Last night, some very important football happened. I know that because I tuned in (!), but only to watch (partially in disgust and partially in amusement) the pageantry that kicks off the big game — and of course, the halftime show starring The Weeknd. Before zoning out for approximately 90 minutes, I enjoyed H.E.R. singing "America the Beautiful" in an amazing denim outfit, Jazmine Sullivan's sparkling headpiece as she belted the U.S. national anthem, and some fireworks. I was also mildly creeped out by that Vince Lombardi hologram. After gorging on sliders and bean dip for the first half of the Super Bowl, the real important stuff began — the halftime show — which gave us the most notable and memed moment of the night.
Due to COVID, there weren't as many people actually attending the Super Bowl as there usually are (though, there were still a few too many for comfort, in my opinion). This allowed The Weeknd to utilize the stands in creative ways during his performance, and boy, did he take full advantage of that. About four minutes into the performance, The Weeknd walked away from the IRL crowd and into a golden maze of lights. As he started singing "I Can't Feel My Face," he grabbed the camera and stumbled and spun around while holding the lens extremely close to his, well, face.
This portion of the performance immediately resonated with viewers, most of whom have spent the past 11 months engaging in many of life's daily activities with a camera less than a foot away from their own faces. Some recognized the too-close-for-comfort view as something they had been forced to stare at during incalculable Zoom meetings with coworkers and FaceTime sessions with technologically challenged family members. For others, it was the chaotic and desperate nature of The Weeknd's movements while holding the camera so close that was reminiscent of the past year's many challenges, like simply finding the mute button or locating the right Zoom link within an inbox full of virtual meeting invites. There were also quite a few people that noticed this clip could be applied to any frantic situation, from getting lost in a supermarket as a kid to transferring trains at 14th Street to watching the Real Housewives rushing to claim the best room while on a cast trip. Thus, the meme of the evening was born.
Perhaps the real reason that these memes triumphed over everything else that happened last night is that it stood out as a beacon of authenticity among the sea of advertisements and interstitials that tried to speak seriously about this difficult time. Many of them felt insincere and even exploitative. Surprisingly, it was The Weeknd and his $7 million halftime show that actually managed to reflect a daily struggle for many Americans — navigating Zoom when all you really want to do is log off.