Debate: Did the Weeknd’s Super Bowl Halftime Show Live Up to Expectations?

How did the Weeknd's performance compare to past Super Bowl halftime shows? What were the best and worst parts? The Complex Music team weighs in.

The Weeknd Super Bowl performance

Image via YouTube/NFL

The Weeknd Super Bowl performance

Before the Weeknd took the stage at Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday night, it was revealed that he spent $7 million of his own money to make sure the show lived up to his own standards. This revelation came after previous reports indicated that he chose to perform at the halftime show instead of the Grammys.

By all accounts, this performance was very important to Abel Tesfaye. Nearly ten years after releasing his debut mixtape, House of Balloons, he had an opportunity to showcase his discography under the brightest lights in the world. And, in the midst of a pandemic, CBS’ claims that this was “the biggest concert of the year” weren’t hyperbolic for once. Despite all the cardboard cutouts in the stands, this was a chance for everyone to experience a live music spectacle again, even if we had to watch it through our TVs at home. 

So, how did he do? Did he live up to expectations? How will the performance be remembered in the context of past halftime shows? On the morning after the Super Bowl, Complex Music writers Eric Skelton and Jessica McKinney are joined by Complex’s resident Weeknd superfan (social media editor Waiss Aramesh) to evaluate Abel’s performance.

How did it compare to past Super Bowl halftime shows?

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Eric: This performance was unique in a few ways. First, of course, is the fact that the Weeknd was performing in a mostly-empty stadium full of cardboard cutouts and artificial crowd noise. But it was also different in the sense that he didn’t bring out any big guest stars or pull any headline-grabbing stunts. Instead of dueting with A-list collaborators, making any political statements, paying tribute to anyone, or supplying Twitter with heavy-handed meme-bait, Abel stuck to the music. Because of this, there were no mindblowing surprise guests, no wardrobe malfunctions, and definitely no Selfie Kids to give casual fans something obvious to talk about at work today. Instead, he focused on sharing highlights from his catalog, celebrating his unlikely rise from mysterious blogosphere singer to the heights of superstardom. It was a good performance that will go down as an important moment in the arc of a phenomenal career, but it won’t be as memorable as some halftime shows of the past (for better or worse).

Waiss: To sum up everything about the last 11 months, it was different. Where it perhaps lost out on the grandiosity of Prince (the greatest halftime show of all time) and rightfully omitted the gimmicks (I don’t really yearn for Abel next to a dancing shark), it delivered one of the most cinematic Super Bowl halftime shows yet. I also think we need to contrast not just the shows, but the circumstances around it. Any feat of this magnitude, musical or otherwise, executed at a high level during the COVID-19 pandemic deserves praise. This isn’t mental gymnastics or looking for excuses. Abel and the rest of the XO crew deserve a lot of props for making this happen. With less resources at their disposal, they managed to put on a show whose entertainment value rivaled almost each year’s past—and made something traditionally macro feel almost intimate.

Jessica: Compared to previous years, there were obvious differences like the lack of a live audience because of the pandemic. Although the absence of screaming fans doesn’t seem like an important factor, I think it made the performance a little less lively. Even so, like many performances before him, his set designs were grand and the choreography was sharp. Overall, the 14-minute show did keep my interest.

What was the best part?

The Weeknd Super Bowl performance

What was the worst part?

The Weeknd Super Bowl performance

What was the biggest surprise?

The Weeknd Super Bowl performance

Did it live up to your expectations?

The Weeknd Super Bowl performance

How will it be remembered in 10 years?

The Weeknd Super Bowl performance

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