Many wondered how The Weeknd’s halftime performance at Super Bowl LV would look — and specifically, how the Weeknd’s face would look. For almost a year prior, The Weeknd had been assuming a character through his music releases and performances, telling a story for his fans to decipher.
The “Character” was born in March 2020 when The Weeknd released his album “After Hours,” which featured the artist with a red suit and bloody face on its cover. At the AMAs in November, he upped the stakes and wrapped his face in bandages to mimic plastic surgery recovery. When people questioned, he made sure to respond vaguely, keeping the gossip alive. In anticipation of the Super Bowl, people wondered whether his performance would fit into his character’s narrative. As seen on stage, The Weeknd’s face was back to normal, but all of his background dancers’ faces were covered with bandages: a way to continue the story and incorporate mask-wearing into the set.
According to The Weeknd, his character was having a bad night in Las Vegas when he had one-too-many drinks and ended up in a brawl. As the night progressed, it took a turn for the worse with potential demon possession and decapitation. The Canadian singer refrained from revealing all of the details, leaving viewers to engage with the story and interpret it for themselves. However, he did reveal the underlying message pertains to Hollywood’s superficial culture that leads to insecurities and the desire to change one’s face.
Some were underwhelmed by the Super Bowl performance, but given the circumstances, The Weeknd really did put on quite the show. We are still in the midst of a global pandemic — which you might have forgotten watching the 22,000-person audience at the Super Bowl. That meant no performers were permitted to join The Weeknd on stage, and no extravagant stage was made for the middle of the field. The manpower necessary for these theatrics to occur in the allotted time would have put people at unnecessary risk.
I will admit, however, that criticism of certain moments in the performance — for instance, when The Weeknd grabbed the camera and jerked it around amid blinding lights — was truly understandable. At least it was entertaining enough to get some good memes going, though, because a performance without meme-able content is something no one wants to see. However, the rest of the show was put on well, especially under the circumstances. While we were all on a high from last year’s iconic collaboration from Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, no one was really expecting something comparable from The Weeknd: it’s apples and oranges. In this case, the apples are bedazzled and the oranges are a bandaged army that looks a little scary.
With all of his investment in this performance, The Weeknd is coming out at a net loss. Not only did the artist not get paid, but he personally put $7 million into the performance, in addition to the $10 million funded by the Super Bowl, in order to make sure his vision was realized. Where exactly all that extra money went in the not-so-elaborate set is a little questionable, but it still shows his sheer determination. Performing at the halftime show is one of the best publicity strategies, so even though he did not get paid at the time, The Weeknd definitely got significant value from his performance. Since the performance, his streams have been up 41%. Viewers may not have thought it was a performance worthy of Super Bowl halftime glory, but at the very least they enjoyed the music.
Showtime even announced that they will be releasing a 90-minute feature film that will go behind the scenes of The Weeknd’s performance and what it took to put on one of the biggest shows of the year. A lot of details are still unknown, but hopefully, Showtime includes the development of the character in addition to the physical set-up for the show. Titled “The Show,” the film still has an unknown release date but is expected to arrive sometime later this year. This documentary will give The Weeknd what he deserves — recognition for the time and effort he put into making this performance a piece of true artistry.