Review: The Weeknd’s halftime performance, album ‘Blinding Lights’

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Courtesy of Billboard

TRL’s Ryan Wang says that “it would have been beneficial if The Weeknd had brought on other artists to perform with him, something his halftime show predecessors have done.”

The Super Bowl halftime performance has been a long-standing tradition that’s been coveted for three decades now. Some of the biggest artists in music have graced that field, from legends like Michael Jackson and Prince, to modern pop singers Katy Perry and Bruno Mars. This year, the stage belongs to music’s man of mystery, The Weeknd, whose songs and lyrics resemble an art form in itself as he looks to recreate the story of how Hollywood changes you.

The performance starts off with The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, in a glamorous and bright set, reminiscent of Las Vegas nightlife. After an exciting and ominous opening, the stands diverge in a halo of bright light as The Weeknd appears. He starts off with one of his first hit songs, “Starboy,” while being backed up by a gospel-style choir. It’s clear that he’s trying to tell his own journey through Hollywood and what he imagines being a popstar would look and feel like. However, the production of this segment set the mood as upbeat and retro, a complete mismatch compared to his next song, “The Hills,” which begins on more of a low note. The lights calm down, smoke rises, and any energy and excitement that was created during the first song quickly dies down. “The Hills” became a more despondent and nostalgic performance in terms of style executed, the rhythm, and the colors associated with it. It’s also difficult to understand why only one small section of the stadium had fireworks shot out during the beat drop of this song. 

The Weeknd then heads backstage to a bright halfway, where the mirrors and illuminated light strips quite literally represent “Blinding Lights.” He sings the song “Can’t Feel My Face,” and while this entire sequence was planned and choreographed extremely well, it seemed more appropriate for a music video, than for a live performance. Fans who attended the game would have watched this on a screen, while the entire field would have been presumably empty. However, the close-up shots, tight spaces, and a cohort of identically-dressed dancers seem to highlight the artistic side of The Weeknd. Throughout the past year, The Weeknd has been telling a story of overglamifcation and excess in Hollywood, by pretending to have facial surgery. His dancers all wear bandages that wrap around their faces completely, identical to the image he’s been presented in 2020. 

After “Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd finally heads outside, this time at the top of the stands where we can tell where he is in the story. While he’s performing “I feel it coming,” he’s standing next to miniature cutouts of skyscrapers and buildings, symbolizing that he feels on top of the world at the moment. This is where the live performance truly begins to feel like a Super Bowl halftime show. His sparkling red suit is magnetic, even from across the stadium, and he follows up with his newest hit single “Save Your Tears.” But again, the performance feels too isolated. He has yet to use the field, and has limited his performance to only certain sections of the stands, and even the backstage. But, in the last five minutes, he does what really should have been utilized the entire time. He takes the field by storm.

The soundtrack of “Blinding Lights” begins to play while The Weeknd hypes the audience. It’s of his more iconic songs of recent memory, and his army of bandaged doppelgangers dominate the moment. It’s the best song of the night, yet it still seems extremely anticlimactic. When rumors arose that the directors were going to bring a car into the stadium for the show, audiences may have expected it to be driven around somehow, similar to Katy Perry’s 2015 performance where she rode a 16 foot tiger statue. Instead, the car was only used for the opening shot, and was never even turned on. 

What becomes apparent as the halftime show comes to a close is that The Weeknd is an amazing singer, who’s music is memorable, nuanced, and powerful. However, what he lacks is being able to captivate an audience during a live performance, and really present a “wow” factor during these crucial moments. It can also be said that it would have been beneficial if The Weeknd had brought on other artists to perform with him, something his halftime show predecessors have done. Perhaps other artists he’s collaborated with in the past, such as Ariana Grande and Daft Punk, would have been able to further elevate the entire show. 

While the Super Bowl halftime show featured all of The Weeknd’s most prominent songs of his career, he had also recently released an album that did the same thing, “The Highlights,” which highlighted his most successful songs. On track were the songs performed at Super Bowl, along with others like “Love Me Harder,” and “Often.” It was a month that celebrated his work, and wrapped up this story over excess through facial surgery that he’s been telling. Music connoisseurs and The Weeknd fans alike can now look forward to whatever the mystery man himself, has in store moving forward.

Super Bowl Halftime Show Rating: C+

Album Rating: A+