by Grace Whitman ’22 A&E Staff
After releasing the most- streamed song of 2020, “Blinding Lights,” and being snubbed by the Recording Academy for the 2021 Grammy Awards, The Weeknd took on the Super Bowl LV halftime show with a unique storyline.
Although many viewers felt that the halftime performance was as boring as the game itself, it requires a deep dive into the Weeknd’s creative vision to understand the true masterpiece that he put together.
Appearing in one of his signature red jackets, The Weeknd opened the show in a futuristic Las Vegas scene, replicating the opening of his music videos for “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights.” Several of the later aspects of the show included cameos from his music videos for the album After Hours. A 14-minute performance followed, filled with a gospel choir, funhouse mirrors, and lots of bandages. In a medley of his best hits, the singer-songwriter exemplified his versatility by including songs like “Starboy,” “I Can’t Feel My Face,” “I Feel It Coming,” and “Earned It.” Additionally, because of social distancing requirements, the entire football field was made available for the performance.
One of the most memorable parts of this performance was the background dancers’ full bandages on their faces. While the bandages acted as a facemask to protect themselves and others from COVID-19, the bandages also had a deeper meaning. The Weeknd began promoting his fourth studio album in November 2019 when he revealed his signature red jacket in the music video for “Heartless.” A few months later, in January 2020, he released the music video for his smash single, “Blinding Lights.” The music video opens with a gory close-up of The Weeknd’s face covered with blood seeping through his teeth. Later, keeping with the theme, the same alter-ego character is depicted in the music video for “In Your Eyes” with a bandage just covering his nose.
Throughout the rest of the year, the singer appeared at several award shows and performances with the same bloody aesthetic. While accepting his American Music Award in November 2020 for Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist, The Weeknd walked onto the stage with a full-face bandage. The Weeknd is seen with a swollen post-plastic surgery face in his music video for “Save Your Tears,” which he released in January.
As the era went on, the severity of his staged injury got progressively worse, but the final chapter concluded with his Super Bowl performance when his face was completely back to normal. After the show, he revealed the meaning behind the bandages in an interview with Variety magazine. He said, “The significance of the entire head bandages is reflecting on the absurd culture of Hollywood celebrity and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated.” With the symbolism revealed, perhaps the Super Bowl performance marked the end of The Weeknd’s After Hours era.