The Weeknd thrills at Super Bowl LV Halftime Show

Jacob Welsko, Former Culture Editor

Following an overtly successful year in 2020, The Weeknd delivered one of the best Super Bowl halftime performances in the last handful of years. 

As if standing out as one of the most popular artists of the last decade and proving why on several consistent projects, The Weeknd affirmed he’s ever growing status on Super Bowl Sunday when he provided the halftime entertainment at Super Bowl LV. Pretty good for an artist who received no Grammy recognition for acclaimed 2020 album After Hours.

The set opened with a projection of the man himself in a car surrounded by a sea of blinding city-like lights on the big screen. As he got out of the vehicle and sat on a raised ledge, a chilling rendition of 2018’s “Call Out My Name” commenced. An angel-like figure appeared behind him, towering over the artist as the camera panned to full screen view. The angel descended and The Weeknd walked onto stage after exiting an illuminated doorway that opened as the stage design behind him spread. From there, he broke into 2016’s “Starboy,” despite sounding a bit overpowered by the music at times, it was still a solid start to the show. Next, was his breakout hit “The Hills” from 2015’s Beauty Behind The Madness. Dancers bopped and bounced behind him and lights flickered and flashed as he performed the track. Then, smoke and flames erupted as the recognizable bass boosted beat dropped for the infectious hook.

Image result for the weeknd half time
Photo courtesy of People.

After “The Hills,” he performed another 2015 smash “Can’t Feel My Face” in the same illuminated entrance he first walked out of earlier in the event. The Weeknd sang his heart out as he stuck his face right into the camera until sliding away and joining countless doppelgänger dancers. The dancers donned the same outfit the artist wore to pretty much every award show he attended last year; a red blazer with black gloves and a bandaged face. The lookalikes all surrounded The Weeknd, jumping and springing in a claustrophobic space.

“Can’t Feel My Face” segued into “I Feel It Coming” from Starboy in 2016 as The Weeknd made his way back outside onto a higher elevation of the stage. Fireworks shot off in all directions before the stadium faded to black and a slightly acoustic version of last year’s “Save Your Tears” started. The clone dancers made a return, twirling in between the city cutouts below The Weeknd. Next, he reappeared on the main stage, accompanied by orchestral strings for 2015’s “Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey).” For the first and what may have been the only time of the night, The Weeknd had a backing track of his vocals during this song. Still, he executed strong singing and a powerful performance with the climatic ballad. 

Towards the end of halftime concert, the attention focused on the field of the Raymond James Stadium where the identical dancers were found marching with flares of light glimmering from their hands as 2011’s “House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” played. The horde stomped down the field as the song crescendoed and flowed right into “Blinding Lights”– a huge single that ruled the radio last year. Dancers ran all around as The Weeknd belted it out for one final song of the night. 

Despite pulling off an exciting show, the performance was met with some mixed reception. Some viewers felt it was too underwhelming and wished he would’ve brought out special guests. However, in a sneak peak posted by NFL Network prior to the event, he said “there wasn’t any room to fit it in the narrative and the story I was telling in the performance. So there’s no special guests, no.” While it would have been nice to see The Weeknd joined by a collaborator or two, it was refreshing to just see him bask in the spotlight and deliver his vision in the way he so desired. 

Sure, is this halftime performance up there with the MJs, the Prince’s, the Bruno Mars’, the Timberlake/Janet Jackson’s? No, but it definitely stuck out more than Katy Perry’s memed 2015 appearance (If all people remember from your performance is a shark dancer, there’s a problem.), Justin Timberlake’s dull 2018 concert with a stale tribute to Prince, and the chaotic yet hilarious 2019 show from Maroon 5 featuring glimpses of Travis Scott, Big Boi and Spongebob. 

Regardless, none of that takes away from the sheer quality showcased via The Weeknd. He performed most of his biggest and most iconic songs, kept the set quick and to the point and didn’t do too much else that would’ve been seen as grandiose or down right ridiculous. The Bucs may have won the Bowl, but The Weeknd and his fan base also captured a win.