Super Bowl LV is less than a week away, and the half-time show is ready to go. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known by fans as, “The Weeknd,” has been prepping furiously since a deal was struck for him to perform at the eagerly anticipated pro football showdown.
The Weeknd’s Path to Super Bowl LV has Not Been Smooth
Tesfaye made the announcement in November that he would be performing at the Super Bowl LV half-time show. At the time, Tesfaye was embroiled in a bitter feud with the Grammy’s nominating board for snubbing his record-breaking and chart-topping, “After Hours” album. At the time, TMZ speculated that Tesfaye’s nomination snub was directly related to his agreement to perform at the Super Bowl. It was suspected that the Grammy’s had tried to secure Tesfaye as a performer for their show, but his agreement to perform for the Super Bowl interfered, and as a result they snubbed him from the nomination process entirely. Although the nominating board has denied these accusations, it’s unclear why Tesfaye’s meteoric album was completely ignored. No other satisfactory explanation has been given.
In an interview with Billboard, Tesfaye explains his feelings when the snub became apparent; “‘I use a sucker punch as an analogy,’ Tesfaye says today. ‘Because it just kind of hit me out of nowhere. I definitely felt … I felt things. I don’t know if it was sadness or anger. I think it was just confusion. I just wanted answers. Like, ‘What happened?’ We did everything right, I think. I’m not a cocky person. I’m not arrogant. People told me I was going to get nominated. The world told me. Like, ‘This is it; this is your year.’ We were all very confused.’”
Other rappers and performers like Canadian-born rapper Drake have spoken out about the snub, suggesting that racism is more at heart than a disagreement over performances. The Grammy’s has a long and troubled record when it comes to fairly representing Black art in their nomination processes, and a committee was established to combat nomination bias. Drake, the Weeknd, and others clearly feel that not enough progress has been made.
The Guardian reports, “Drake wrote: ‘I think we should stop allowing ourselves to be shocked every year by the disconnect between impactful music and these awards and just accept that what once was the highest form of recognition may no longer matter to the artists that exist now and the ones who come after.’
He said he had assumed that the Weeknd was ‘a lock for either album or song of the year along with countless other reasonable assumptions and it just never goes that way’. In 2018, Drake refused to submit his album More Life for Grammys consideration after being frustrated that his single Hotline Bling won best rap song in 2017 despite not featuring rap. ‘Maybe because I’ve rapped in the past or because I’m Black, I can’t figure out why,’ he said at the time.”
In the same Billboard interview, Tesfaye was asked if he thought racism was at the root of the issue; “‘If you were like, ‘Do you think the Grammys are racist?’ I think the only real answer is that in the last 61 years of the Grammys, only 10 Black artists have won album of the year,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to make this about me. That’s just a fact.’”
With the Grammy’s a no-go and the Super Bowl half-time his only focus, Tesfaye was able to pour both money and energy into making this upcoming performance a thing of perfection.
Super Bowl LV – The Weeknd Prepares
As the day creeps closer, it’s clear that Tesfaye has been focused on crafting an epic performance. It will be the second performance curated by Jay-Z’s ROC Nation, a collaboration which has been seen as the NFL’s mea culpa for its treatment of Colin Kaepernick and other Black athletes. In the interview with Tesfaye, Billboard also spoke with Amir “Cash” Esmailian, and Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, who co-manage 30-year-old Tesfaye. Per Billboard, “‘We always had the Super Bowl on our bucket list, and we’ve always had timelines for all of our goals,’ says Esmailian. ‘It came a few years earlier than we expected.’ To capitalize on the event’s vast audience, XO and Republic curated a just-released 18-track highlights album. And though the game will happen in a stadium only about a third full, the XO team is well prepared. ‘We’ve been really focusing on dialing in on the fans at home and making performances a cinematic experience, and we want to do that with the Super Bowl,’ says Tesfaye. Slaiby adds that, though the organizers are as usual covering all production costs, Tesfaye put up $7 million of his own money to ‘make this halftime show be what he envisioned.”
Past Half-Time Shows
The Weeknd joins a long line of mega-popular performers as the headliner of the half-time extravaganza. Star-studded performances over the year have included:
- New Kids on the Block, the, “it,” boy band of the late 80’s and early 90’s who rocked the stadium at the 1991 Super Bowl.
- Glorida Estefan and Stevie Wonder, owning the stage together in 1992.
- King of Pop Michael Jackson dominated in a 1993 performance.
- The Super Bowl had a decidedly country flavor in 1994 as Clint Black, Travis Tritt, Tanya Tucker & The Judds took the stage.
- Diana Ross owned the stage as only a diva can in 1996.
- A staggeringly all-star cast took the stage together in 2001 that included Aersosmith, Britney Spears, NSYNC, Nelly & Mary J. Blige.
- An unlikely 2004 collaboration between Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake led to one of the half-time show’s most memorable moments after an infamous on-air nip slip changed viewing delay rules for future live performances.
- In 2007 Prince brought all of his purple glory to the stage and played iconic timeless hits.
- Queen of Pop Madonna took the stage in 2012 with other hit performers like Cee Lo Green and Nicki Minaj.
- Beyonce performed in 2013 and returned again in 2016 to share the stage with Coldplay.
- Katy Perry created instant memes with her 2015 half-time show that included cartoon dancing sharks. One off-beat dancing shark immediately won the world’s heart and Left Shark won a place in the history books.
- Adam Levine and Maroon 5 took the stage in 2019.
- In 2020, amid a charged political climate that put Latino performers at the center of a whirlwind, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira wowed audiences with their proudly Spanish lyrics and athletic moves.
The Weeknd’s Day Draws Closer
Tesfaye will take the stage on February 7th, less than a week away. With months of hard prepping and non-stop practice, it’s clear that the Weeknd’s performance will be one to remember. In the face of heightened racial tensions of the past year, it’s likely Tesfaye’s performance will be a proud and unapologetic display of his skills as specifically a Black artist.