A guide to: The Weeknd

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Background:

The Weeknd – whose real name is Abel Makkonen Tesfaye – formulates a hybrid genre of R&B and pop music to produce hit after hit, worldwide. Debuting three digitally released mixtapes, Tesfaye had quite the humble beginning in comparison to his breakthrough album ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’ (BBTM) featuring two number one hits, ‘Can’t Feel my Face’ and ‘The Hills’. Producing three mixtapes, four studio albums and an EP (‘My Dear Melancholy,’) variety would appear to be The Weeknd’s forte. Each new musical endeavour offers a freshly styled Tesfaye too, showing not only his fluidity within music, but within the wider media too.

Throughout his career, there are both defining repeating motifs that provoke transgressive yet relatable listening. With lyrical themes ranging from sex, drugs, and homelessness, The Weeknd is no stranger to controversial lyrics. However, these bold choices in no way deflect from his ability to convey the raw and more taboo aspects of society. In essence, The Weeknd shows what it is like to live a life of fame, whilst simultaneously showing the emotional volatility of such attention.

Spotify Code – scan to hear a specially curated playlist to go with this article:

Top Picks:

1. Party Monster

The Weeknd opens this song with self-affirmation, a clear appraisal of his success of his previous album BBTM. However, there is one crucial difference to his previous music, the inclusion of self-doubt within his lyrics. Within this song, Lana Del Ray can be heard stating the word ‘paranoid’. With her interlude later in the album, it becomes evident that the female voice within Abel’s world is becoming more prominent. In the true Weeknd fashion, casual entanglements are referred to frequently throughout the song. Yet, the refusal to even ask the woman’s name (‘Woke up by a girl, I don’t even know her name’) would appear to be a conscious choice to avoid female commitment, something which he cannot escape.

2. Dark Times

Featuring Ed Sheeran, this song presents an unlikely match. However, this would seem to be their point, regardless of people’s differences within society, suffering is an inescapable, uniting factor of life. Their similar vocal range likens both their experiences, merging society’s experience of ‘Dark Times’. Furthermore, both artists frequently utilise falsettos, contradicting the dejected emotions within the song. Unlike the rest of BBTM, the duo highlights the undesirable side of fame. Yet, the similarity within their vocal range highlights how this is not an individual experience within the music industry. 

3. Sidewalks

As the title suggests, this is an ode to The Weeknd’s journey from homelessness to insurmountable fame. Interestingly, The Weeknd samples Alicia Key’s vocal backing from her song ‘You Don’t Know My Name’. This sample choice works for two reasons. The first reason is that Abel uses a stage name covering his identity, but more pressingly because no one will understand his real identity as it was formed on the ‘sidewalks’. Whilst the sidewalks ‘don’t ever lie’ they ‘lead [The Weeknd] on’. Having a double meaning, the streets guided The Weeknd to fame, but also provided disappointment. Yet, the same can be said about fame presenting both promise and disillusionment. Therefore, this song shows the different sides to both fame and poverty.

4. I Was Never There

From ‘My Dear Melancholy,’, this song presents a much more vulnerable side to The Weeknd. Opening with a techno sound – an addition made possible due to the collaboration with Gesaffelstein– the listener is initially faced with topics such as suicide. As the album title would suggest, this is a more melancholy atmosphere to the sex and drug-filled lyrics the listener is familiar with. Abel also is less familiar with this side of himself too as he first refers to himself as ‘he’, contradicting the use of ‘I’ in the title. In previous music videos, The Weeknd has been no stranger to depicting murder and suicide, therefore this dissociation from such feelings and identity is shared both between the artist and the listener.

5. Call Out My Name

An undeniable classic by The Weeknd, offering an insight into his transition from casual entanglements to the aftermath of commitment. Even though this song’s title would appear to be discussing an intimate reciprocated relationship, this couldn’t be any further from the truth. This song gives an insight into what it feels like to be left on the worse side of a breakup – a reflection of his former relationship with Selena Gomez.

Other honourable mentions:

  • Shameless
  • The Morning
  • D.D.
  • Ordinary Life
  • Wanderlust

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