As the 2020s go, The Weeknd’s wasn’t all that bad: His hit single “Blinding Lights” spent four weeks atop Billboard charts; his album After Hours debuted at number one; and in November, it was announced that he would headline the Super Bowl halftime show—one of few live performances since the pandemic began. The one downside? He won’t get paid to perform. He will collect at least $1 million for a Pepsi commercial running ahead of the game, but The Weeknd, known as Abel Tesfaye offstage, says he is spending $7 million of his own money to put on the high stakes show. While his team won’t specify if that is going towards pyrotechnics, a hologram, or a diamond-encrusted microphone, they believe the payoff will be huge.
“The Super Bowl is an opportunity on the most massive level,” says Wassim ‘SAL’ Slaiby, The Weeknd’s manager.
While he’s the first, as far as we can tell, to brag about spending his own money on the show, he’s by no means the first to perform for almost no pay. Stars from Justin Timberlake to Beyoncé have traditionally performed on sport’s biggest stage for free in exchange for the exposure that comes with a televised audience of over 100 million people.
That opportunity pays off in the form of spikes on both streaming and social media. On the night Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performed at Super Bowl 2020, purchases of the songs performed jumped 16-fold, according to Nielsen Music. Lopez and Shakira’s on-demand music streams increased by 149% and 221%, respectively, the night of and day after last year’s show. Lopez gained a total of 2,353,050 new followers across social media during the week following the Super Bowl, according to analytics firm ListenFirst, while Shakira gained 610,823.
The NFL and Pepsi typically foot the multimillion-dollar production costs. While representatives from the NFL and Pepsi did not reply to a request for comment, last year’s show cost $13 million, according to Reuters. The Weeknd’s manager confirmed that Pepsi and the NFL had once again chipped, but none of the parties will confirm how much has been spent. The Weeknd’s performance could cost as much as $20 million.
The Weeknd plans to embark on his After Hours tour next year, and in the past, StubHub traffic has jumped at least 50% for halftime acts following the Super Bowl, according to the ticketing site. Those ticket sales translate into real money: While Lopez and Shakira weren’t able to capitalize as the pandemic canceled their concerts, Maroon 5’s per-city average gross grew by $200,000 to $1.7 million after performing in 2019’s halftime show. Travis Scott, who also performed that year, more than doubled his performance haul; he now grosses over $1 million per show.
The Weeknd already has a lucrative touring business: In the past five years, The Weeknd has earned more than $205 million, pretax, including $92 million in 2017, the year of his Starboy tour.
"We live in a world where artists don't really make the money off the music as we did in the Golden Age," The Weeknd told Forbes in 2017. " It's not really coming in until you hit the stage."