Chart Beat

Five Burning Questions: The Weeknd's Big Post-Super Bowl Week on the Billboard Charts

The Weeknd
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for TW

The Weeknd rehearses for the Super Bowl LV Halftime Show at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 4, 2021 in Tampa, Fla.

A week after playing the biggest annual gig in television, The Weeknd once again finds himself in the top five of both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard 200 albums chart.

He's in the Hot 100's top five twice, actually, as latest single "Save Your Tears" jumps from 8-4, one spot short of "Blinding Lights," steady at No. 3 in its 62nd week on the chart, behind only Olivia Rodrigo's five-week No. 1 "Drivers License" and Cardi B's new single "Up." On the Billboard 200, he debuts at No. 2 with The Highlights, a greatest-hits compiling set featuring those two smashes and many other signature tracks from the artist born Abel Tesfaye's first decade as a recording artist.

Is there any legacy to The Highlights beyond capitalizing on this moment? And who might follow The Weeknd as next year's Super Bowl halftime headliner? Billboard staffers discus these questions and more below.

1. "Blinding Lights" was tabbed as a potential No. 1 contender this week, given its previous week's ranking at No. 3 on the chart and its prominent placement in The Weeknd's Super Bowl set. Is the fact that it stays static this week at No. 3 a disappointment, or does it say more about the performance of the top two songs of the week ("Drivers License" and "Up," respectively)? 

Katie Atkinson: It mostly shows just what a massive, unshakeable hit "Blinding Lights" is that it was even at No. 3 pre-Super Bowl after being out for well over a year. It just didn't have a ton of room to grow given its sustained Hot 100 success. Plus, as they say in Vegas, a push is a win.

Jason Lipshutz: When you have a monster hit like five-week No. 1 “Drivers License,” as well as a new single from an artist like Cardi B who just guided her previous single to the top of the Hot 100 while breaking streaming records, No. 3 doesn’t seem so bad. “Blinding Lights” got an expectedly massive boost from the Super Bowl and would have returned to the top of the chart in a less competitive week, but as Rodrigo keeps rolling and Cardi B keeps generating this level of interest with every new track, the bronze medal was the only thing available, and isn’t a bad consolation prize.

Joe Lynch: I quietly maintained a dissenting opinion from my colleagues that "Blinding Lights" did not actually have a chance at topping the Hot 100 post-Super Bowl. As prognosticators readily pointed out, the Super Bowl has never pushed a song to No. 1 on the Hot 100, and my takeaway from that wasn't "I guess it's time" but rather "why do we think this will suddenly change?" A brand-new smash hit might've gotten a boost, but "Blinding Lights" came out in Nov. 2019 – I can't see enough people recognizing a song that's already achieved radio ubiquity and thinking, " I gotta stream the hell out of a song I've already heard hundreds of times in the car over the last year."

Heran MamoOlivia Rodrigo and Cardi B’s chart feats this week became a part of history, which can’t be overlooked. Rodrigo is the first female singer to have her unaccompanied debut single spend its first five weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100And Cardi has the highest-debuting solo track by a female rapper since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing) in 1998. (In 2017, Cardi became the first female rapper to top the chart without any other billed acts since “Doo Wop” with “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)”.) Even if “Blinding Lights” didn’t shine on top of the chart following his Super Bowl halftime show, “Save Your Tears” coming up right beside it at No. 4 definitely brightens things up for The Weeknd.

Andrew Unterberger: Considering "Blinding Lights" spiked dramatically in both streams (up 45%) and sales (up 247%) following the Super Bowl performance, I think it's safe to say that it not rising on the chart was mostly due to it being a particularly competitive week. Nothing to be ashamed of, certainly, though I imagine Abel is still at least a little bit disappointed to not get to cap his triumphant Super Bowl set with another chart coronation.

2. One spot behind "Blinding Lights," "Save Your Tears" jumps from 8-4 this week. What percentage chance do you think "Tears" has of becoming The Weeknd's sixth Hot 100 No. 1 hit? 

Katie Atkinson: I'll give it a 10% chance. It's not impossible, but if that buzzy (and creepy) music video and a prominent placement in the Super Bowl only got it as high as No. 4, it's going to take a remix with Drake or someone equally prominent to get it to the top.

