A controversial 2021 Super Bowl halftime show


Every February, millions of superfans eagerly await the broadcast of America’s most beloved sporting event, the Super Bowl. The highlight of the event, the halftime show, costs millions to stage on its own. This year’s halftime performance in Tampa, featuring solely the award-winning artist the Weeknd, yielded mixed opinions.

To prepare for this performance, the Weeknd dedicated six months to practice and arrange the production from the breathtaking backdrops to immaculate vocals. He also contributed $7 million from his own pocket because the NFL’s budget of $10 million wasn’t enough to bring his vision to life.

The performance itself featured the Weeknd’s top hit songs, starting with “Call Out My Name” and ending with “Blinding Lights” on the football field. Within each song transition, the Weeknd changed his backdrop from a cityscape, to an under-stage labyrinth, and onto the football field to suit the mood of his songs. Even two days after the Super Bowl, the Weeknd’s performance was still the second trending video on YouTube and spawned hundreds of internet memes.

What intrigued the audience the most was not the Weeknd’s jaw-dropping performance but his face itself. For the past year, his face has been obscured by bandages even at the American and MTV Video Music Awards. Even though the Weeknd himself ditched the bandages for the show, all of his backup dancers were sporting this bandaged “look” to convey a deeper meaning. 

“The significance of the entire head bandages is reflecting on the absurd culture of Hollywood celebrities and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated,” said the Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, between rehearsals for his Super Bowl performance.

The Weeknd is definitely not one to shy away from revealing his true self to his fans. In his newly released After Hours album, he plays an anonymous character as a heightened portrayal of the terrible realities of life. In many of his music videos for his new album, especially his single “Until I Bleed Out,” his face is marred with bruises and gashes. During the production of his album, images of the Weeknd surfaced where he appeared to have suffered severe facial trauma. Many speculated that the artist underwent plastic surgery after he posted a picture in bandages on Twitter, but it was later revealed to be special-effects makeup and a part of his act leading up to his halftime performance. 

“There’s … a very committed vision and character being portrayed, and I get to explore a different side of me that my fans have never seen,” said the Weeknd.

Despite the Weeknd’s efforts to produce an entertaining and meaningful halftime show, many were left unimpressed with the performance. In a poll conducted of 55 Westminster students, 56 percent indicated that they didn’t enjoy the show as much in comparison to previous years.

“It wasn’t worse than previous halftime shows, it just wasn’t super iconic or extraordinary,” said sophomore Emma Dotson.

Many echoed this opinion regarding the show as just average or underwhelming. 

“Other artists like Katy Perry have had more exciting, unique, and off-the-top performances,” said freshman Fifo Chlopeck. 

Some even said that the audio quality was substandard, and that the showman’s talented vocals were often drowned out or too distorted to discern, making it hard for fans to hear his voice properly over the background music.

“The mixing was pretty bad. He was about 5 percent quieter than the rest of the group,” said freshman Justin Jordan.

Regardless of the performance difficulties, the vast majority still concluded that they enjoyed the Weeknd’s songs and talented vocal abilities despite his underwhelming show.

“The songs were good and the Weeknd is good, but he’s not the type of artist to get people hype,” said freshman Alex McGruder.

While the performance may not have received the feedback the Weeknd was looking for, he was still able to make the most of his circumstance and present us a halftime show even during the unprecedented times of COVID-19.

“It was very impressive that the Weeknd was able to make an ingenious performance, all while adapting to the pandemic” said freshman Jaia Alli. “By that, I mean uniquely masked performers and socially distant choirs.”

With the distribution of COVID vaccines and a better understanding of the ever-mutating virus, hopefully the future will hold many halftime performances without restrictions. Until then, creative performers like the Weeknd will continue to push artistic boundaries while remaining safe and COVID-concious.