by Maggie Peknic
With the Buccaneers leading 21-6 against the Chiefs at halftime, Super Bowl LV was becoming an unwatchable snooze fest. The halftime show desperately needed to instill electricity back into the game. Or, if you’re like me and you have a particular disregard for Tom Brady, then you were looking for a pick-me-up from The Weeknd’s performance. However, these demands seemed too big for The Weeknd to fill.
The Weeknd decided to do things a bit differently at this year’s halftime show. But were people really looking for “different”? With everything else changed due to the pandemic, people needed a comforting, recognizable performer with well-known songs and engaging performances. The Weeknd provided neither. While The Weeknd is popular with younger age groups, older generations are more likely to only know his hit songs, including “Blinding Lights,” which is constantly on the radio. “Blinding Lights” is also one of The Weeknd’s few upbeat songs. Most of his songs have an auto-tuned, slower beat quality – none of which can compare with the upbeat dance songs of Shakira and J. Lo, who performed at last year’s halftime show. Overall, his setlist put viewers to sleep when it should have gotten people up and dancing.
Additionally, The Weeknd is a great singer, but not a great performer. This would have been fixable if he brought a guest performer on stage with him. Take a look at Super Bowl L’s halftime performance with Coldplay. I love Coldplay, but they aren’t performers. Their songs were not enough to fill up the stadium. If it wasn’t for Beyonce and Bruno Mars joining Coldplay, the performance would have one of the worst in Super Bowl history. The Weeknd is an amazing artist (and was totally snubbed by The Grammys), but he is not a good performer. It’s a fixable problem, but he refused to add a guest performer, telling NFL Network, “There wasn’t any room to fit it in the narrative and the story I was telling in the performance.”
This narrative, however, came off as a promotion for his 2020 album After Hours. While I understand that it’s hard to make revenue off a new album during the pandemic, since promotional tours are no longer an option, I do not think that the Super Bowl was the correct place for promotion. Yes, the Super Bowl is one of the most viewed televised events of the year. Economically, it makes sense to want to promote your album. But maybe do it for only half of the show, not the entire 13 minutes. With dancers dressed as himself with bandages over their faces (which I will say was very smart of costume design, since the bandages doubled as masks) and with a neon sign background in the same aesthetic of his new album, I felt like I was constantly being reminded of his new album and not of the fact that this is a Super Bowl performance.
I also want to talk about the dancers. Quite frankly, the choreography was lacking. As a dancer, I was looking for creative movements to keep the engagement level, especially when there was no guest performer. However, it was mostly hand movements and head bobbing. While it did look aesthetically pleasing when they were all lined up on the field, it was still dull. One could even argue there was no choreography at all. Half the time, the dancers were just walking around aimlessly, bumping into each other. Given that The Weeknd spent $7 million of his own money on this performance, I at least expected some thought to be put into the choreography. However, it did provide us with the fabulous meme of when The Weeknd and some of his dancers wandered aimlessly in a room of mirrors – the camera angle during that sequence was something else, too.
I will give The Weeknd credit, though, for performing under unprecedented conditions. This is the first Super Bowl performance done mostly from the stands with no audience interaction. The cheers and interaction with fans are crucial in keeping the energy level up during any performance. Without the cheers of fans, without a guest performer, and without choreography, The Weeknd’s halftime show overall was a disappointment. In these times, the world needed an outstanding performer, one with classic hits that everyone could belt and dance to – someone to bring a positive light into the viewer’s lives – The Weeknd was not that person.