustrophobic and a little more music video than Super Bowl stage.

It was a strong end, though, as the star finally came down from the sidelines to centre stage, taking to the pitch flanked by dozens of his bandaged dancers who performed in flash mob style for a much livelier finale of Blinding Lights, finally offering viewers that wow moment they'd been waiting for.

A mismatched but impressive duet

Elsewhere, Jazmine Sullivan and Eric Church impressed with their duet.

The odd couple proved why they are multiple Grammy-nominated stars in their own right, blending their vocals beautifully to create a memorable, enjoyable rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.

Church kicked off the performance, strumming his guitar and giving all the feels with his raspy vocals. Sullivan later joined in, her voice also raspy but heavy and rich, belting the lyrics like a veteran singer, and gaining them both a legion of new fans on Sunday night.

They finished the song together – Church letting Sullivan stand front and centre with her beaming vocals, and him right behind her, melding in like a perfect teammate.

Before that performance, Grammy-winning guitar slayer HER proved her rock star status with her rendition of America the Beautiful.

Sullivan, Church and HER performed in Tampa at the Raymond James Stadium before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took on the Kansas City Chiefs.

A first for poetry

Amanda Gorman, 22, the poet who delivered a captivating performance at President Joe Biden's inauguration, opened the Super Bowl on Sunday with a new work celebrating essential workers, marking the first time poetry has ever been performed at the National Football League championship.

In a pre-taped performance, Gorman delivered her poem Chorus of the Captains, paying homage to three people declared honorary captains in the night's coin toss: an educator, an intensive care nurse and a US Marine Corps veteran.

"They've taken the lead / Exceeding all expectations and limitations / Uplifting their communities and neighbours / As leaders, healers and educators," she recited.

During the performance, which was watched by 80 million people, Gorman called the work of nurses an example that "even in tragedy, hope is possible".

Additional reporting from Associated Press