Super Bowl LV, scheduled to kick off in Tampa, Fla. on Feb. 7, 2021, will likely unfold under a singular set of circumstances; due to COVID-19, there may be few, if any, fans filling Raymond James Stadium during America’s greatest sporting extravaganza. Still, the NFL is settling on a familiar strategy: book a popular musical act for the halftime show, to draw the not insignificant amount of the game’s 100+ million viewers who tune in for a televised concert more than the game. On Thursday, Pepsi, the NFL and Roc Nation announced that the The Weeknd, the versatile, massively popular pop star will perform during the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show, which will air on CBS.
This is the second year in which Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment company, has collaborated with the NFL and Pepsi to select the Super Bowl halftime performer. Last year’s show, which generated much enthusiasm and many memes, was co-headlined by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. “The Weeknd has introduced a sound all his own. His soulful uniqueness has defined a new generation of greatness in music and artistry,” Jay-Z said in a statement. “This is an extraordinary moment in time and the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show is going to be an extraordinary experience with an extraordinary performer.”
Named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in the world this year, The Weeknd’s 2020 album After Hours is the no. 1 most streamed R&B album of all time (followed by his 2016 album Starboy at no. 2); and his ubiquitous hit track “Blinding Lights” has spent a record-breaking 46 weeks on Billboard’s Pop Songs airplay chart. “‘Blinding Lights’ is 2020’s best pop single, very ’80s-influenced, but it’s from an album that’s otherwise very introspective,” Elton John wrote about The Weeknd for the Time 100. “He has so many different types of music tucked up his sleeve that he incorporates into his vision. He’s not interested in commerciality for commerciality’s sake, but he’s one of the biggest-streaming artists on Spotify. Like Prince, he marches to his own beat. That’s an exemplary way for an artist to be.”
Prince’s performance at Super Bowl in XLI, in 2007 during a steady Miami rain, is widely considered the best of all time. The Super Bowl halftime pick often draws criticism—the choice of Maroon 5 two years ago, before Roc Nation got involved in the selection process, was widely panned. Maroon 5 got the gig after Rihanna turned it down because she disagreed with the NFL’s response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem. But The Weeknd, a Toronto-born son of Ethiopian immigrants whose given name is Abel Tesfaye, seems like a safe choice. During a time of great uncertainty, stress and division, featuring an artist who’s emerged as a global icon—and who’s responsible for the one song in 2020 we just can’t get out of our heads—can bring comfort, and even joy, to Super Bowl viewers who likely won’t be gathering at their usual parties to watch the big game. “We all grow up watching the world’s biggest acts playing the Super Bowl and one can only dream of being in that position,” says The Weeknd. “I’m humbled, honored and ecstatic to be the center of that infamous stage this year.”