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He’s one of the most popular performers of modern times, but The Weeknd is probably not the first person you think of when you think of the ideal Super Bowl halftime artist

The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye) has long been known for nihilistic, drug-driven, orgiastic pop hits like “The Hills” (“When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me”) and “Can” t feel my face ”(“ I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be deaf ”) That doesn’t make much of a family-friendly, Super Bowl-ready image, even the current, highly perfected public figure of The Weeknd, an alter ego version of himself who seems to visualize and externalize the troubled cycle of thrill, addiction, rehab, and relapse he has struggled with for years in the concept behind his most recent album “After Hours 2020” included, he rocks bandages, bruises and something that could be described as “Bender aesthetics” ”

“He uses all of these metaphors to purposely cover up the horrific realities of life,” said Charlie Harding, host of the Switched on Pop podcast, to Vox in an interview with The Weeknd’s oeuvre isn’t exactly a prime-time family dinner / p>

How did The Weeknd of all people get the coveted Super Bowl gig that up to 100 million people will see when it takes the stage in Tampa on Sunday? In short: Because of the internet – and because of a record-breaking hit that has arguably become an important soundtrack for the Covid-19 pandemic

The Weeknd probably wasn’t thinking “this is going to be a great TikTok meme” when he decided to open his single “Blinding Lights,” which was released in November 2019, with a 30-second instrumental to to fall back on the big hooks of the 80s pop hits

But it was a great TikTok meme – especially the Blinding Lights dance challenge, which started with a viral TikTok video in early March 2020 when America began to face the reality of Covid-19. The original video consisted of one relatively simple group choreography tuned to the song’s catchy hook It was short, easy, fun – and so the people quarantined at home danced on TikTok all spring to the now ubiquitous synth of the song

The TikTok meme helped “Blinding Lights” hit the top chart – and when it got there it stayed and stayed the song reigned over radio waves and the internet and for most of 2020 Eventually became Spotify’s best song of the year and the longest radio hit in history, it’s now one of the record-breaking songs of all time

This isn’t the first time a TikTok meme has put a song at the top of the pop charts Roddy Rich’s “The Box” followed a similar path to many other hits in 2019. Ironically, the meme “Blinding Lights” arguably brought together families, friends, celebrities and even virtual classrooms, more than the song “Blinding Lights” ever could because the song, like so much of The Weeknd’s music, which is a dark, subtle hymn to self-destruction, an almost manic fool about using drugs to numb the pain, the meme along with the instrumental hook itself separated the music of the song from its message – at least initially

If the meme had been the only thing that attracted people to the song, it would surely have faded by summer.Instead, after the meme served as the perfect gateway, the message of “Blinding Light” took over, and it was a scary one predictive pandemic anthem of distance and loneliness “The city is cold and empty”, The Weeknd sings “Nobody is there to judge me / I can’t see clearly when you’re gone”

These themes clearly coincided with the lives of listeners in 2020 but they are also examples of The Weeknd using both its alter ego and music to ironically deconstruct the free and simple escapism of pop music from the start – Tesfaye published his music anonymously on YouTube for the first time in 2010 before slowly rising into the current full-bodied persona of The Weeknd – he always seemed to want to explore the relationship between himself and the music and how to pick it up from us other

For more information, I reached out to Harding, who co-hosts the podcast Switched on Pop (formerly part of Vox, now part of Vulture) with Nate Sloan. Harding and Sloan have just released an episode in which ” Blinding Lights “- and Harding gave Vox a rundown of the overall mood of The Weeknd – his personality, aesthetic, and why anything could be closer to pop art than pop music

Is The Weeknd doing something new with “Blinding Lights” that he hasn’t done before?

“Can’t Feel My Face” was his first, really big breakout pop hit. And that too had a kind of high point of the 1980s, Michael Jackson a kind of mood dive into something he’s already done. And we’re in a time when everything that happened in the 1980s is cool again. On “Blinding Lights” people hear a lot about A-Ha’s “Take On Me” , “Young Turks” by Rod Stewart and “Maniac” “But the argument we make in our episode is that this is an ’80s nod with a thoroughly contemporary production – it’s just maximalist”

That’s Stranger Things influence too, isn’t it? Like all this synthesizer that comes up to you as a dot rather than a background

Yeah totally and the big thing that makes it really contemporary is that the whole thing has a really deep 808-style bass sound that represents that cross-genre connective tissue, so if you pair an 808 with those 80s synthesizers, does this sound both retro and absolutely current

The other big thing is that there are all of these innuendos to things that feel like a pandemic life – reaching for someone’s touch and “Sin City is cold and empty” Cities feel cold and empty right now, and me think it matters because the song peaked right at the beginning of the pandemic, when the boomer TikTok joins every millennium and families seek refuge for the first time, and so the dance challenge becomes huge and helps get them to the top of the charts bring – no 1 for four weeks at the start of the pandemic

