The Weeknd is the latest in a exclusive group of artists to perform in a Super Bowl Halftime show. The annual football championship is America’s premier sporting event, watched by 102 million in 2020. This staggering viewership makes the Super Bowl’s halftime performances, often the most talked about concerts of their year, one of the most sought after in the world. Previous artists to have headlined the show include Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Prince and The Rolling Stones, some of musics most well known artists.
Who is The Weeknd?
The son of Ethiopian immigrants, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye was born in Toronto Canda. Releasing his first mixtape in 2011, his heart-laid-bare lyrics and formidable vocal talent won him a massive cult following across the world. His sound has developed over the years, gaining mainstream success with his more pop-sounding tracks landing several US Top Ten hits. Amongst these was a duet with Ariana Grande and Daft Punk collaboration, ‘Starboy.’ His second album, Beauty Behind the Madness and third Starboy also topped the US albums chart.
In 2019 The Weeknd broke through to a massive global audience with his blockbuster hit single, ‘Blinding Lights.’ The song, along with its accompanying album After Hours, remained at the top of the singles charts across the world for more than a year and a half, and was 2020’s most streamed song.
Today, Tesfaye is one of the worlds biggest superstars. As the coronavirus pandemic suspended his touring plans until 2022 – not to mention 2021 The Grammys Awards’ controversial decision not to nominate the song in any major category, The Weeknd suffered many knockbacks over the year.
The Weeknd’s Superbowl LV Performance
The invitation to perform at 2021s Super Bowl was therefore a welcome surprise. The Weeknd’s February 8 Superbowl appearance is rumoured to be spectacular even by the event’s usual standards. It will be performed live. Past collaborators Ariana Grande and Daft Punk have been rumoured to make appearances.
Known for his mysterious public persona, Tesfaye himself has shared little of what his concert has in store. “We’ve been really focusing on dialling in on the fans at home and making performances a cinematic experience,” he recently informed Billboard, “and we want to do that with the Super Bowl.” The Weeknd’s manager Wassim Slaiby has also shared The Weeknd paid $7 million himself to “make this halftime show be what he envisioned”. Despite this staggering cost, the midgame show will last only 12 minutes.
Abel poses for a 2021 Super Bowl promotional image.
Why The Weeknd Won’t Be Paid
The Superbowl usually covers the production costs of the halftime show, yet The Weeknd has declined to accept any of the Super Bowl’s money in order to ensure complete creative control. A nominal union scale fee aside, will not be paid for the show.
This is a fact which has surprised many fans and non fans alike. The Super Bowl makes millions of dollars each year. How can this be so? The answer arrives as a single word – promotion.
Artists see the coveted halftime show as a rare opportunity to make career-defining statements. The songs they sing, what they wear and even the gestures they make onstage are planned down to the finest detail. They are after all performing to a crowd of millions.
To many though, the show is treated to almost like a commercial. Top companies pay millions for their own 30-second Super Bowl advertisement spot. Artists too, it is reasoned, benefit greatly from this exposure.
The Superbowl Boosts Sales
There are numbers to back this up. When Justin Timberlake appeared for the show in 2018 his music sales rose 534% that very day. The week following his album Man of the Woods jumped to Number One on the US albums chart. The year before Maroon 5 enjoyed a similar boost, with music sales soaring 488%. In 2017, Lady Gaga‘s topped both artists numbers with a sales spike more than 1,000%. A medley by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira in 2020 led to a 1,013% sales boost for both.
At the end of the day, it may be more a matter of prestige. A Superbowl performance cements the artist’s reputation as a top tier performer. An artist may dominate the pop charts for several years but a Super Bowl appearance takes their cultural influence to another level. This is something which Katy Perry‘s manager Cobb Jensen has readily attested. “It took her,” he informed one media outlet, “from being a star to the stratosphere.”
The Beatles Paid $50k For Their First TV Appearance
It is not uncommon for artists to spending staggering amounts of their own money on what, for many of them, would become regarded as their most iconic moment. On February 9 and 16, 1964, The Beatles appeared before 70 million Americans on The Ed Sullivan Show. The number is striking considering the country’s population at the time was only 190 million.
