Super Bowl LV: A Different Ball Game, Mostly

Photo credit to NBC Sports.

At a time when so much is in flux about the world of sports and public events in general, the tidal wave of hype that builds in anticipation of a Super Bowl has proven itself immutable. Although fans will largely be unable to assemble with family and friends in homes and bars, the game will still be played, fans will still be tuned in both at the stadium and at home and most importantly, the half-time show will still flood your timeline with disposable memes. The matchup is one to remember, as two Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks lead stacked rosters in a duel of competing legacies. Tom Brady, 43, playing his tenth Super Bowl, will look to add a 7th ring to whatever infinity gauntlet-esque contraption he stores the other 6 on. Patrick Mahomes, 25, looks to cement his team’s juggernaut status with back-to-back championships. For fans of the game, Sunday’s matchup will be a gunshow between two of the most stacked rosters in the league this year. 

However, for the many with a passive interest in the game, the half-time show remains the biggest draw of the evening, attracting stars like Adam Levine and Justin Timberlake to perform high-end, choreographed performances. These two events combine to make the Superbowl the most watched television broadcast in North America nearly every single year, a trend which should continue even under the circumstances. 

Headlined by The Weeknd, a month before the Grammys he felt snubbed from, this year’s performance has all the makings of a memorable show, with a talented performer ready to let loose. Although he’s been tight-lipped about the actual content of the show, he’s admitted a few things. First, he plans to keep the show family-friendly e.g. not intending to use the same macabre aesthetics his music and visuals typically have. The production is being handled by Roc Nation, JAY-Z’s multimedia entertainment company, potentially opening the door to any number of affiliated guest performers, like Rihanna or Lil Uzi Vert. His producer Sal Slaiby recently admitted that he’s put over $7 million dollars of his own money into making the show to his liking. 

The Weeknd has always been one f0r bombastic concerts and performances. With big shows like Coachella already under his belt, Sunday should be no different. A primary challenge of the performance would be recreating the energy of a Superbowl crowd under the current restrictions, while also being as cautious as possible not to allow for any potential transmission. The NFL has, in response, allowed for a limited attendance with mandatory mask protocols, as well as sanitizer kits. The Weeknd will be performing to an audience of 22,000 in the crowd as well, including 7500 vaccinated Healthcare workers, offering an appreciable assembly for the energy of the show to radiate onto. Traditionally, Super Bowl shows are played t0 an audience of at least 70,000 people,  so while 22,000 is certainly not a small number, it will be notably less than that of other performances. 

It will be difficult not to get caught up in comparisons to previous years, of course. As much as The Weeknd is  renowned for flashy performances and visuals, it’s difficult to see him, under the current circumstances, pulling out anything quite as massive as the giant tiger, or as unexpectedly hilarious as Lady Gaga’s jump from the top of the arena. 

Even if it turns out less than perfect, this does not necessarily mean it will be boring. Super Bowl half-time shows have been just as enjoyable to watch in the times where something went wrong as they have been with everything going right. Hard to forget Beyonce’s 2013 half-time show, maybe-probably causing a power outage in the arena, or Adam Levine’s 2018 Spongebob-Travis Scott disaster mashup, or of course, that infamous show with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. Ultimately, no matter what happens at the show, it’s likely to be the most discussed thing on social media for the night, which is really the biggest appeal of the event regardless. 

Although hosting the usual Super Bowl festivities this year will be difficult, if not impossible, for most, the half-time show remains a shared experience unlike no other. With an exciting, high-stakes game to be played and a show by one of the world’s biggest pop stars, even the limited capacity Super Bowl promises to be a worthwhile watch for most. Even from a distance, millions of viewers in North America and worldwide will be tuned in in anticipation, ready to text or tweet family, friends, or whomever else with a reaction. 

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