Jason Lipshutz: 25%. Even with a Super Bowl bump, “Save Your Tears” wasn’t even the highest-charting Weeknd song on the Hot 100 this week -- and also wasn’t given latest-single prime placement in the halftime show extravaganza, like the way Lady Gaga positioned “Million Reasons” as a centerpiece in 2017. “Save Your Tears” has a shot if pop radio keeps devouring it the way the format gobbled up “Blinding Lights,” but leapfrogging “Drivers License” in the near future will be a tall order.

Joe Lynch: I love "Save Your Tears"; I love "Blinding Lights" as well, but unlike the more propulsive "Blinding Lights," "Save Your Tears" has a subtle bounce that makes it a welcome visitor to your ear-holes nearly anytime it comes on. That being said, I think it's got a 10% chance of going No. 1. The Super Bowl performance boost isn't going to be substantial enough to push it to the top, although it might enjoy a comfortable residency in the top five for a spell.

Heran MamoI’d say 75%. It has Max Martin and Oscar Holter’s pop Midas touch on the production, which makes it one of the more mainstream-friendly hits to come out of After HoursAnd the shimmering ‘80s-inspired synths and sighing backing vocals invoke another Hot 100 No. 1 hit from that time period: “Everything She Wants” by Wham! Not to mention, he’s singing about breakupsSo The Weeknd’s taking a lot of pages from the pop smash playbook for “Save Your Tears, and it’s bound to pay off.  

Andrew Unterberger: I'll say 40%. It's used a lot of its potential turbo boosts already, and as already noted, the competition at the top of the charts is pretty stiff right now. But the song has momentum on its side, it still has room for growth at radio, and The Weeknd has simply never been about leaving potential No. 1 hits on the table -- if he finds himself within striking distance, you can bet he'll pull out all the stops to get it over the top.

3. Both of those hits are found on Abel's recent The Highlights collection, which debuts at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 this week, largely thanks to the post-Super Bowl streaming activity of those two songs and other catalog hits. Do you think The Highlights is at all an interesting or meaningful release for The Weeknd, or is it just a quick and easy way for him to capitalize on his Super Bowl set with another high-charting release? 

Katie Atkinson: I watched the Super Bowl with a friend who was genuinely surprised that all the songs performed at halftime were The Weeknd songs. She knew all of them but had no idea who sang them -- and that's who The Highlights collection was for. So yes, it was a way to capitalize on the Super Bowl, but it's also a pretty good starting point for anyone just connecting the man to the hits.

Jason Lipshutz: It’s a little bit of both -- certainly a smart way to capitalize on the career-retrospective performance at the Super Bowl halftime show, as well as a gentle reminder that this guy has amassed a mind-boggling number of hits, in a variety of different sounds and eras, over the past decade. “Meaningful” might be a touch too dramatic, but for those of us who have watched Abel Tesfaye progress into a mainstream juggernaut since his House of Balloons days, The Highlights makes for a fascinating trip backwards.

Joe Lynch: I'd have a hard time apply the word "meaningful" to The Highlights, or really any best-of comp for a hitmaking artist who's come of age in the digital era. It was absolutely a smart move to pull his best-known songs together ahead of a 'career moment' performance like this, making it easy for casual fans to acquaint or reacquaint themselves with one of the most aesthetically consistent and fascinating career arcs of the 2010s. But do I see people returning to The Highlights down the road in an era where they can make their own Weeknd playlists? Ehh.

Heran MamoIt feels like something that came together just in time to warm up XO fans for the Super Bowl, but The Highlights also serves as a crucial reminder of how The Weeknd’s sound and image has evolved tremendously for those who haven’t been repping XO since Day 1From the slow-burning alternative R&B haze he begot as an underground act in for his debut single “Wicked Games to the adrenaline-inducing synth-pop heard in “Blinding Lights” that accelerated him to international superstardom, it’s incredible to think these two songs are sung by the same guyAnd the compilation serves as a roadmap of not just his career but his whole life, from “homeless to Forbes list,” like he sang in his Kendrick Lamar-assisted track “Sidewalks,” to now the Super Bowl.

