Halfway through his headlining set at Super Bowl LV, with the opening strains of his «I Feel It Coming» smash audible in the background and yet another round of fireworks about to light up the Tampa night, The Weeknd briefly broke superstar character to give a little chuckle and a near-wink to the camera. I know, he seemed to be saying. It’s crazy, right?
It certainly is, when you bother to remember that a decade ago the artist born Abel Tesfaye had just started recording subterranean R&B mixtapes north of the border, with lyrics (and grooves) too filthy for radio, let alone for a viewership of 100 million. Back then, The Weeknd was purposefully anonymous, but now his face (when not hidden behind a cartoonish amount of bandages) is nearly as universally recognized as his songs — which include several of the biggest hits of the last 10 years, following a mid-’10s pivot to pop that saw him make a bald-faced play for star status without either falling on his face or falling out with his old fans. It was an unlikely journey to TV’s biggest stage, to say the least.