Right.He has a very nightmarish sort of R&B pop aesthetic.It definitely has a haunting quality to it, like all of his music, what happens is that the TikTok dance serves as a total distraction from the real meaning of the work I am describing as Probably the most expert album I have ever seen

The song first premiered in a Mercedes commercial, which makes sense based on the music video for “Blinding Lights” in which it drives around in a car. So you’ve got those resonances, but what’s even wilder is the album the same after the Mercedes commercial, the video “Heartless” can be seen it’s out in early December 2019 and “Heartless” is a much darker song. A big thing for The Weeknd is that it has a very different look for each era. Now he’s got an 80s style with the creepy mustache and Ray-Bans and the red suit And so this red suit debuted in the “Heartless” video where he plays with his friends in Vegas and they go on a drug criminal. He goes from having a fun night out with all of his friends to doing things that start to go south in the end he collapses

And when the video “Blinding Lights” comes out about two weeks later, it just picks up the narration from the video “Heartless” He’s still in that suit Now we get the bloody version of him. His face is beaten up And then he goes to all of these live events before the pandemic ends, he goes after Jimmy Kimmel, but the pictures look like he just rushed back from Vegas to get on stage

He’s beaten up. He’s got a little nose pad on now. And when he comes off the stage he’s fumbling through Kimmel’s green space as if he’s still on that bend. He’s kind of stumbling out, he’s really in bad shape

He then goes live on Saturday night Everyone looks beaten up too. He attends various award shows [including the MTV Video Music Awards on Jan. August and the American Music Awards on August 22 November] But these are obviously pretapes made in a music video style almost everywhere in Los Angeles – and in each of the videos he looks progressively worse, we see him getting off the floor like he just collapsed after Kimmel, and his nose is all bruised The bandage has come off, but obviously his nose is broken – and he steps on and doesn’t look good again!

Then, in a video that follows, I think this was the American Music Awards video He’s on a bridge over the LA River and is now using full face pads. And then we finally come to the video “Save Your Tears,” which was released on May 29th We are now more than a year away from the release of After Hours’ first singles, all the bandages have come off and he’s just totally botched and so you have these ongoing plastic surgery and body transformation tales

People still often think is The Weeknd a person? Is it a group? There is a separation between the voice and the person behind it

I think “The Weeknd” is an alter ego. He’s basically doing narrative nonfiction about his life. We can imagine that “Blinding Lights” is his relationship to celebrity expectations – the very dissociative and alienated perspective around Fame [As a full album] After Hours also deals a lot with the aftermath of the breakup of his last relationship and also with his attempt at sobriety. It’s definitely a bigger accomplishment, but it feels like he’s going through the struggles of his life – in relationships Take, substance abuse, and fame – and then take them to the nth degree and show the really ugly side. Almost kind of Cindy Sherman

In this mode, I’m not sure if what he’s doing is new, but it may feel new because it’s so intense and performative

It feels like [the work] of a really great visual artist who has worked in a number of different media and has had a number of different shows and then there’s a climax show where all of the things he’s been working towards , really fit together in this work This is that combination of R&B, hip-hop and very pop driven tracks I think what is nice is that he does this thing where he presents alienation in really dark tones but it’s accepted in a way that it’s easy so is that it’s fun to play pop music like he’s cheating on us

And then you also have changed aesthetics and expectations of the relativity of pop stars I think that has a lot to do with the shift from EDM as the center of pop music between 2010 and 2015 to Trap, which is much darker and deals with dealt with much more challenging topics

Why does The Weeknd work given the changed aesthetics? I think part of that is definitely TikTok

And from an aesthetic standpoint, I think he did a really good job doing this larger-than-life performance art from mega-celebrities – and giving you just enough of what looks like his actual real life, which we are made to believe the 80s duel and contemporary sound are also like a trompe l’oeil that makes us accept this as nostalgia, but that is also rooted in the present, maybe it’s even like a certain one Kind of pop art

That’s the meta-point of the song, and the meta-point of its entire ethos: he uses pop music himself the way he uses drugs – to keep reality in check

And strangely enough, the use of the pop music facade fooled us about the real meaning of his work so many of us didn’t dig deeper into it, and I think the takeaway isn’t that he didn’t have the Super Bowl should, but rather that the dark underlying issues that are happening in our world right now are in his music. And just as we can dance our problems away, those problems also require deeper engagement – to see that there is much more going on / p>

The Weeknd will be the halftime show during Super Bowl 55 on Sunday the 7th Perform February, the game will air on CBS and the start is at 6:30 p.m. Eastern

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Source: https://www.vox.com/22264459/the-weeknd-super-bowl-halftime-blinding-lights-tiktok-dance-meme