Amanda Gorman, the young poet who delivered a captivating performance at President Joe Biden's inauguration, opened the Super Bowl on Sunday with a new work celebrating essential workers, while The Weeknd performed a pandemic-era halftime show to headline one of pop's most visible gigs.
The Canadian star opened with his hits "Starboy" and "The Hills," wearing a sparkling red jacket and deploying selfie-esque camera work fit for the age of Covid-19.
When the artist born Abel Tesfaye broke into "I Can't Feel My Face," he felt his way through a narrow mirrored hallway, clamoring among a group of backup performers with bandaged faces, one of his signature looks.
On a stage set against a Vegas-esque skyline, The Weeknd included strings for "Earned It" after performing "I Feel It Coming" and "Save Your Tears."
He and his dancers stormed the field for "House of Balloons" -- which samples the British rockers Siouxsie and the Banshees, offering a rare post-punk Super Bowl appearance -- taking up the space normally occupied by hundreds of dancing fans who were unable to attend due to coronavirus restrictions.
He closed with "Blinding Lights" -- his 2019 Day-Glo smash that now harkens back to the pre-pandemic era of club nights.
It was the NFL's second halftime show production partnership with hip hop mogul Jay-Z's Roc Nation, which was tapped in 2019 to steer the coveted musical performances in a move the league marketed as a step for social justice.
The Weeknd has vocally supported the Black Lives Matter movement, and also donated $200,000 to Kaepernick's legal defense initiative after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in police custody this past summer.
- 'Feat for art' -
Gorman, meanwhile, became the first-ever poet to perform at the National Football League championship, America's most-watched broadcast of the year.
In a pre-taped performance, the 22-year-old delivered her poem "Chorus of the Captains," paying homage to three people declared honorary captains in the night's coin toss: an educator, an intensive care nurse and a US Marine Corps veteran.
"They've taken the lead / Exceeding all expectations and limitations / Uplifting their communities and neighbors / As leaders, healers and educators," she said.
Gorman became an international sensation after reciting her original work "The Hill We Climb" at the inaugural ceremony, a poem inspired by the attack on the US Capitol that declared democracy "can never be permanently defeated."
The performance saw her work soar to the top of bestseller lists even before their publication, and IMG Models signed her for fashion and beauty campaigns.
The Super Bowl is among the world's largest stages, with at least 80 million viewers, meaning Gorman's work will reach an even wider audience than Biden's inauguration that saw some 40 million tune in.
"Poetry at the Super Bowl is a feat for art & our country, because it means we're thinking imaginatively about human connection even when we feel siloed," Gorman tweeted ahead of her performance.
"I also can't reiterate how exciting it is for me that others are excited to see poetry at a football game. What a time to be alive."
Originally from Los Angeles and raised by a single mother, Gorman had a speech impediment as a child -- like the 46th president -- and turned to writing.
In her latest public poetry performance, Gorman called the work of nurses an example that "even in tragedy, hope is possible."
"For while we honor them today / It is they who every day honor us."
Sunday night's championship game saw the Buccaneers of Tampa Bay, where the event of the season was hosted, defeat the Kansas City Chiefs.
Prior to Gorman's performance, the enigmatic R&B artist H.E.R. sang an electrified version of "America The Beautiful," and Jazmine Sullivan joined country singer Eric Church for a duet of the US national anthem.