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The Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime performance put a spotlight on toxic Hollywood culture

On Feb. 7, artist The Weeknd performed at the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show, performing top hits in a narrative form while filling the entire arena with dramatic song, dance and ample mask-wearing, giving us a multitude of meme-worthy content. 

Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Abel Tesfaye is a contemporary artist from Canada. Tesfaye has released four studio albums, three mixtapes and one EP among almost 50 singles. For two of four studio albums, Tesfaye won the Urban Contemporary Grammy award for “Starboy” and “Beauty Behind the Madness,” also achieving eight Billboard Music Awards and five American Music Awards among other recognitions. 

During his 2021 Super Bowl halftime performance, The Weeknd featured songs taken from “Trilogy,” a 2011 album release, to his most recent album “After Hours,” a 2020 release. The order of the setlist was played as follows: “Starboy,” “The Hills,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” “I Feel It Coming,” “Save Your Tears,” “Earned It,” “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” and “Blinding Lights.” 

Opening with Tesfaye in a sparkling red suit, positioned in a black car amidst a neon cityscape set, Tesfaye was supported by a large robed choir in the stands in his opener, “Starboy,” giving reference to Michael Jackson, reputably one of his inspirations for becoming a musical artist, as he danced across the stage front and center.

After “The Hills” transformed the stage from a simple black and blue to neon and gold, Tesfaye led the camera into a golden-lit hallway and used a shaky-cam technique that would make most action films jealous during “Can’t Feel My Face.” Until the end of his performance which featured a field-wide dance number to “Blinding Lights,” The Weeknd performed in front of the neon blue and black cityscape set featured at the beginning of the show, letting the music speak for itself. 

Aside from moments of meme-worthy content, as referenced in a CBS article throughout multiple points of his performance, The Weeknd attempted to provide a narrative, authentic show. One of both the performance’s apparent strengths and weaknesses was how Tesfaye did not appear to lip sync, offering a powerful, authentic performance during some moments, while during others, he was drowned out by the instrumental recordings behind. During “Earned It,” the addition of a live orchestra added a nice touch by supporting Tesfaye’s rockstar vocals which came through especially as the song wrapped up. 

One of the most noteworthy aspects of The Weeknd’s halftime show was its fall from stardom narrative, telling of toxic Hollywood culture, which was highlighted in his most recent album “After Hours” and hinted at through strange images posted on social media for roughly the past year. Instead of transformations like set changes and makeup or costume alterations, The Weeknd began with a modest set of glitter and gold, then back to the black and blue with costumes of bandaged faces as worn by dance members, an ingenious way to incorporate COVID-19 performance precautions.

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