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A Fourth of July’s worth of fireworks, a light-up tunnel, and masked dancers oh my! The camera fades out from the classic Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show logo and zooms into a neon Las Vegas-inspired welcome sign, featuring: a globe of the world, an old and new Pepsi sign, pink tulips, a dancer, and of course, the Weeknd wearing his signature After Hours glittery scarlet blazer sitting in a decked out Mercedes-Benz. From here the camera pans with the singer as he walks toward the front of the stage and sits on the edge; the choir’s sound-enhancing sounding ethereal. A crimson-eyed “angel” descends from the ceiling and the choir gets progressively louder, singing more eerily and hauntingly, as they wear Star Wars-esque C-3PO masks. This worked in favor of creating the ideal atmosphere for his much-anticipated performance. The Weeknd, known offstage as Abel Tesfaye, waits a few seconds before he opens up with “Star Boy.” He kept the performance of this song fairly low-key, besides the cluster of fireworks going off above the grand choir. He relied solely on his smooth vocals and his happy feet.
This cleanly transitions into his 2015 smash hit, “The Hills.” The singer grips his microphone stand and performs this song with every ounce he has in him, making his vocals strictly seamless, with his huge choir now surrounded by glowing/strobe buildings and the words “alone” and “enough” among others. He ditches the mic stand, still clutching the mic in his right hand, and walks through the glowing gold tunnel planted in the middle of his choir. The camera angle drastically changes into a fisheye POV of him singing “I Can’t Feel my Face,” which has taken the Internet by storm. With the endless memes that have circulated social media quicker than the winner of the Super Bowl itself, let’s unpack this—and of course the memes.
Tesfaye begins this performance by snagging the camera and charging into the tunnel dazed and confused, depicting someone looking for their car in the middle of a Walmart parking lot. From here he starts singing the song and, in doing so, he quickly spins around throughout the tunnel while constantly moving the camera back and forth from his face. Initially, I thought, ‘Wow! I love this. This is a fresh, new concept that I’ve never seen before,’ which still rings true, but after 10 seconds of it, I was getting dizzy from his jarring movements and laughing boisterously at the angles that he was capturing. Some of my favorite memes involve what his microwave sees, entering an apartment knowing a dog lives there, and what one looks like after “one” alcoholic drink.
Nonetheless, this was the only pitfall in the show. From here he pushes the camera away and a crowd of bandaged Tesfaye’s seep in and flop around, moving zombie-like and running into everything from the sides of the tunnel to each other, to the star boy himself. They all move out of the tunnel and Tesfaye sensually serenades the camera, making direct eye-contact with the camera for the duration of the song, with “I Feel It Coming.” He throws in the regretful love song “Save Your Tears,” which gave me chills, and gave a dazzling performance, even though it only lasted a mere 55 seconds.
The whole vibe of his set changes and the choir begins playing the violin as Tesfaye does a slightly sped-up rendition of “Earned It.” He completely owns the stage and confidently shows off his range, showcasing the powerhouse vocalist that he is. The bandaged Tesfaye’s take the football field and dance robotically in their designated lines, with the singer, like a flash mob. The beginning chords to “Blinding Lights” kick-off and the dancer’s facade changes. With Tesfaye in the middle, the dancers dance circles around him, and from here they consistently dance freely only to revert back to their neatly placed rows and repeat the process. The performance ends magnificently with a close-up shot of Tesfaye while the grandiose array of fireworks are set off in the background. He then looks up at the sky proudly smiling, soaking in the moment. He did this whole show solo, because he said there “wasn’t any room to fit it in the narrative, in the story I was telling in the performance.” He completely dominated it.
In recent videos, he’s been portraying a reckless no-name character. His altering face is incorporated into the storyline for the After Hours music videos by sewing in this idea that his character is having a really really horrible night— hence the focus on the bandages in his performance. In an interview with Variety, he said, “It’s all a progression and we watch The Character’s storyline hit heightened levels of danger and absurdity as his tale goes on.” Tesfaye went on to explain the prominence of the bandages. He said, “The significance of the entire head bandages is reflecting on the absurd culture of Hollywood celebrity and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated.” In his performance he showcased all of this all to the max.
The Super Bowl LV was unlike anything we’ve seen before. Enforcing COVID restrictions, the typical Sunday night football game looked a little different last night. This didn’t hinder the halftime show nearly as much as I thought it would, if anything it showed how pure talent shines through, as well as utilizing $7 million of his own dollars, to make this halftime show exactly the way he envisioned and one that would be remembered for decades.
To watch the full Super Bowl LV Halftime Show click here.
Featured Image: Us Weekly
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