During the Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday, the internet went abuzz over The Weeknd’s light-dazzling performance and the legion of bandage-wrapped dancers spread across the football field looking like a scene carved out of Jordan Peele’s “Us.” Here are just a few examples of the circulated memes:
The Weeknd loves Darkman!! pic.twitter.com/pbkVHGCHf3
— Krister Johnson (@KristerJohnson) February 8, 2021
Appreciate this daring homage to football's CTE issue.
— Emily Nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) February 8, 2021
Sorry but are they wearing jock straps on their face?
— Patrick W. Gavin (@pwgavin) February 8, 2021
The Weeknd’s background dancers: pic.twitter.com/QV9GoPc3OG
— Pennywise🎈 (@_xlrv_) February 8, 2021
Absolutely no one:
All of the Weeknd's dancers: pic.twitter.com/VSbrB552Rd
— it dave (@youjustgotdaved) February 8, 2021
Some internet users speculated that The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, was delivering a political message about mask-wearing amid the COVID-19 pandemic or even some veiled critique of communism. Well, it turns out none of those theories had any merit. Speaking with Variety prior to the performance, the “Blinding Lights” singer said the bandages were meant as a commentary on celebrity culture, a look he began in 2019 with the release of his “After Hours” album that introduced a “red-jacketed, busted-nose character and his bad-night-in-Las-Vegas storyline that has continued through many of his videos, TV and awards show appearances.” Since then, he has kept the bandage’s significance shrouded in mystery.
“This character is having a really bad night, and you can come with your own interpretation of what it is,” he told Variety in April of last year.
Leading up to the Super Bowl performance, the singer strongly hinted the bandages would once again make an appearance, prompting Variety to ask him to finally explain their purpose.
“Your ‘After Hours’ character has been increasingly more bandaged, with an entire head bandage at AMAs, and is now evidently post-plastic surgery. People have been speculating about this for weeks — what does it symbolize or mean?” asked Variety.
“The significance of the entire head bandages is reflecting on the absurd culture of Hollywood celebrity and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated,” he responded.
As to how the bandages fit into the original “bad night in Las Vegas” storyline, The Weeknd said that it’s all progression about the character’s descent into absurdity.
“It’s all a progression and we watch The Character’s storyline hit heightened levels of danger and absurdity as his tale goes on,” he said.
“What can we take from the fact that you seem to be intentionally making your face increasingly unattractive while promoting your biggest album?” asked the outlet.
“I suppose you could take that being attractive isn’t important to me but a compelling narrative is,” he responded.
While The Weeknd’s visual choices certainly struck a chord with viewers, reactions to the overall performance were mixed, with some praising its unapologetic weird factor while others demanded to have 14-minutes of their life back. Writing at Deadline, Dominic Patten hailed it as a “mixtape in action.”
“In front of a masked and socially distanced crowd of 25,000 living and breathing fans, including 7,500 vaccinated health care workers, and 30,000 life size cut-outs at Tampa Bay’s 70,000 capacity Raymond James Stadium, the 13-minute Pepsi sponsored show from the savvy singer tore through his greatest hits like a post-modern R&B legend in the making,” wrote Patten. “Musically, starting out with 2016’s ‘Starboy’ and then 2015’s ‘The Hills’ to ‘Can’t Feel My Face,’ ‘I Feel It Coming,’ ‘Save Your Tears’ and more, this was a lean mixtape in action – which is exactly what you want out of a great halftime performance.”