First question, as is so often the case: do you have to know it? No, not necessarily – and yet there is still a good chance that the music of The Weeknd is familiar to even people who firmly believe they have never heard of him. Because Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, as the singer is actually called, is currently one of the biggest pop stars in the world. In the lists of the most successful songs of 2020, his disco hit “Blinding Lights” is number one in the USA, Russia and Australia – and in Germany, ahead of all gangster rappers and Helene Fischers. Anyone who has teenage children, watches TV now and then or walked into a green space last summer was definitely exposed to the song.
So it seems almost imperative that The Weeknd will perform on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida – during the halftime break of the US professional football league final between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The almost 13-minute long Super Bowl intermission music has become a fixture in pop culture over the past 30 years. While funny brass bands played here in the 1960s to fetch sausages, the league leadership began in the 90s to design the break show as a platform for pop and rock stars – a move that made the game interesting for new audiences and sponsors.
His parents came from Ethiopia in the 80s
Michael Jackson, Madonna, Beyoncé Knowles or those Rolling Stones appeared, and in addition to the aesthetic component, the format even formed a hint of political one. For example, the bare chest shown by Janet Jackson in 2004 sparked a debate about censorship and moral hypocrisy. In 2012, the singer MIA held her finger in the camera, later interpreting it as a symbol of feminist, anti-racist empowerment. When around 150 million people around the world are watching, there is a lot of tinder in every gesture that deviates from the protocol.
Does The Weeknd have the potential to do that? At first glance, no. Tesfaye, 30, from Toronto, is best known for his rather classical, less controversial light music. His parents came to Canada from Ethiopia in the 80s, Tesfaye became known in 2011 with contemporary electronic soul songs that were sung as smooth as butter, which he initially posted online for free. In 2015 he moved to the top of pop, loved by teenagers but also appreciated by older people because of its melodies and nostalgic references, with the 1.5 million sales album “Beauty Behind the Madness”.
He’s not nominated at the Grammy, by the way
The fact that the break show in 2021 could still be an explosive statement has to do with another major US event: the annual Grammy award ceremony, which will take place in March. Although The Weeknd has had one of its most successful years, he has not been nominated for a single award there – which is possible in view of the voting modalities, but does indeed seem strange. “The Grammys are and will remain corrupt,” complained Tesfaye (who has already won three of the prizes in the past) on Twitter, accusing the organizers of latent racism. In 2021, this will be the paradigm shift that will take place on the lawn in Tampa: The world’s most successful pop star gets his big show forum at a sporting event – while the music award takes place without him. If you will, that’s another sign of the decline in the importance of traditional cultural formats.
By the way, Tesfaye sacrificed the missing “e” in The Weeknd to the fact that there is already a band in Canada called The Weekend gave. Of course, that doesn’t solve the question of how you would address him in case of doubt. Mister Weeknd? It is better to wave at him wordlessly when he enters the biggest stage of his life so far on Sunday.