Super Bowl halftime headliner The Weeknd held court in a press conference Thursday, where he recalled the “insane” Tampa Bay audiences he has encountered at local shows.
He also hinted that the “iconic” pirate ship in Raymond James Stadium will be part of his halftime performance.
But hints were all we got.
“I’m not going to be telling you anything else because I want you to tune in on Sunday,” said the much buzzed-about pop star whose legal name is Abel Tesfaye.
The Canadian also noted: “It is cold in Tampa. I did not expect that.”
The Weeknd was born in February 1990 in Toronto and was raised in nearby Scarborough. There are many Toronto connections to the Tampa Bay area, including the Blue Jays, who have held spring training in Dunedin since 1977, and the temporary addition of the Raptors to the local sports scene.
“I feel at home,” The Weeknd said.
He has performed three times in Tampa since 2012, at both the Straz Center for the Performing Arts and Amalie Area. He said the audiences were memorable.
“Let me tell you about Tampa. The crowd here is insane. They don’t just sing the lyrics back, they scream them back at you,” he said.
Asked about Ray Jay, the only NFL stadium with a replica pirate ship, he said, “That ship is so iconic. We are incorporating it a little bit but I don’t want to say much more.”
The 30-year-old singer is injecting almost $7 million of his own money to make sure the show has all the cinematic flairs he wanted, his publicist confirmed this week. That’s in addition to the already generous budget of halftime shows. Last year’s show in Miami cost an estimated $1 million a minute for the 12-minute performance starring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.
Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z’s Roc Nation is marking its second outing as the Super Bowl’s halftime producer. For Tampa’s show they have tapped veteran live-event producer Jesse Collins, the event’s first Black executive producer.
Collins spoke briefly at Thursday’s news conference, saying that the challenges brought about by the coronavirus pandemic meant they “will be using different parts of the stadium that will be unique and reflect the creativity all of us bring.”
The Weeknd didn’t directly confirm reports from Page Six that the show will be performed in the stands to observe COVID-19 safety precautions, an unusual innovation. Though he mentioned he would step onto the field during the show, he said the safety challenges “meant we had to build a stage within a stadium.”
The Weeknd has rented a $9.1 million Davis Islands home while working on the show, and earlier this week teamed up with Postmates to feed frontline healthcare workers at AdventHealth Carrollwood with food from Tampa black-owned restaurant, Mama’s Southern Soul Food.
“I see people are struggling and I just want to help,” he said. “I’ve been in that position myself so I know what that feels like.”
The singer’s track Blinding Lights has logged yet another week in the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100. The single has now spent 47 weeks in the Top 10, an all-time chart record. On Friday, he’s releasing a new retrospective collection, dubbed The Highlights, that has been announced as being “curated for the Super Bowl.”
In a short period of time, The Weeknd has become a legend in the music business for his over-the-top performances.
In 2013, he played his second show in the Tampa Bay area at the Straz Center, which issued a provocative caveat: “Warning: this show is for mature audiences.”
And boy was it. Tampa Bay Times reviewer Jay Cridlin wrote that, after handing out free condoms at the merch stand, “Tesfaye’s angsty, confessional songs fit his stage presence, which brims with barely constrained sexual tension.” That show included a web of video screens behind him that played out a graphic love scene between two lingerie-clad, and occasionally topless, women.
At Thursday’s news conference The Weeknd was asked if after making a name for himself with graphic shows if he planned to “tone it down” for the Super Bowl.
“We want to be respectful of the audience,” he said. “I will definitely keep it PG for the families.”
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