Recent pop success has been attributed to artists who are quite happy to make their public life as documented as their singles are bothering the charts. Every other week Taylor Swift seems to be in a headline, a member of One Direction has dumped and/or acquired a girlfriend, or Miley Cyrus is trying to outdo her previous outlandish efforts of being controversial to distract us from her terrible music. It’s refreshing then to see The Weeknd, the alias of Canadian songbird Abel Tesfaye, create a truly dominating pop/R&B record that demands attention on the merit of his art alone as opposed to the life of the artist.
Remaining a rather mysterious character from his very beginning, refusing to reveal his identity during the releases of his trilogy of mixtapes back in 2011, Tesfaye‘s mystique and anonymous persona has, against normal conventions, been one of many major factors towards his success. This, along with the claustrophobic, dark, and comedown-esque offerings of his ‘Trilogy’ soon set him atop the pedestal of a cult artist. His 2013 full-length debut ‘Kiss Land’ followed a similar blueprint, this time with a face to put to the name The Weeknd and, though this was more of the influential PBR&B style Tesfaye had more or less pioneered, it felt as if the record would be as far as he could take his niche style.
Now, step forward to 2015, following a few tastes of the pop life with features aside Ariana Grande, and the leading track to the Fifty Shades Of Grey film soundtrack, a new chapter of The Weeknd was about to begin. Enter ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’; a record that envelops his dark and broody stories of sex, drugs, and parties with a shimmering pop shine that ascends Tesfaye from an underground icon into one of this generation’s most exciting pop sensations.
The Weeknd is still the torn soul of turmoil from hangovers, and romances developed for women that he can never maintain alongside with his lust for his nocturnal lifestyle and pleasures. Yet, he’s somehow been able to craft blockbuster hits out of tales about an untameable sexual obsession (‘Earned It’), addictions to cocaine (‘Can’t Feel My Face’), and compulsive booty calls (‘The Hills’) that have no problem with holding constant radio and TV airplay. The all-out woe is me troubled soul is still present, only this time it’s being delivered with a tad less shadow, and a bit more chirp and upbeat swagger.
The Michael Jackson comparisons have been all too common in his work so far, but the 90s pop vibe of ‘In The Night’ could easily be confused as an unused track on the King of Pop’s 2014 posthumous record, ‘Xscape’. ‘Losers’ has a great dubstep-like thrum to the chorus that is built for nightclub dance floors, ‘Shameless’ is a bare bones acoustic peek into his outlook on romance, ‘Prisoner’ holds a great trade-off between Tesfaye and Lana Del Rey, who as a feature fits perfectly being an artist who portrays herself as the kind of woman that Tesfaye regularly sings about, and closer ‘Angel’ verges on rock power ballad, with an enigmatic and minimal, yet all so effective, feature from Maty Noyes.
‘Beauty Behind The Madness’ is a record that has encapsulated the persona of The Weeknd, stripped it of its restrictive shell, maintained his gloomy and woeful tales, and catapulted them with chart accepting attributes.
In the Kayne West co-produced track ‘Tell Your Friends’, Tesfaye reminds us he’s “that nigga with the hair, singing ’bout popping pills, fucking bitches, living life so trill”. In other words; this is what he’s done, this is what he’s still doing, but now just see how far he’s going to take it.
Written by Zach Redrup (@zachredrup)