Super Bowl halftime show review: The Weeknd unites a divided country on the dance floor with a slick, hyper-stylised halftime show

The 'Blinding Lights' singer's Super Bowl debut was a thoroughly produced, brilliantly escapist 10 minutes that helped us temporarily forget about the last 11 months

The Weeknd performs with dancers in face bandages at Super Bowl 2021 halftime show

Making a Super Bowl halftime show debut under the cloud of a pandemic can't have been how Abel Tesfaye, AKA Canadian pop-R&B superstar The Weeknd, envisioned this scenario playing out. But the coronavirus pandemic only seemed to make the "Blinding Lights" singer say "challenge accepted"; in order to guarantee that his Super Bowl LV set be up to his standards, he reportedly contributed $7m of his own money to the show's production. The result was a thoroughly produced, brilliantly escapist 10 minutes that not only solidified his pop domination, but helped a deeply divided country – however briefly – dance away the pain of this past year.

For the traditional halftime show song medley, Tesfaye selected a career-spanning group of songs, starting with "Starboy" and "The Hills", while a red-eyed choir of background vocalists moved in unison behind him. It had already been reported that Tesfaye would be performing alone – with no special guests, which is typically how halftime shows go – but to say that the singer was by himself wouldn't be fair nor accurate.

Running backstage, Tesfaye was joined by a coterie of face-bandaged dancers in matching red blazers, who cleverly echoed the performer's mysterious After Hours promotional strategy. Together, Tesfaye and his dancers broke into a cinematic, nearly claustrophobic performance of "Can't Feel My Face", "I Feel it Coming", and the synth-heavy "Save Your Tears".

Then, in a chill-inducing crescendo, the dancers stood in eerie formation across the field, with Tesfaye at its core. The set culminated in a booming performance of "Blinding Lights" – a disarmingly catchy, Reagan-era retro-pop gem known around the world, thanks to its 2020 TikTok ubiquity. All the while, Tesfaye showed off his effortless stage presence, proving that he really could hold the halftime show by himself – and make it look easy at that.

The Weeknd had no shortage of press in the lead-up to his halftime show. Not least because he inadvertently pitted the Grammys against the Super Bowl when his most recent album, After Hours, earned zero nominations for Music's Biggest Night. A working theory as to why pointed to his team's simultaneous appearance negotiations with both the Recording Academy and the NFL. (The Recording Academy has denied this theory, stating, "in no way" could The Weeknd's halftime show "have affected the nomination process".)

Whatever pressures Tesfaye might have felt going into tonight's performance, you'd never have known they existed watching him take ownership of it. Sure, there were areas where his vocals got lost in the sea of noise, but for the most part, Tesfaye's unshakable arthouse-meets-dance floor vision translated beautifully to the Super Bowl stadium. He may not have been overtly political (unlike last year when Jennifer Lopez and Shakira protested the Trump administration's treatment of immigrants at the border), but Tesfaye brought people together by immersing them in his world, and helping them forget about the last 11 months – if only for a few minutes.

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