Andrew Unterberger: I'm sentimental about the importance of greatest hits albums, so it's great for me to see major artist like The Weeknd -- one whose singles have told so much of the story of pop music in the past decade -- showing any kind of commitment to the form. Still, from the perfunctory name to the relatively safe tracklisting to the fact that he didn't even bother to release a new song (or even a new version of an old song) on it, it's hard to feel like he really engineered this project to be a defining part of his legacy. It's beginners-only. Which is fine, but still feels like something of a wasted opportunity from one of pop's most creative and purposeful artists.

4. The Highlights collects 18 hits from Tesfaye's decade-long recording career. What's one song missing from the set's tracklist that you think would've been most deserving of inclusion? 

Katie Atkinson: Definitely "In the Night." It's from his first No. 1 album (2015's Beauty Behind the Madness), it climbed all the way to No. 12 on the Hot 100, and its synthy production foretold the '80s vibe of his 2020 After Hours era, so it will fit right in on the track list.

Jason Lipshutz: We just passed the five-year mark of Future’s Evol album -- a flawed project, to be sure, but its lead single, “Low Life” with The Weeknd, is still ultra-grimy dynamite a half-decade later. The song only peaked at No. 18 on the Hot 100, but finds Future and The Weeknd indulging in their most unapologetic hedonism, and remains a captivating highlight in both discographies.

Joe Lynch: I absolutely understand why the nearly-seven-minute "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls" from his 2011 debut mixtape wasn't included on a comp of his best-known songs. But it did merit inclusion in his halftime show, and for good reason – the hypnotic, uneasy track (which brought a Siouxsie and the Banshees sample to the Super Bowl!) demonstrates the consistency of his vision and the quality of his songcraft was in place well before the pop world took notice.

Heran MamoKind of weird to have a greatest-hits album and not include anything from your official debut album, right? He should have at least included “Wanderlust” off 2014's Kiss Land, because of its criminally smooth Michael Jackson-esque production, and vocal riffs that The Weeknd commonly replicates. (I mean, we’ve all seen that After Hours get-up underneath all the blood and bandages, right? Red jacket? Black pants? Gloves? C’mon now.). And considering the song samples “Precious Little Diamond” by Dutch funk band Fox the Fox, it's evidence that he was way ahead of the curve when it comes to pop's current disco revival. 

Andrew Unterberger: The answer to me is clearly "House of Balloons"/"Glass Table Girls," but it also would've been fun to hear Beauty Behind the Madness highlight "Tell Your Friends" on the tracklist, since it's the closest thing that Tesfaye has to a personal theme song: "I'm that n---a with the hair/ Singin' bout poppin pills, f--kin' bitches/ Livin' life so trill..."

5. Call it now: Assuming we still have a society functional enough to hold a Super Bowl next February, who will be headlining the halftime show? 

Katie Atkinson: It's finally time for the Taylor Swift halftime show. Though her folky recent albums aren't a fit on that stage, the fact that she's started the re-recording process means she could time her most bombastic, poppy re-release -- 1989 -- to come out just ahead of the Super Bowl and reap all the rewards of that massive audience.

Jason Lipshutz: Ariana Grande. Maybe she’ll even bring out The Weeknd for “Love Me Harder,” and right one of the wrongs of the 2021 halftime show!

Joe Lynch: We're long overdue for a Taylor Swift halftime show. I know existing branding partnerships precluded it in the past, but it's hard to imagine this won't happen at some point in the 2020s.

Heran MamoMegan Thee Stallion. Her knees of steel will beat out any player on the field, where she deserves to dominate. Her rise last year is still something to marvel at: She endured physical pain after being shot by Tory Lanez, channeled the psychological pain of Black women for her New York Times op-ed, released her debut album Good News and made Time’s list of the 100 most influential people. I think her time to take over the world’s biggest stage has finally arrived

Andrew Unterberger: I feel like we're due for an extreme overcorrection to The Weeknd's north-of-the-border art-pop weirdness with the Super Bowl going country next year. Not sure if any contemporary country hitmaker quite has the name and song recognition to headline for an audience of 100 million, so they may have to go somewhat retro -- could Garth Brooks, who's never headlined, finally be welcomed back into the Super Bowl fold after nearly walking out on his scheduled National Anthem performance 28 years ago?