Who needs a Grammy?
After his appalling shutout from November’s Grammy Awards nominations, The Weeknd played the world’s largest stage Sunday, headlining the Super Bowl 55 halftime show. With Vegas-style showmanship and velvety vocals, the pop/R&B superstar proved he’s bigger than any archaic, out-of-touch awards show – even if he did occasionally get lost in the busy spectacle.
The Weeknd (real name: Abel Tesfaye) took over Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, for a brisk 13-minute set, running through hits including the euphoric “Blinding Lights” and synth-driven “Save Your Tears” from his neon-drenched fourth album “After Hours,” released last March. He also dipped into his back catalog for the hypnotic “I Can’t Feel My Face,” ominous “The Hills” and alluring “Earned It” from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack.
Bucking Super Bowl tradition, The Weeknd didn’t bring out any guests, despite having an arsenal of fan-favorite collaborations with Ariana Grande (“Love Me Harder”), Daft Punk (“Starboy”) or Kendrick Lamar (“Pray For Me”). Instead, he stuck to a narrative originated in his “After Hours” album and visuals, with a Sin City backdrop and face-bandaged backup dancers in red suits.
In fact, it all felt like an extension of his “After Hours” promo, which is is part of the reason the halftime show underwhelmed as a whole. Aside from the upbeat finale, where The Weeknd and hundreds of dancers packed the field to sing “Blinding Lights,” the performance was mostly confined to one side of the stadium and never strayed from the album’s dark imagery.
Masked choir members with red light-up eyes were partitioned behind cutouts of city skylines. Choreography was limited to The Weeknd walking through the stands and mugging to the camera. And in the show’s most claustrophobic moment, he appeared in a yellow-lit hallway through a dizzying fisheye lens, singing “I Can’t Feel My Face” as dancers butted into one another.
The Weeknd’s Super Bowl 55 backup dancers had bandaged faces and Twitter has thoughts
By never taking full advantage of the space, the show came across as your average VMAs medley with a slightly higher budget, rather than a performance that was envisioned and executed specifically for a stage as big as the Super Bowl. While it’s possible to pull off a dynamic solo halftime set – just look at Lady Gaga’s in 2017 – The Weeknd often struggled to keep up with the show’s breakneck pace and could’ve used a guest or two to help ease the pressure.
Despite the show’s disappointingly small feel, The Weeknd sounded fantastic and oozed charm when he wasn’t swallowed up by backup dancers. It was a refreshingly light outing for the typically brooding singer, and nowhere near the worst halftime shows of the past decade. (Those would be Maroon 5’s messy 2019 performance and the Black Eyed Peas futuristic eyesore in 2011.)
Still, this year’s show made us nostalgic for the unadulterated joy of last year’s performance, when Jennifer Lopez and Shakira teamed up for an athletic, dance-heavy celebration of Latin culture. It also couldn’t match the breathtaking highs of Beyoncé‘s immaculate 2013 show, nor did it have any indelible, emotional moments like Prince singing “Purple Rain” in a downpour in 2007.
Instead, it was a lot like The Weeknd’s namesake: fun, too short and probably forgotten by Monday.