Super Bowl Sunday is ready for the Weeknd.
Capping off a wildly unpredictable year of pandemic twists and turns, the Toronto-raised R&B singer will take one of the world's biggest stages to perform his trademark dystopian pop tunes.
This year's broadcast from Tampa, Fla. will look unlike any other with the stadium limited to 25,000 screaming football fans and 30,000 cutouts to fill the vacant spaces, according to the National Football League.
And that raises the bar for the singer, born Abel Tesfaye, to turn out an unforgettable theatrical performance. He's got plenty of firepower, though, considering his 2020 smash "Blinding Lights" recently entered an elite club of songs that have spent at least 60 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Here are five things to know ahead of the Weeknd's performance at the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show:
THE PRIMER: Before the big show, the Weeknd unleashes "The Highlights," an album of selections from his career. But don't call Friday's release a Greatest Hits package. Even though it features megahits "I Can't Feel My Face" and "Starboy," his record label insists this is merely an assembly of Tesfaye's "best and favourite" songs. They see it as "a way to present some of the Weeknd's most notable works in one place" for newcomers.
POSSIBLE SURPRISES: If "The Highlights" isn't a Greatest Hits, perhaps the Super Bowl starter pack offers clues to possible special guests Sunday night. Headliners often pull other big-name performers into their show, and the Weeknd's new album includes tracks he made with superstars including Kendrick Lamar, Ariana Grande and Daft Punk. That has fans wondering if any of those names could make a splashy cameo.
HIS INVESTMENT: Whatever happens Sunday, it's clear Tesfaye is aiming high. In a recent interview with Billboard, his management team said he invested $7 million of his own money into the halftime show performance to achieve his vision. The NFL doesn't pay halftime artists, and having one foot part of the bill is unheard of. "We’ve been really focusing on dialling in on the fans at home and making performances a cinematic experience," Tesfaye said.
HIS WORLD TOUR: As with everything in the pandemic, nothing is set in stone. That's why it wasn't surprising to see the Weeknd bump his massive concert tour from late 2021 into next year. He'll now kick off his 104-date After Hours World Tour in Vancouver on Jan. 14, 2022. Other Canadian stops include Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal.
CANADIAN COMPANY: The Weeknd joins an exclusive group of only two other Canadians who've graced the Super Bowl halftime stage. Shania Twain rocked out alongside No Doubt and Sting in 2003, while Dan Aykroyd adopted his Blues Brothers persona for a soulful revue that featured James Brown and ZZ Top in 1997.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2021.
David Friend, The Canadian Press