The Weeknd’s Super Bowl Performance Inverted the Stadium Show

Tuning into The Weeknd’s Halftime show during the Super Bowl last night, it appeared, for a moment, as though the pandemic has been vanquished and huge stadium shows were back. Such was the illusion that the performance created by having the artist take to the stands in order to keep in line with social distancing.

For the first time in Super Bowl halftime history, the performance was not on the field in middle of a roaring crowd. Instead, thanks to a stage which was built within the stadium, the crowd became part of the performance.

Only 25,000 fans were admitted to the stadium in Tampa, Florida – accounting for less than half of the 65,000-person capacity — with the mass of people broken up by thousands of cardboard cutouts of fans, similar to those which have been used at football matches in the UK.

Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, had said that organizers had focused on making the performance a “cinematic experience”, including putting in $7M of his own money in order to achieve the vision he was after. The result was a performance which inverted the stadium show by challenging the idea that the bigger the crowd, the more explosive the atmosphere. Tesfaye’s show opened with him sat in a car surrounded by the bright lights of Las Vegas before slowly panning forward to show he was part of a 3D stage, not in front of a flat background. A sea of performers filling the Raymond James Stadium with red eyes then parted to reveal The Weeknd before he launched into 2016 single “Starboy”.

Later came a moment where we witnessed him trapped in a hall of mirrors while singing “Can’t Feel My Face”, a single supposedly about the darker side of partying which has already been spun into a new meme about the moments of chaos that have consumed us of late. The footage of him crashing around inside gold walls offered the opposite of what a halftime performance would normally be, showing the performer trapped alone –here with figures dressed up identically to him, like daemons haunting him – instead of performing to a throng.

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