The Weeknd shared some details about his headlining halftime performance at Super Bowl LV during a press conference on Thursday. The show takes place on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Fla., and will be broadcast on CBS. It will also feature a pregame show by Miley Cyrus, the National Anthem sung by country artist Eric Church and R&B singer Jazmine Sullivan, “America the Beautiful” sung by H.E.R., and a poem from Amanda Gorman, who spoke at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. In order to clear up some confusion over the bandages covering his face in recent videos — which is part of his larger storyline around his “After Hours” album — the Weeknd spoke exclusively with Variety earlier this week.
After some brief comments from show producer Jess Collins, in which he revealed that the performance will use “different parts” of the stadium, the Weeknd, clad in a sleek black suit and sporting a pair of square pink shades and a light beard, answered one question each from a series of journalists via Zoom. He walked up to the podium to the strains of his song “Save Your Tears,” from his recent hit album “After Hours,” elbow-bumped the host, took off his shades and the questions began.
We’ve heard that you’ve devoted millions of dollars of your own money to this performance and it will take place entirely from the stands. How much did you have to innovate, since you won’t have a traditional stage?
Due to covid and for the safety of the players and workers, we kind of built the stage within the stadium. We’re also using the field as well, but we wanted to do something that we’ve never done before. But I’m not gonna tell you anything else because you’ll have to watch on Sunday.
This question is a little simpler: In your opinion, what’s the greatest Super Bowl halftime show and why?
I don’t know what technically is the greatest, but my favorite is Diana Ross from 1996, have you seen that one? She’s just so glamorous and the show just makes me smile. And she has a great exit with the helicopter — it lands in the middle of the field, she grabs onto it and flies off into the clouds, it’s like… I wish I could have done that, I wish I’d thought of it. Although I don’t think I have enough money to do it!
What do you remember from the shows you’ve played in Tampa over the years, and will you incorporate anything about the city into your performance?
We’re incorporating a little bit, but again you’ll have to watch on Sunday. To answer you first question about my shows in Tampa, the crowd here is insane — they don’t sing the lyrics back, they scream them back at you. It’s such an experience, I love Tampa. I feel at home.
You moved out of your home at a very young age and had a few tough years. What would you tell your 17-year-old self?
Um, don’t quit. And the were times when it would have been easy to quit, but I would tell him to keep going.
Would he believe where you are today if you told him?
I hope so, he was pretty hard-headed!
Did any previous Super Bowl shows inspire what you’re going to do on Sunday?
Again, Diana Ross is my favorite performance so I watched her over and over again. I loved Prince’s obviously, Michael Jackson, Beyonce —they’re all amazing, but Diana is definitely my favorite.
There’s a lot of violence and blood in the videos from “After Hours.” Did you tone down your Super Bowl performance because of family viewers?
Yeah, for sure, I definitely want to be respectful to the viewers at home. I will still incorporate some of the storyline [from the videos] — it’s a very cohesive story I’m telling throughout this year, so the story will continue, but we definitely will keep it PG-[rated] for the families. I’ll do my best.
Are you using the stage to address any of the recent uprisings in Black communities?
Again, you’re gonna have to see on Sunday. But I don’t like to spoon-feed the audience, hopefully they can come up with some of their own theories and conclusions for what the show is saying and the story I’m telling with the performance.
You donated meals to a Tampa hospital and have done other things to help the community. Why was that important to you?
I see that people are struggling and I just wanna help. I’ve been in that position myself and I know what it feels like. I never really had money growing up, so giving away isn’t hard for me, it’s very easy.
You’re the first Canadian solo Super Bowl performer — Shania Twain and Dan Akroyd both shared the stage. How does that feel?
Oh, I didn’t know that. I had no idea! It’s an honor, it’s a blessing. Wow. Definitely an honor!
(Interviewer’s Zoom freezes, host notes that the Weeknd will not be frozen on Sunday.)
Actually, it’s cold in Tampa. I did not expect that!