By Vanessa Carter, March 5 2021—
In a world that has spent almost a year undergoing significant changes, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only phenomenon that has been dominating the globe. Ever since the first single off his After Hours album was released in late 2019, The Weeknd, or Abel Tesfaye, has been releasing music videos to many of the songs off of his new album that has been leaving his worldwide audience of millions an abundance of content to interpret and understand his overall message. After live performances at many awards shows and nearly a year after his latest album release, Tesfaye has finally showcased his grande finale at Super Bowl LV a few weeks ago.
As someone who has been a fan of The Weeknd since eighth grade during the releases of “Earned It” and “Love Me Harder” in 2014, I always envisioned him reaching superstar status to the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince — both of whom have also performed at past Super Bowls. As I listened to more of his music, I quickly noticed Tesfaye doesn’t just release a group of songs on an album, he creates an entire world within the music, with every lyric contributing to a bigger storyline. Ultimately, Tesfaye has managed to make his music not only an escape from reality but a unique experience for his fans which has made him one of the greatest performers of all time.
I immediately felt chills as soon as Tesfaye began his show with a background chorus of ‘Call Out My Name’ from his EP My Dear Melancholy as he sat on top of the Raymond James Stadium with a car and a Vegas-style welcome sign. The chorus then faded into a cinema-style intro into “Starboy,” similar to the intro from its music video. With Tesfaye showcasing the stage his team built into the stadium stands rather than on the field, he then sprung into singing a few lines from “The Hills.”
When the intro to “Can’t Feel My Face” began, Tesfaye led us into a hidden hallway behind his stage to sing in a room lit up by gold light bulbs around all the walls. This set reminded me of the music video for “Blinding Lights” and “Heartless,” where Tesfaye is surrounded by city lights upon his arrival in Las Vegas. He then brought the camera back into his main stage, where he launched into “I Feel it Coming” with a slew of fireworks going off in the background and the stage depicting a rising moon on the screen during the intro of “Save Your Tears.”
Tesfaye’s background dancers quickly became an orchestra of violins during the performance of “Earned It,” a song that was highly expected to be part of the setlist. This was the last song Tesfaye performed on his stage, as he and his dancers emerged onto the field for a background chant of “House of Balloons” and an exquisite transition into “Blinding Lights” and fireworks to end the performance.
I really respect the fact that Tesfaye had all of his backup dancers wearing masks, even though they had been rehearsing together for months in advance. Of course, their masks were in a bandage-wrap around their heads similar in style to what Tesfaye wore to the 2020 American Music Awards, part of the appearance to the character Tesfaye has portrayed during the After Hours era, who has gone under a series of beat-up faces and extreme prosthetics used to showcase what toxic culture in Hollywood can do to an artist. It serves as a reminder for other celebrities and performers to cooperate with current health regulations to be a good example for everyone.
As for the process of building his performance, Tesfaye put in $7 million of his own money to gather the supplies necessary to create a show that was very cinematic since more people would be watching from home this year. Though it has not been revealed what exact components from the show Tesfaye spent his own money on, it certainly paid off. It easily looked like he could have done the show even if no audience was present. When I heard this much money had been put into his performance, I almost expected Tesfaye to jump out of a helicopter or have a 360-degree screen in the stadium. Nevertheless, this was a show that I definitely was waiting for and I have literally watched the performance a few times a week since.
As for the gore and explicit themes presented in many of the music videos and live performances by Tesfaye during this After Hours era, none was present in this performance which I gathered was to keep in mind the many families with young children that would be watching. Still, I gathered many easter eggs from Tesfaye’s performance including song titles from the iconic album written in small letters on the stage such as “Alone Again,” “Too Late” and “In Your Eyes.”
In the weeks leading up to Tesfaye’s performance, fans on twitter began speculating which surprise guests he might bring out during the show. Rumoured singers included Drake, Ariana Grande, Doja Cat and Kendrick Lamar considering the many hit songs Tesfaye has with all of them. However, these theories were shut down in a press conference days before the show, with Tesfaye sharing his beliefs that it would be safer to do a solo show and not put the health of anyone else and their management teams at risk through close contact.
Although Tesfaye shared that he didn’t expect to achieve Super Bowl status for another few years, he definitely “Earned It” considering how much success he has gathered over time even if he doesn’t realize it. From releasing mixtapes in the streets of Scarborough, Ontario to sold-out worldwide tours, Tesfaye is the definition of success as someone who made it “homeless to Forbes’ List.” I encourage anyone who watched this latest Super Bowl show to go to his upcoming After Hours tour once the current pandemic ceases. Personally, I cannot wait to join his hometown crowd in Toronto for what is sure to be one of the craziest shows of his tour.
Honestly if anyone was going to do a solo super bowl show this year, it could only be Tesfaye. His music is so different from other R&B artists and he never needed anyone else to make his music better or help him rise to the top. Very few artists are able to establish a strong solo presence onstage unless they have been in the game for many years and achieved legendary status. Tesfaye has done it much earlier and though many have compared him to Michael Jackson and other artists from the 80s, this Dark Prince of Pop is making his own distinct mark on the industry and the rest of the world one exquisite album at a time.