The Beatles were paid $3,500 for each show. A figure that did not even cover the band and their entourage’s plane tickets from the UK. The Beatles were unknown in the US when they decided to make the trip. They paid $50,000 out of pocket to make their first American journey. Adjusted for inflation, this would be more than $400,000 in today’s money. Few could argue it did not pay off.
Micheal Jackson Paid $500,000 to Shoot ‘Thriller’
This kind of spending is not just limited to television. When Micheal Jackson‘s record label turned down a request for money to shoot the now-iconic music video to hit single, ‘Thriller’ the King of Pop paid for the project itself. In an era dominated by music videos, ‘Thriller’ outclassed them all. It boosted sales of Jackson’s blockbuster Thriller album even further. To date, it has sold 66 million copies. Despite Jackson’s facing of controversial sexual assault claims, it remains the second highest-selling album of all time.
‘WAP’ Cost Cardi B $1 Million
Rapper Cardi B is currently one of the most listened to artists in the world. Her 2020 single, ‘WAP’ was arguably the year’s most memorable release. The video, she recently revealed, cost $1 million to make. This was a stark contrast to her major-label debut, ‘Bodak Yellow’, costing $15,000. Royalties for a single YouTube stream, where ‘WAP’ is mostly viewed, sit at $0.0006 per view. It does not take an accountant to realise ‘WAP’, streamed 335,857,062 times, will not be making money back any time soon. The cultural impact of the single however, some may say money can’t buy.
Cardi B Also Paid $300k for Coachella
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is the world’s most famous music festival. It is attended by tens of thousands and streamed by millions more across the world. An appearance to break an artist. It is a platform for bigger things. Cardi B has shared that while she was compensated $140,000 to appear at the event’s two weekends in 2017 she paid $300,00 to produce her elaborate stage set.
Tame Impala Lost $2.8 Million Headlining Coachella
The money, however, is not always made back. Australia’s Tame Impala headlined Coachella in 2019. A headlining set can land an artist an estimated $500,000 payday. Though superstars Beyonce and Ariana Grande have been rumoured to have commanded sums of up to $8 million.
Despite the hefty payday Tame Impala’s mastermind, Kevin Parker, revealed he lost more than 2.8 million dollars on an elaborate light show and more than 18 confetti cannons. It was a sum he did not regret paying. This multi-million dollar “job interview” paved the way to a lucrative a two dozen date 2020 American arena tour. On the tour, Tame Impala was grossing as much as $500,000 to $700,000 a night. That is until it was postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bella Thorne Dropped $40k on Instagram
Artists everywhere are paying out of pocket to keep Instagram, TikTok and Only Fans followers captivated. Even what appears to be a candid selfie may be attended to by a small army of makeup artists, hairstylists, creative directors and, of course, photographers. Controversial actress Bella Thorne, revealed in 2020 she spent $40,000 on photo costs in just two months.
The Myth of Success
“That pot of gold,” Bob Dylan once sang, “is only make-believe.” Success is a myth. A very lucrative one. Fame in the world of entertainment is not just capturing the public’s attention after all but staying in it. Public opinion is so fickle it takes an uncanny amount of faith, imagination, cunning, blinding optimism and luck to survive.
Artists are not simply required the best at recording or performing. They must also be masterful self-promoters. Paul McCartney was nicknamed by the Beatles management as ‘The Publicist’. More than 50 years after appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show as a member of the Fab Four he is still delivering chart-topping albums.
Great Risks and Nobel Deeds
Success is not just about talent, musical mastery or money. It is about imagination as well. To the world at large, artists decisions may not make immediate financial sense to those around them. They take risks or as Cardi B more diplomatically puts it, they make “investments in their future.” Pop culture’s biggest stars spare no expense when it comes to the moves that matter. “It is part of a good person,” the philosopher Plutarch once wrote, “to do great and noble deeds though he risks everything in doing them.”
Fans find this relatable. They see an artist is, like them, motivated by more than money. Emotion, above all, governs. The Weeknd and others like him have reached success through following their passion.
What The Future of The Weeknd Holds
The Weeknd has chosen to pursue excellence over power, possessions or an easy payday. In doing so he has taken tremendous risks. He wants to be seen, he wants recognition and goes to high stakes to share his story. On February 8, he will roll the dice once more. The Weeknd’s Superbowl performance is a well-calculated gamble for success. When Abel Tesfaye steps on stage before more than 100 million viewers, it is likely he will find it.