The Weeknd’s Super Bowl Halftime Show Breaks With Tradition


Whether it stars Al Hirt, Michael Jackson or Beyoncé, the Super Bowl halftime show has always taken center stage on the field.But for the first time in the 55-year history of the game, the Weeknd, who is headlining this Sunday in Tampa, Fla., will perform on a stage set up in the stands in keeping with strict coronavirus protocols intended to limit contact with the players and coaches; his act may, however, include a brief interlude on the field.In a typical year, a massive stage is rolled onto the field and hundreds of fans pour out to surround it; this year only about 1,050 people are expected to work to put on the show, compared with 2,000 to 3,000 most years. Performers and crew members will receive Covid-19 tests before rehearsals and before the performance.When he strode to the microphone Thursday at a news conference, the Weeknd took in the room and noted, “It’s kind of empty.” His words were perhaps a preview of how the stadium might look to people watching from home. (About 25,000 fans will be in the stadium — less than half its 65,000-person capacity — joined by thousands of two-dimensional cardboard cutouts of fans provided by the N.F.L.)The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye), is a 30-year-old Canadian pop star known for hits including “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Starboy.” His concerts often have a brooding feel and a dark, avant-garde edge. (The music video for his latest hit, “Blinding Lights,” opens with the Weeknd laughing maniacally, his face covered in blood.) He said that his halftime show would incorporate some of his trademark artistic themes but that he plans to be “respectful to the viewers at home.”“The story will continue,” he said, “but definitely we’ll keep it PG for the families.”This will be the second Super Bowl halftime show produced in part by Jay-Z and his entertainment company, Roc Nation, who were recruited by the N.F.L. in 2019. At the time, performers were refusing to work with the league, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice.Updated Feb. 4, 2021, 7:54 p.m. ETThe pandemic has been a particular hurdle for live performances of all kinds, and many have had to resort to pretaping some elements and other methods to ensure the safety of performers and audience members. The halftime show production team, however, was intent on a live performance in the stadium.“While this is a challenge, it has also created an amazing opportunity to put on a live halftime show that is unique,” Jesse Collins, an executive producer of the show, said at the news conference.After a year that has been filled with tragedy and upheaval, the performances at the Super Bowl will undoubtedly include notes of seriousness. A televised pregame show featuring Miley Cyrus will be performed for an audience of more than 7,000 vaccinated health care workers, and Amanda Gorman, the poet who received rave reviews for “The Hill We Climb,” which she read at President Biden’s inauguration, will recite another original poem, this one about a teacher, a veteran and a health care worker. The R&B performer H.E.R. will sing “America the Beautiful,” while the national anthem will be a duet by Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan.It is unclear whether this year’s halftime show will have the same big-budget, high-tech air of previous years, which often featured dozens of elaborately costumed backup dancers and such memorable moments as a flying Lady Gaga and Katy Perry riding an animatronic lion. The Weeknd seems to want to keep up the tradition: He said that he planned to spend $7 million of his own money to enhance the performance.He said his personal favorite Super Bowl halftime show performance was by Diana Ross in 1996. He said that he particularly admired her flashy exit in a helicopter, which rose up through the packed stadium with the diva waving to fans through the open door.“I wish I could have done that,” he joked. “I don’t think I have enough money to do it, to be honest.”

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