The Weeknd doesn’t need a Grammy to prove he’s the world’s largest artist; last night, he took over the world’s largest stage. During his Super Bowl 55 halftime performance, The Weeknd dazzled as he played his biggest hits in front of a backdrop that epitomized the thematic continuation of his 2020 smash-hit After Hours.
It’s been a hell of a decade for The Weeknd, real-name Abel Tesfaye, who arose from anonymity following 2011’s critically-acclaimed mixtape House of Balloons and evolved into a renowned megastar with a discography of three number-one albums and a myriad of chart-topping singles. While his halftime performance served as a celebration of his path to infamy, The Weeknd made sure to capitalize on the Las Vegas-themed thrill ride that has served as the backdrop to After Hours, an album that served as a reflection on the hardships and heartbreak that took Tesfaye to the top.
The performance was a true spectacle, never failing to underwhelm with a set piece or song selection. To begin the show, The Weeknd was seen sitting amongst a bright Vegas-esque skyline as the sounds of slot machines dinged and a massive choir below belted lyrics from “Call Out My Name.” As the camera panned, the stage opened and The Weeknd emerged, starting the setlist with “Starboy,” a song in which he braggadociously analyzes his fame. The Weeknd’s bedazzled red suit, which has been seen in all After Hours promotion and performances, captured attention while the lights flashed and the choir synchronously danced.
The choir’s inclusion perfectly elevated the cinematic feel and perpetuated the dark aroma of The Weeknd’s catalogue, most evidenced by the performance’s second song, “The Hills.” As smoke filled the stage, The Weeknd took the time to showcase his vocal prowess, stretching out high notes with thunderous propensity. Following “The Hills,” The Weeknd retreated into the stage, reappearing in an illuminated, gold-covered house of mirrors to perform “Can’t Feel My Face” as a group of bandaged clones mobbed the singer. The sequence further exhibited The Weeknd’s showmanship, and served as a further combination of his past and present.
In the blink of an eye, The Weeknd was once again back on stage as “I Feel It Coming” filled the arena, signaling a change in tempo. Following his rendition of the Daft Punk collaboration, The Weeknd seamlessly transitioned into his first After Hours inclusion of the night, “Save Your Tears.” As the song concluded and fireworks shot into the air, the choir pulled out violins and beautifully played the intro to “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey),” the song that earned The Weeknd an Academy Award nomination. The Weeknd, followed by a spotlight, lightly pranced across the stage, never failing to be minimized by the vast production around him. After holding the final note of “Earned It” for 15-seconds, the lights went dark, with a smoky silhouette of The Weeknd left as the only sight to be seen.
As the conclusion neared, the crowd roared as the camera focused on a flash mob of the aforementioned clones on the field. The choir rang out the transitional chorus of “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” in an ode to the mixtape that started it all as The Weeknd stumbled onto the field. A set of drums began blaring; lights continued to flash; then, the rock star moment. Fireworks exploded from the top of the stadium as the instrumental to “Blinding Lights,” the most-streamed song of 2020, filtered through the loudspeakers. As The Weeknd danced alongside his clones, it only added to a show that had already cemented itself as an all-time halftime performance. The lights were truly blinding.
The Weeknd, who put $7 million of his own money towards the show, went against the norm, completing the performance without any guest performers. While an appearance from Future, or even Drake, would’ve certainly added a new level of excitement, there was no need for the focus to be on anybody but The Weeknd. This was his night; his show. Grammys be damned, it’s The Weeknd’s world; we’re just living in it.