Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TW
In a career-spanning set that bounded from his early pop hits to his current smashes, Abel Tesfaye embraced his status as a global pop star via an intricate, multi-part spectacle centered around his vision. Of course, in order to pull that off, you have to have the songs. And Abel has them, as he showcased, beginning with a red blazer-adorned stop on the Las Vegas strip, complete with a full choir of glowing angels summoning him onto the field.
“Starboy,” naturally, was his introduction, and he delivered the tune with sunglasses in hand in front of his slightly mechanized glowing legion of specters. The glowing eyes soon gave way to real faces as they removed their masks in time for “The Hills,” which exploded with neon power and a strip of fireworks. Then, he peaced out backstage, introducing the dizzying visual experience of the After Hours era that predates it: 2015’s “Can’t Feel My Face.”
After a motion sickness-inducing romp through a hallway of mirrors, The Weeknd disappeared into a maze of dancers dressed exactly like him — except with bandaged faces, a look he had previously opted into. By the time he returned to the field for “I Feel It Coming,” so did more fireworks, and it quite looked like Abel was riding on the top of the world. True to his word, he avoided the violence of the blood-dripping cover of After Hours, instead aiming to “keep it PG,” as he mentioned in a pregame press conference last week.
It was a performance that felt larger than life, utilizing a grandstand to match the height of his catalogue and the sheer number of bodies it took to pull it off. By the time he cruised by “Save Your Tears” and “Earned It,” the vibe had decided turned more stately, with a string section and a spotlight highlighting the emotionality of the moment.
When Tesfaye closed in on the grand finale, his squadron of bandaged clones took the field for a dance break before segueing in to the pure snowy, glitzy bliss of “Blinding Lights.” You know how certain halftime shows feels confined to the stage on the field? Yeah, this one felt like the opposite, with dancers on seemingly every yard line, spaced out to fill the entire stadium as white explosions crested overhead. At the center, naturally, was Abel himself, singing directly into the camera.
For an artist whose career began in the shadows, launching intrigue with instant-classic mixtapes from Toronto, The Weeknd would’ve seemed an enigmatic choice for a Super Bowl halftime performer only a few years ago. But from the beginning, the producer-singer crafted a path that aligned him with the biggest artists of the day — Drake, Kanye West, Lana Del Rey — and allowed him to keep reinventing himself, as pop juggernauts often do.
Nothing was bolder than his reintroduction in late 2019 to begin the journey to After Hours, his fourth studio album complemented by a hallucinogenic, often violent visual treatment chopped up across his music videos. It was also the perfect chance for the singer go deeper into his own mind as he shot once more up the charts, again partnering with Max Martin for one of the biggest smashes of the late 2010s.
Making that a reality required a staggeringly in-your-face stylistic approach, visually, something Tesfaye was keen to continue during the show. As such, he spent a reported $7 million of his own money to make it happen. He cited Diana Ross’s 1996 performance at Super Bowl XXX, which culminated with her exiting the field in a helicopter, as a milestone for him personally. “I wish I thought of that,” he said at the press conference with a wry smile, “but I don’t think I have enough money.”
Having slain the Super Bowl halftime show, he’s looking ahead to a world tour set to kick off in 2022. Until that time, relive all the beauty behind the madness of The Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime show above.