All eyes on will be on Abel Tesfaye this weekend, as he performs at halftime of Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Sunday night (Feb. 7th). The Weeknd has not shied away from the moment of appearing on television’s biggest stage, as his manager said in Billboard‘s recent cover story that Tesfaye put up $7 million of his own money to “make this halftime show be what he envisioned.”
The stakes may be even higher for The Weeknd than the dozens of superstars who’ve appeared on this stage before him, because he has the chance do something none of them ever have before: score a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in the weeks after his appearance.
In fact, The Weeknd is in the incredibly rare position of having two songs that could plausibly jump to the Hot 100’s top spot following his halftime performance. Of course there’s “Blinding Lights,” currently the No. 3 song on the chart in its 60th week, and no stranger to the No. 1 spot — not only did it spend four weeks there last year, but it was ranked No. 1 on the year-end Hot 100 for 2020 as well. But there’s also Tesfaye’s new single “Save Your Tears,” in just its seventh week on the listing, which has been steadily climbing for all of 2021, and moves from No. 20 to No. 14 this week (chart dated Feb. 6), hitting a new high.
In the roughly 30-year history of the Super Bowl halftime show being a showcase for star artists to play their own hits — dating back to New Kids on the Block’s 1991 appearance at Super Bowl XXV, and established in pop culture by Michael Jackson’s 1993 performance at Super Bowl XXVII — no song has ever jumped to No. 1 on the chart following a Super Bowl halftime performance.
The closest a song has came in recent years was in 2017, when Lady Gaga’s mega-ballad “Million Reasons” re-entered the chart at No. 4 — a new peak for the song — following Gaga’s acclaimed performance at Super Bowl LI. That tied the mark set by LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” which rebounded 9-4 on the chart in 2012 — after having previously spent two weeks at No. 1 — following the duo’s performance of the song as part of the Madonna-headlined halftime show at Super Bowl XLVI. (Madonna’s “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” featuring M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj, also climbed 13-10 the same week, a new peak.)
The Black Eyed Peas also returned to the top 10 (19-9) with “The Time (Dirty Bit)” following their performance at Super Bowl XLV, while Coldplay just missed the top 10, but scored a new peak with their “Adventure of a Lifetime” single (36-13) after playing it at Super Bowl 50.
Of course, it’s rare that an artist has had one current single populating the higher stretches of the Hot 100 at the time of their Super Bowl appearance, let alone two. Even though the halftime show has been a stage for music’s best and biggest artists for 30 years, many of those years have featured legacy performers — Gloria Estefan, Prince, Bruce Springsteen — who were well removed from their days of Hot 100 dominance. It’s only in the past decade that contemporary pop stars have become the default mode of halftime performer, and even then, several years (Beyoncé in 2013, Katy Perry in 2015) have featured artists who were off-cycle in their promotional schedule, without a true active hit to perform on the show.
There have been occasions where circumstances have aligned for artists to perform an active hit at the Super Bowl’s halftime — though none of them have already been as close to the Hot 100’s top spot as “Blinding Lights” currently is. Travis Scott’s Astroworld Hot 100-topper “Sicko Mode” was still hanging around at No. 5 on the chart in the tracking week of his featured appearance during Maroon 5’s headlining set at Super Bowl LIII — but the mutli-part song was perhaps not best showcased in snippeted sideshow form at the Super Bowl, and it merely held at No. 5 the week after. Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods single “Filthy” was also still relatively new when it kicked off his Super Bowl LII halftime set, but the poorly received song’s momentum had already sagged significantly from its No. 9 debut on the chart the month before, and was down to No. 51 the tracking week of the Super Bowl — rebounding to just No. 34 the next week.
Certainly, no song has ever been more primed for a return to the Hot 100’s top spot than “Blinding Lights,” which is not only still in the chart’s top five, but has endured for over a year now as one of the most universally beloved pop songs of the entire 21st century — with ads for his upcoming performance even featuring listeners of all ages and demographics singing along to it. But “Save Your Tears” shouldn’t be discounted as a contender either: It has more current momentum than “Lights,” and more listeners will probably be hearing the still-relatively-new (but also highly accessible) single for the first time at the show, perhaps leading to more downloads and streams from those recently introduced who’ve already had their “Lights” fill.
Competition for the No. 1 spot, however, will be stiff. Of course, there’s the incumbent: Olivia Rodrigo’s heartbreak anthem “Drivers License,” which debuted atop the chart in January and has now hung on for three weeks — possibly four by next week — while posting some pretty historic streaming numbers. Those have abated somewhat since its gangbusters debut, but its radio performance has picked up in the meantime, with “License” becoming just the third debut entry in the history of Billboard‘s Pop Airplay chart to scale the top 10 in its first three weeks.
And then there’s Cardi B. You won’t find Cardi on the Hot 100 currently, but the rapper’s new single “Up” is scheduled to be released at midnight this Friday (Feb. 5). Considering that she’s topped the Hot 100 four times in the past four years — including her first debut atop the listing last year, with the Megan Thee Stallion-assisted “WAP” — she has to be considered a threat to bow atop the chart whenever she releases an official new single. (She’ll also be getting a minor Super Bowl showcase of her own.)
Still, with two challengers of his own, and just about the entire world’s ears at his attention, you’d understand The Weeknd feeling pretty good about his chances to pull off the historic feat. In a week that was originally supposed to be all about the Grammys — and which he likely long had reserved for extended victory lapping, before he got snubbed and the awards got postponed anyway — it would certainly be the best consolation prize he could ask for.