Let’s get one thing out of the way first: The sound sucked.
That’s hardly The Weeknd’s fault. But amid his visually stunning and booty-moving Super Bowl Halftime Show, it was hard to hear exactly what he was singing.
The crowd noise was too loud. His voice was too faint. The mix was just generally bad. And I say all that knowing that translating live performances from a theater or stadium into a live TV broadcast is difficult. It always is a delicate balance to get the sound right in the venue and right for those watching at home, but pardon the pun, it was fumbled.
But set the sound issue aside?
It was fun. It was electric. It got you moving. It was visually stunning.
Look, there’s always going to be those of you that absolutely do not want pop music at the Super Bowl. No Beyonce. No Lady Gaga. No The Weeknd.
But rock ‘n’ roll bands don’t often work as well as we’d like them to. Honestly, I love The Boss as much as anyone, but Bruce Springsteen’s Halftime Show near the list of the best halftime shows. There’s only so much a rock band can do in that kind of an environment, which is better when it’s as big and grand as the Super Bowl itself. Standing on a stage in the center of the field just isn’t quite as cool as someone who’s going to roam the whole place and really explore the studio space, so to speak.
With all that said, let’s take a look at the best and worst of The Weeknd’s show.
It looked SO good. So good. The set design. The lighting. The use of space. Every aspect of the show, down to The Weeknd’s sequin red jacket, was flawless. It was honestly the best-looking Super Bowl performance that I can remember. One thing in particular: I loved having the stage be on one end of the stadium, rather than at the 50-yard line. It gave The Weekend a home base and let him (and his dancers) explore the field. That finishing shot where all the dancers collapsed as if they’d been slain by Blinding Lights? Flawless.
I thought I’d miss the crowd. I didn’t. Normally, they rush a bunch of people onto the field to fill in around the stage. It didn’t appear they did that this time (it was tough to tell, honestly), and I didn’t miss it. What happened was a benefit, I thought. Rather than playing to an in-person audience, The Weeknd played to the camera, and it made for a much more engaging experience watching from home.
It felt right for the times. The Weeknd’s pessimistic, soulful pop and the faceless, robotic, socially distant dancers felt extremely appropriate. This wasn’t music to celebrate the good times, not really. Don’t get me wrong, you can shake your butt to The Weeknd, but songs about loneliness and alienation feels like a pretty good reflection of the era.
The Weeknd was feeling it, and you could tell. I’ll be the first person to say I’m iffy about his bloody look and that pencil-thin mustache, but he was so owning the vibe of the show that it drew me in. I like the ‘stache now. It works. The Weeknd was invested in the show, and that brought the audience along for the ride, too.
The sound. We already mentioned this, but it’s worth mentioning again. It was awful.
What were those dancers wearing? Dressed up like The Weeknd in red jackets and black pants, the dancers looked cool. Except for the masks. Were they burn victims? Were they wearing jock straps on their heads? It was a very odd choice considering the visuals of the rest of the show were absolutely top notch.
A little motion sickness never hurt anyone, right? The camera work, especially The Weeknd’s own during Can’t Feel My Face, was a little shaky, a little too fast. Plus the use of the zooming overhead cams, while great in a football game, was a little much while trying to focus on the performance. A little steadier next time, please.
This isn’t a show that’s going to make next year’s Top 10 Super Bowl Halftime Shows of All Time lists, but despite some audio troubles, it was fun and engaging. It really cooked, and I won’t be the only one adding some of The Weeknd’s hits into my playlists this week. Whomever plays this thing in the future should watch this one with an eye toward giving things a cohesive vibe and really learning how to utilize the stadium space and pull off a performance that doesn’t look like every other Super Bowl show you’ve seen.
But most of all, The Weeknd’s performance threaded the needle, giving just the right vibe after we’ve all spent more than a year worried about, living in, dealing with this pandemic while being entertaining. That is no easy feat.
Can’t Feel My Face
I Feel It Coming
Save Your Tears
House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls
Kevin is the host of Pops and Hisses, a music podcast featuring artist interviews with bands you love and opinions backed by decades as an award-winning music critic, podcaster, writer and photographer. Follow Kevin on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.