Iconic in everything from his music to his (former) hairdo, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, is taking over the pop music industry. Though dubbed as an alternative R&B artist, his melodious tone is reminiscent of Prince and Michael Jackson, albeit delivered through darker themes and profanity-driven lyrics.
Starboy, his latest album release, has topped the charts of 80 countries; a milestone accomplishment for any professional musician of his age. But, underneath all the platinum records, do we really know who The Weeknd is?
Source: The Grammys
His songs follow a strict set of topics- drugs, alcohol, misogyny, and success over those who criticize him. His on-screen, on-record persona has earned him a reputation that interviewers fear. On the contrary, off-record Tesfaye refers to himself as an insecure “weirdo”.
Often deemed mysterious, Tesfaye refused interviews in the earlier stages of his career. He also declined to put pictures of himself on album releases, believing them to be unattractive. This greatly contrasts the bold, gritty, and at times violent image portrayed in several of his music videos.
Hailing from the suburbs of Toronto, The Weeknd dropped out of school at the age of 17. In fact, much of the heavy narcotic and alcohol abuse depicted in his songs reflect his troubled youth. From leaving home to the disappointed gaze of his mother who struggled to raise him as a single parent, to shoplifting from grocery stores, he was quintessentially the teenager parents were afraid to raise.
In the song, Tell Your Friends, from the album Beauty Behind The Madness, he references his early years after running away from home. This included an anecdote of him stealing shoes with his best friend, La Mar Taylor. Taylor, who is currently his Creative Director, made the 30 Under 30 list in Forbes in the music industry in 2017.
Most recently in an interview with Zane Lowe, Tesfaye highlighted that his awkwardness and peculiar nature juxtaposed the characters he portrays throughout his musical career. The character ‘Starboy’ for example, boasts of acclaimed fame, exorbitant spending, and luxurious cars. Tesfaye however, opened up about resorting to alcohol to overcome his performance anxiety and writers’ block, a crutch he abandoned after delivering a “poor” performance in Coachella 2012 while under the influence of alcohol.
Some despise the language he delivers through his music and the obscenity his visuals employ. Yet deep down, The Weeknd struggles to grapple with his own issues and difficulties. Perhaps to some, raking in 55 million dollars annually justifies the excessive lifestyle portrayed through his lyrics, but there’s much more to him than just that.
The new album signals a departure from darker themes (save for the False Alarm music video). Admitting that his previous albums overlapped each other musically, Starboy held its own. In contrast to Beauty Behind The Madness, his collaboration with Daft Punk pushed the envelope further, creatively and musically. It is such a pity, then, that the album will not be considered for The Grammy Awards in 2017, simply because it was released past the deadline of consideration.
Nonetheless, Starboy has made it clear The Weekend has come far from his days of delinquency, and is possibly on his way to another Grammy in the foreseeable future.
I can't be the only one hearing a little bit of Michael Jackson in I Feel It Coming, can I?