Abel Tesfaye, known professionally as the Weeknd, is scheduled to perform at the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show on Feb. 7, in Tampa Bay, Fla. The Weeknd is coming off the release of his fourth studio album, After Hours. “Blinding Lights,” the second single off the record, was the number one song on the 2020 Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Singles Chart. Although the show will likely be very different this year — due to COVID-19 attendance restrictions — the Weeknd’s dark pop and R&B styles will be well-suited for the occasion.
The Weeknd is only the third singer selected to headline the show under the NFL’s new partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. The league entered a long-term partnership with Roc Nation in 2019 that is designed to allow the label to advise on musical guest selections for performances like the Super Bowl. This year’s show will be directed by Hamish Hamilton, and produced by Jesse Collins — who will become the first Black executive producer to work on a halftime show.
The NFL’s deal with Roc Nation came after artists like Rihanna and Cardi B turned down the opportunity to perform at past halftime shows in support of Colin Kaepernick. The former quarterback, who has been unable to find a job in the NFL since 2017, started kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality while with the San Francisco 49ers. In 2020, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he encourages players to peacefully protest and that he wishes “we had listened earlier” to what Kaepernick was protesting for. In addition to music, this agreement is supposed to help expand the league’s social justice efforts through the Inspire Change initiative. With the success of Shakira and Jennifer Lopez’s halftime show last year, Roc Nation chose the Weeknd to continue pushing the NFL down the path towards music diversification.
Since After Hours is musically different compared to his previous album Starboy, the Weeknd will be able to use this performance to demonstrate how he’s grown as an artist and evolved his music. From “The Hills” in 2015 to “I Feel It Coming” in 2016, which featured French electronic music duo Daft Punk, the Weeknd has started to incorporate more disco, electronic and pop elements into the dark R&B style that allowed him to talk openly about his fame, relationships and drug use.
After Hours evolves his style even further by incorporating psychedelic, new wave and dream pop elements into this new display of the Weeknd’s dark and crazy wild side. With a red suit and a bloodied self-portrait on the album’s cover, the Weeknd uses themes from the movie Joker and Las Vegas’ gambling culture to sing about regrets regarding his promiscuous behavior. He and Dua Lipa utilized a combination of syncopation and steady rhythms, as well as a lot of ’80s synth-pop techniques that were uniquely re-introduced prior to quarantine. The album’s production by Max Martin, Illangelo and Metro Boomin especially highlight the Weeknd’s sound, since his high tenor voice is mixed really well with the synthesizers, drum beats and instrumentation. Based on his previous performances at the American Music Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards, this show may include anything from fireworks to disco balls, flashy sports cars and dark, bloody imagery clashing with iconic ’80s synth sounds. His versatility as both an impressive singer and performer will help the Weeknd create a magnificent show.
After receiving zero Grammy nominations this year, the Weeknd may be more motivated than ever to put on a spectacular performance at the Super Bowl. The Grammy Awards, which were rescheduled from Jan. 31 to March 14 due to a COVID-19 spike in Los Angeles, notably left out the Weeknd, and he tweeted in response, “the Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…” Fans are speculating that the Weeknd further dissed the Grammys with the release of his new “Save Your Tears” music video, in which he sings to a trophy before throwing it offstage. After planning to perform at the Grammys for weeks, the Weeknd felt that his performance was no longer needed as “in my opinion, zero nominations [means] you’re not invited!” The amount of fans allowed to attend the Pepsi Super Bowl LV halftime show and the game itself remains in question. With a limited seating capacity, the NFL is planning to fill about 20% of the seats at Raymond James Stadium for the Super Bowl. With many stadiums around the NFL having no fans or limited amounts of fans, many who would have attended in person are expected to watch the big game at home. Concerning the halftime show, many guest artists are usually invited to partake in the performance. However, it is unclear as to whether that will be the case due to COVID-19. Regardless of whether there are guest performers or not, the Weeknd’s diverse portfolio is sure to attract a lot of viewers. With many party hits spanning his four studio albums, such as “Starboy” and “Can’t Feel My Face,” the Weeknd’s creativity will be on full display during the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show.