Super Bowl 2021: While not a touchdown, The Weeknd's concert was still seriously impressive
The Canadian singer announced a 2022 world tour on the back of the half-time performance
The Weeknd’s half-time show at this year’s Super Bowl was as much a pop music celebration as it was a coronation.
The spectacle, held in the US city of Tampa on Sunday, capped-off a remarkable 10-year evolution for the singer.
When he first emerged from the Toronto independent dance and RnB scene in 2011, The Weeknd (real name Abel Makkonen Tesfaye) was enigmatic on and off the stage.
The sounds marking his breakout 2011 mixtape House of Balloons were defined by claustrophobic production and woozy melodies carried by a fragile voice that seemingly surfaced from some dark chasm.
That loneliness and alienation was also reflected in The Weeknd’s public image. His face was often obscured in marketing material and the rare interviews provided were frequently littered with monosyllabic responses.
The subsequent years have served him well, however.
Each release has seen him further expanding his sound to add more accessible pop, EDM and RnB elements (cue the “sell-out” calls from early fans).
Meanwhile, on stage, the gloom turned to grins as he watched packed arenas from Abu Dhabi to Buenos Aires singing along to his modern pop anthems Can’t Feel My Face and The Hills.
By the time he hit the stage at this year's Super Bowl LV, The Weeknd was one of the most recognisable faces on the planet.
But did he give a show to match the occasion?
The Super Bowl is often viewed as The Mount Rushmore of the US pop industry because of its steep music tradition, not to mention the technical and performance demands.
Simply put, just because something works on tour doesn’t mean it will automatically fit this event.
With a global audience and a tight 15-minute slot, the headlining artist needs to not only tell a compact story encapsulating their career, but deliver it in a way that is both visually appealing and technically on point.
With all that expectation and history on his shoulders, how did The Weeknd do?
Here are five things we learned from the performance:
1. The seven-million-dollar man
Go big or go home: that’s the unwritten rule for Super Bowl performances. If you're chosen for the gig, you need to come with a show matching the occasion.
This is what has defined Super Bowl appearances over the years, with headlining acts often going that extra mile. The Weeknd clearly got the memo, and went as far as reportedly pumping in $7 million out of his own pocket to fund the production.
What we got was his biggest performance to date in terms of scale and a worthy visual representation of latest album After Hours, which released last March, as the live music industry was shutting down due to the unfolding coronavirus pandemic.
With a mammoth backdrop of a neon-lit city skyline and a choir of singers donning what looked like Robocop masks, The Weeknd descended onto the stage from a convertible and launched into a hard-hitting eight-song set.
The performance moved through two other settings: a maze and the football pitch. The singer, in a trademark sequinned red jacket, danced on the grass among a cast of hundreds of masked doppelgangers.
The production was nothing short of impressive, and was lavish, yet still in line with The Weeknd’s dystopian visual style.
2. There were sound issues
Money doesn’t always buy success in show business.
The Weeknd would be right to throw his leather-gloved hands in the air upon reviewing some of the footage from the concert.
While the decision to perform the show predominantly live with a backing band and choir of singers was commendable, all that extra production resulted in moments where the sound mix was murky.
While performing I Feel it Coming, The Weeknd’s voice, known for its elasticity rather than power, simply didn’t cut through the wall of sound provided by the backing band.
3. Missing that star quality
The Weeknd surprised the press when he revealed that his Super Bowl set wouldn’t include special guests, as it didn't “fit in the narrative and the story”.
This is true to a point, as his four albums have rarely featured special guests because of the heady sound built around his distinct vocals.
But this is the Super Bowl, and special guests often deliver memorable moments that elevate or salvage a performance (for the latter, refer to Travis Scott’s much-needed contribution to Maroon 5’s lacklustre 2019 show).
While The Weeknd normally sings alone, he could have dipped into his contact book and called upon those rare collaborators, such as superstar rappers Drake and French Montana, and the uber-cool French DJs Daft Punk.
Their appearance would have taken an already solid performance to dazzling new heights.
4. There were some meme-worthy moments
In previous years, some Super Bowl shows became meme-worthy for all the wrong reasons, such as 2004’s notorious wardrobe malfunction featuring Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, or the delightfully loopy dancing by Left Shark in Katy Perry's 2015 set.
A student of the social media game, The Weeknd took a knowing approach and offered fans two meme-worthy moments.
The first was his sultry wink to the camera during The Hills, which is destined to be use for a string of “I want to look at (object or person) the way The Weeknd looks at me” memes.
The other came in the passage of Can't Feel My Face, when the frantic singer tried to escape the maze. This has already resulted in a number of witty memes about being stuck in unwanted places. Here is a favourite:
5. The tour will happen eventually
In addition to being a mighty one-off performance, a Super Bowl show has also been traditionally used as a super-sized preview for a new tour.
With no major music concerts on the world's schedule for the near future, The Weeknd used this moment to drum up interest for his recently announced 2022 North American tour, which is set to run from Friday, January 14 to Sunday, May 1, next year.
Until then, The Weeknd should be comfortable about his Super Bowl show. While it wasn't a total touchdown, it will further cement his place at the top of the pop music pack.
Updated: February 8, 2021 07:30 PM