Sunday, October 1, 2023

This Weeknd’s Strange Super Bowl


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Story by Ethan Pickering / Contributing Writer

Photos by BuzzFeed News and Variety

With the coronavirus pandemic still at large, it was difficult to uphold the expectations of one of the most viewed events of the year. 

The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced off in Tampa, Florida on Sunday night with the smallest viewer audience in Super Bowl history: 96.4 million viewers across TV and streaming services. 

Additionally, the ongoing pandemic prompted the National Football League to allow an in-person attendance of only 22,000 people, the lowest in Super Bowl history. 

The audience consisted of 7,500 healthcare workers who have been vaccinated for COVID-19. Another 30,000 seats were reserved for cardboard cutouts that were sold to fans across the nation. 

The Super Bowl hosts 30,000 cardboard cutouts on Sunday.

Eccentric pop artist The Weeknd was the solo act for this year’s Super Bowl LV halftime show, with the pressure to entertain millions in the midst of a global pandemic.

The Canadian-born contemporary held his own during the halftime show of the football game that serves as one of the biggest events of the year.

Obstacles like the ongoing pandemic, national unrest and a significantly small crowd size made it difficult for the Weeknd to outshine the dimness of it all. 

But he did, nonetheless. 

The Weeknd, sporting a red blazer and black necktie, had a variety of interesting acts in his highly anticipated halftime show.

Abel Tesfaye, known as The Weeknd, moments after the finale of his Super Bowl halftime performance on Sunday.

The dazzling, 14-minute-long spectacle opened with an artificial scene set in Las Vegas.  Surrounded by bright hues and colorful props that are characteristic of a pre-COVID Vegas landscape, the Weeknd fluently progressed through his setlist among several other scenes: a massive bandbox, a hall of golden-lit mirrors, a city skyline façade and the expansive, seemingly-infinite football field. 

A sea of masked dancers donning red coats and mysterious facial bandaging stormed the field for the finale in the form of a flash mob, accompanied by a colorful display of fireworks. 

With a swagger and vocal performance uncannily reflective of Michael Jackson, The Weeknd performed nine songs in total. Some of the more notably entertaining ones were “The Hill,” “Blinding Lights,” “ Earned It” and “Call Out My Name. 

The production of the show itself was unlike any other: copious nasal swabbing, frequent hand washing and intense social distancing enforcements were included in the crew’s daily routine. 

The crew had one of the smallest number of participants in modern halftime show history, clocking in at only 1,050 actors. This is down from the usual two to three thousand actors in Super Bowl’s past. 

Additionally, the show also did not have a guest star like many of the previous halftime shows due to COVID-19 precautions.

The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, contributed $7 million of his own to the show’s production. Pepsi, the hosting company of the show, has yet to release the total cost of the production as a whole.

The production has gotten mixed reviews within the media realm. Regardless of this, it is still a daunting task to be the sole star in a Super Bowl halftime show, which hasn’t been done since Lady Gaga performed alone in 2017.

The hall of glowing mirrors was featured as one of many setpieces in the halftime show.

There were also several advertisements featured during the Super Bowl, addressing social justice, civil unrest and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic. 

One advertisement in particular has sparked dispute online: the NFL’s “Inspire Change” ad.

The ad takes on the air of an inspirational video montage, flashing sappy social justice quotes across the screen and featuring different scenes of civil rights protests. A graphic at the end proudly declared that the NFL was donating $250 million to fight systemic racism.

Critics called out the NFL for not apologizing or publicly making amends with Colin Kaepernick, a previous quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers whose controversial kneeling action during the National Anthem in 2016 called attention to the issue of police brutality in the United States. 

Similarly, Bruce Springsteen and Jeep teamed up to deliver a message targeted towards the evident polarization of the country one month after a group of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building.

The ad was shot in the geographic center of the continental United States, and Springsteen pleads with the audience to “come meet here in the middle.” 

Critics have dismissed the ad as another weak call for unity during a time when everything feels uncertain. 

The Super Bowl in its entirety gave off an uneasy air. While the producers, performers and advertisements seemed to try and cultivate a sense of normalcy, something was noticeably “off.” 

COVID-19 has uprooted the term “normal” in every sense of the word, and it was evident that the Super Bowl was affected by the consequences of the pandemic. 

Despite this, the show still went on.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Ashley Barrientos, email

For more updates, follow us at, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_Life

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