Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, stage name The Weeknd, had the honor of performing at the Super Bowl halftime show this past weekend, with a 15 minute set list. He opened the show with his hit song “Starboy,” followed by his renowned single “The Hills,” released in 2015. The third song was “Can’t Feel My Face,” which was a summer anthem in 2018. Other songs performed by The Weeknd included “I Feel It Coming,” “Save Your Tears,” “Earned It” and “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls.” The Weeknd closed his performance with “Blinding Lights,” a hit song from his 2020 album, “After Hours.”
The Weeknd’s journey to the Super Bowl began when he started his career as a recording artist in 2010 by uploading several anonymous songs to YouTube. He signed to Republic Records in 2012 and released four studio albums, the most recent being “After Hours.” The album received notable commercial success, with the songs “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
However, both The Weeknd and his fans became upset when the album was not recognized for the 2021 Grammys.
Hours after the Grammy nominations were announced, The Weeknd took to Twitter and wrote, “The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…”
The tweet sparked a conversation about the process by which the Grammy nominations are selected. According to the Grammys’ official website, the members of the board and record companies submit entries that are then screened for eligibility and placed in the proper category. The nomination process begins with first-round ballots, where Academy voting members are directed to vote only within their areas of expertise. Members are allowed to vote in up to 15 categories in that genre field as well as the general field, which consists of record of the year, album of the year, song of the year and best new artist. For craft or special categories, final nominations are selected by national nomination review committees. After the nominations are confirmed, the final ballot goes out to voting members and the results are calculated and then announced at the Grammys ceremony.
This process — and The Weeknd’s lack of nominations — has been criticized by well-respected members of the music industry, including Kid Cudi and Elton John.
In a Billboard cover issue released in January 2021, The Weeknd said he didn’t care about the controversy anymore and said, “I have three Grammys, which mean nothing to me now, obviously. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I want the Grammy!’ It’s just that this happened, and I’m down to get in front of the fire, as long as it never happens again. I suck at giving speeches anyways. Forget awards shows.”
His Super Bowl performance might just be a testament to this statement. The Weeknd, clad in his signature red sparkly jacket, performed most of his big songs, traveling back in time through his greatest hits (so far) and involved the stadium in a gigantic performance of his greatest hit to date: “Blinding Lights.”
Before “Starboy” begins, The Weeknd is seen exiting a convertible in what appears to be an antiquated Las Vegas complete with flashing signs and tall buildings labeled CASINO. For the performance of “Starboy,” The Weeknd carries a handheld microphone as a choral crescendo fills the stadium. “The Hills” is the only song in which The Weeknd uses a mic stand to perform and the choir is, again, an instrumental part of the performance.
“Can’t Feel My Face” follows The Weeknd into a brightly lit, golden tunnel of sorts that features dancers who wear the same outfit as The Weeknd (minus the sparkles). The camera that follows The Weeknd seems to be a handheld that The Weeknd controls as he spins in circles until the dancers appear. “I Feel It Coming” and “Save Your Tears” offer a fireworks display that serves as the background for The Weeknd’s vocals.
“Earned It” relies heavily on its choral and orchestral accompaniment. The track was featured on the soundtrack of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie and was a hit song for The Weeknd, earning him commercial recognition in 2014. The Weeknd’s Super Bowl performance of “Earned It” was one of the longer performances of the halftime show and heavily emphasized his vocal abilities.
“House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” was a transitional piece that, again, featured the dancers with face casts and red jackets. The song was mostly instrumental with a hard, classic rock sound complete with loud drums and sweeping guitar solos. The performance transitions into “Blinding Lights,” where the dancers and The Weeknd are on the field. The dancers perform with what appears to be flashlights in their hands, signaling the name of the song. The performance also features fireworks. The song ends with the dancers lying motionless on the ground and The Weeknd standing at the center of the football field.
This halftime performance came a little over two months since the Grammy nominations were announced. Although it was rumored that The Weeknd didn’t receive any nominations due to a scheduling conflict with his Super Bowl halftime performance, the Recording Academy chief Harvey Mason Jr. stated that his performance at the Super Bowl was never a consideration in the nomination process.
Whatever the reason for the lack of nominations, The Weeknd’s Super Bowl performance proved to the Grammys, and the world, that success does not come in the form of awards. Although the music industry is overflowing with various award shows (the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, etc.), a music career is made through talent and artistry, with the true award being the fans who can foster opportunities for further growth and success.
In his Super Bowl performance, The Weeknd performed songs that were fan favorites from his past as well as chart-topping hits of his present. By combining favorites from years ago with his current hits, The Weeknd proved his commitment to his fans and the art of performance through the musicality of each of his songs combined with his imaginative sets.
The performance not only celebrated The Weeknd’s career, but also the ways in which talent is rewarded: not with awards and titles but with opportunities. And The Weeknd, the first Canadian to ever perform a solo halftime show, was rewarded with an opportunity that speaks to his success — because of his talent and loyal listeners.