Woody Radio DJ Mike: Super Bowl 2021 halftime show featuring The Weeknd

The Weeknd, live in Hong Kong, November 2018. Salandco, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Warning: you’re about to read what might be considered an unpopular opinion, at least in the rock and roll circles that I frequent.

There’s been a lot of chatter on social media about the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show, featuring The Weeknd. And as predicted, a lot of folks’ comments sounded kind of like, well, the old folks when I was a kid. I won’t get into all the comments; you’ve probably seen them. But a lot of them were negative. So here’s my take on the halftime performance.

I’m known for hosting a couple of rock music radio shows, and yes, that is my favorite genre. The artists I play are mostly independent musicians, not all that well-known, but worthy of a wider audience. My big blind spot, however, is current music trends. I really have very little idea what is considered popular these days.

That said, I always keep an open mind. I generally look forward to the Super Bowl halftime shows; they’re an interesting diversion from the game. During this pandemic year, I haven’t been keeping up with sports. So it didn’t even occur to me until the morning of the big game to check out who the halftime entertainer was.

Turns out it was The Weeknd. I’d never heard of him before, and like an old fogey, didn’t know if that was a band or a person. But I have a superpower–ok, it’s not really a superpower, most of you have it too. It’s called Google. So I looked up The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, and learned a little about him. He has a fairly interesting back story, and has become incredibly popular, one of the most popular figures in modern music. I was genuinely curious to hear what his music was all about, and what kind of show he’d put on.

That said, I liked the halftime show. It was a…wait for it…a REAL SHOW! The halftime shows that have driven me nuts are the ones that try to be all things to all people–where they cram as many acts into 12 minutes as possible. Those feel too disjointed, it’s like “here’s Beyonce, Kid Rock, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, and Elvis Presley’s ghost”. Too much of everybody all at once, and not enough substance to enjoy. This show was good. You got to see one artist, and only one artist, in depth. His voice is good, and I liked some of his songs. Some of it reminded me of a music video. I really liked the end number, where they performed right on the field. I haven’t seen that in years, and it’s kind of a nice tie-in to the game itself–and likely bought him a few extra minutes to perform, as some of the staging was already put away. I’d call this a success.

Musically speaking, The Weeknd is not exactly the kind of artist that would keep my attention for a long time. But he was selected to perform at one of the biggest, most mainstream events in the world. Some of my rocker friends are complaining that he wasn’t good–but I’d argue that he’s very good at what he does, and the point of a Super Bowl halftime show is to provide Entertainment (yes, with a capital “E”). And the popular entertainers are what bring viewers in. There was plenty of visual interest too. If you review the list of all the Super Bowl halftime shows (all Super Bowl halftime shows through 2021), it wasn’t until the early- to mid-1990s that popular music acts were brought in. Prior to that, it was mostly marching bands and Up With People.

Most importantly, this set by The Weeknd made a lot of people happy. I’d count myself among them. If you watched it, but didn’t enjoy it, you can still say that you got exposed to some new music, and that’s always a good thing. Keep expanding your horizons.

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