Right here it is, the principle Beefy Bowl halftime indicate about the depravity of Beefy Bowl halftime reveals. That may perchance per chance moreover sound self-defeating, but final night, the 30-Twelve months-outdated Toronto celebrity Abel Tesfaye reliable did more of what he’s finished for the length of his decade-prolonged rise from indie mystery man to inescapable hitmaker. His paradoxically properly-sung pop-R&B delivers sweetness with definite notes of rot. He salutes head rushes and hangovers on the the same time. Or, to put it in NFL terms, he makes mass entertainment about the plan mass entertainment may perchance give folk brain ruin. Had been you left rather amused, rather bored, rather timid, and a lot puzzled final night? To quote Daniel Craig, “Females and gentlemen, The Weeknd.”
Arriving days after the World Health Group declared COVID-19 a scourge, Tesfaye’s most in vogue studio album, After Hours, proved to be spookily lawful pandemic pop. In song videos and TV gigs, Tesfaye has been singing with his mouth bloody, or his head bandaged up, or his face swollen as if by bee stings. The costumes had been fragment of a performance-art share about the perils of enjoyment-searching for and superficiality, which, every other time, has been his theme since his earliest mixtapes. All that’s modified over time is the sugariness with which these subject matters fill been expressed. The peppy hit “Blinding Lights” had TikTok early life and grandparents alike bopping to lyrics about driving inebriated in the direction of a slack-night hookup. The Beefy Bowl booking made sense given the recognition of Tesfaye’s subtle singing and knack for ’80s-jukebox catchiness. Yet a question loomed: How would a lyricist smitten by numbing powders and blackout intercourse support away from an FCC top?
The resolution used to be that Tesfaye would purchase America to church. He opened halftime with a glitzy, racy trompe l’oeil: He sat in a traditional vehicle suspended amid on line casino-strip neon while slot-machine noises blinged. When he and the digital camera began to switch, it grew to turn into definite that this illusory cityscape used to be perched in Tampa’s bleacher seats. Monkish chanting sounded out, and a red-eyed, blue-robed determine levitated in entrance of Tesfaye. That determine may perchance per chance moreover need been an angel or it may perchance per chance moreover need been a demon, but the scripture lit up above it used to be unambiguous: RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM. Welcome to Vegas, welcome to the Beefy Bowl, welcome to a monetary company’s enjoyable zone. The gods—cash and diversion—are the the same, regardless of what you call the cathedral.
The relax of this opening got cooler after we saw the effective choir of zombie monks lined up. Nonetheless as rapidly as Tesfaye began singing from within a column of Blinding Light™, the spell broke rather. The sonic combine of his 2016 hit “Starboy” used to be echoey and faint, so the finer capabilities of Tesfaye’s lyrics about reducing cocaine traces and having a girl tidy the desk with her face had been, alas, misplaced. The sound improved over time, and Tesfaye managed to flaunt his essential vocal chops while mugging on the digital camera with spectacular hamminess. Silent, he didn’t rather disguise himself as a standalone celebrity able to retaining an viewers with pure charisma. Somewhat—and each other time, this is the level of his art—Tesfaye resembled a dive-bar masks singer, or a wax-model Michael Jackson, and even the holographic version of himself that can tour after he retires.
This uncanny-valley facet of Tesfaye as a performer fit with the uncommon context of this Twelve months’s halftime indicate. The coronavirus didn’t raze the Beefy Bowl, but it in actual fact did form things more contemporary. About 20,000 folk sat within the stands among cardboard cutouts of human beings who may perchance per chance moreover need in some other case attended. So there used to be less pretense than ever all over the opinion that that the Beefy Bowl halftime exists for the folk on the sport in quandary of for the folk looking at at house. Tesfaye’s act took quandary in a mock bandstand location up within the enviornment’s seats themselves, and occasionally he gave the influence as even supposing he used to be merely filming a song video. For one share, he went inside of a mirror-paneled maze that recalled a Yayoi Kusama set up, and batted chaotically on the digital camera. Clearly, a strategy of being unsettled used to be meant to be fragment of the entertainment—and viewers at house indeed without lengthen began creating memes about referring to to Tesfaye’s wooziness.
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The Weeknd’s hit songs are so grandiose and his stunning sensibility is so properly outlined that the performance, for all its strangeness, incessantly labored. The climax arrived as Tesfaye lastly ran onto the discipline with a contingent of red-jacketed dancers wrapped in face bandages. Whereas these Weeknd doppelgängers lined up and pantomimed in tidy vogue, Tesfaye herked and jerked down a central aisle. You may perchance moreover utilize just a few hours rising with comparisons for this spectacle, and most of them are creepy things from the ’80s: Thriller, Watchmen, the movies of John Wood worker. I used to be moreover reminded of Apple’s notorious 1984 Beefy Bowl advert—but even supposing Apple appropriated George Orwell to promote the fable of individuality by consumption, Tesfaye used to be making a more brazenly cynical assertion. He used to be a wannabe surrounded by wannabes. When the performance ended, these bandaged extras fell to the flooring: a mass-culture bloodbath.
It’s tempting to give The Weeknd capabilities for edginess, but his commentary on vacancy is neutral empty itself—a B-movie slasher and not using a takeaway. When the time came to ascend the pleasurable stage on this planet, Prince used to be raunchier, Madonna used to be ruder, Janet Jackson in actual fact upset folk, and Beyoncé forced a political confrontation. Furthermore, these greats blended provocation with a unhealthy sense of hope. The Weeknd’s blank charm and eerie lighting feinted at meeting this extraordinary 2nd in history but indirectly provided a shrug. Tesfaye doubtlessly calculated, accurately, that the next industrial destroy would try to negate us we’re all going to be okay.