It was all about the Latina divas — Jennifer Lopez and Shakira — last year, back when there was no such thing as social distancing happening between J.Lo and J Balvin.
But the Super Bowl 2021 halftime show was all about pop’s great man of mystery: The Weeknd.
After a year in which he bloodied and then completely bandaged his face, and then appeared to have plastic surgery — all for the sake of his art — The Weeknd was ready for his close-up on the biggest stage in the biz.
And with his old mug back, all that you could feel was his music — with a string of hits such as “Can’t Feel My Face,” “I Feel It Coming” and “Blinding Lights” that have anointed him as the heir to Prince and Michael Jackson in his era.
But it was also clear from his halftime show — for which The Weeknd poured in $7 million of his own money — that the artist born Abel Tesfaye, still only 30, is not yet in the same league as a live performer as either the “Thriller” or “Purple Rain” legends, both of whom had more memorable moments on the Super Bowl stage.
The show began with a Vegas-y neon set that continued the concept of The Weeknd’s hit album, “After Hours.” Indeed, he wore a glittery version of the same red blazer that he’s been sporting as he has remained in character during the LP’s promotion.
Opening with his 2016 No. 1 hit “Starboy” in the stands, he was backed by a gospel-style choir, all appropriately socially distanced from each other.
But his next number, “The Hills,” felt too moody for the moment. And “Can’t Feel My Face,” for all of its cool visuals, felt more like a video.
Indeed, the whole thing was shot through a filter that never made it seem quite live.
But The Weekend finished strong with his last two numbers: “Earned It” — his Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated hit from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack — put the focus on him and his sensual allure with an orchestra backing him up and ratcheting up the drama.
And the finale, “Blinding Lights,” did not disappoint. First off, it really helped to have The Weeknd finally come from the stands to the field. At that point, you were reminded that, “Oh yeah, this is the Super Bowl,” because the rest of it could have been anywhere else. And with an army of dancers in full-face bandages, his performance art was elevated to something spectacular.
But he could have used a special guest or two, whether it was his “Love Me Harder” partner Ariana Grande or his “Blinding Lights” remix collaborator Rosalía. As we learned from J.Lo and Shakira last year, it takes a lot to own the Super Bowl halftime show all on your own.