By Anthony Walsh
Finally, The Weeknd, also known as Abel Tesfaye, wants to you “Tell Your Friends” about him. Tesfaye demands you to: “Go tell them what you know, what you seen, how I roll, how I did it on the low” on the third track of his recently released solo album, Beauty Behind the Madness.
But, The Weeknd hasn’t always been this confident about his public persona. In 2010, he decided to post three audio files on YouTube with the titles, “The Morning,” “What You Need,” and “Loft Music.” He then dropped his first mixtape, House of Balloons, in March of 2011 and just five months later released his second free mixtape entitled Thursday in August of 2011.
From those two releases, he gained enough praise and recognition to be featured on Drake’s 2011 sophomore studio album, Take Care. His third and final mixtape for a while, Echoes of Silence, was released only four months after the previous one in December of 2011.
In the span of a year, The Weeknd has released enough music that some artists create in 4 to 5 years. Yet, no one really knew who he was. He hadn’t done any interviews with magazines or radio stations and the only thing people had to go off were pictures of him with his care-free hair. And, most importantly of course, his music. Much like his apparent persona at the time, The Weeknd’s first three mixtapes were characteristic of dark, mysterious R&B and dealt with subjects like drug addiction, partying, and relationships.
With great success from his first three mixtapes, two collaborations with Drake, and even an appearance at Drake’s 2011 OVO Fest, it was time for The Weeknd’s debut solo album. Although he took all the songs from his mixtapes and packaged them for sale on iTunes, Trilogy technically wasn’t his solo debut.
So, in September of 2013, The Weeknd released Kiss Land and while core fans and critics were generally satisfied with it, there weren’t any standout songs to gain him more popularity or a more diverse fan base.
In the past year, however, everything has changed for The Weeknd and his fame has gone worldwide. He released the first two singles for his, technically, third studio album, “Often” and “Earned It” in 2014. The latter coming from the soundtrack of the extremely popular film adaptation of the romantic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.
The next two singles, “The Hills” and “I Can’t Feel My Face,” dropped in 2015 to overwhelming success. Of the four singles, “I Can’t Feel My Face,” “Earned It,” and “The Hills” have sat consecutively on the top of the R&B charts making The Weeknd the first R&B artist ever to have his or her three songs dominate the top three of the list.
So, from the success of these three singles and the overwhelming radio play of “I Can’t Feel My Face,” the music world’s gaze was beaming on Abel Tesfaye, this dark, unassuming guy with unique hair. All this popularity makes me wonder, is he ready for true fame and celebrity?
The answer to that question comes out in Beauty Behind the Madness.
While I would like to talk about the four singles, I think people, including myself, have heard those enough to know just how they feel about them. On this album, The Weeknd has worked with some new sounds than would not have been heard on Trilogy or Kiss Land.
On songs like “Losers” and “Tell Your Friends,” there are upbeat, soulful, and exciting piano chords that Abel follows along with effortlessly. He sings over a modern disco-like, electronic beat on “In The Night.” A song about a stripper who uses her job as a stress release from an abusive relationship. In my opinion, this was the most vivid and emotional song of the whole album.
The Weeknd still isn’t afraid to make a song about a distressing subject which shows he is retaining his characteristics of old all throughout his newfound stardom.
There are also much softer songs that seem more characteristic of Tesfaye such as “As You Are” and “Acquainted.” These songs are given a unique spin by sounding much more pop-oriented than the harsh and mystic R&B that most of The Weeknd’s older fans know him for. “As You Are” even sounds like Phil Collins could’ve produced it, but, luckily, we get to hear Abel sing instead of Phil. No shade to Phil; the Tarzan soundtrack was a classic.
There are also some songs reminiscent of the beginning days of The Weeknd such as “Shameless,” “Dark Times,” and “Prisoner.” In all three songs Abel talks about his typical subjects of love, mistakes, and drug addiction. Not to mention that “Often” and “The Hills” sound like they could’ve come right off of Trilogy or Kiss Land as well.
Yes, there are multiple songs on Beauty Behind the Madness that seem very familiar to diehard fans and that’s a good thing. However, there are also other songs that show The Weeknd progressing into a different sound and type of artist who is willing to embrace popular spotlight and celebrity for years to come.
This album wasn’t perfect, but it laid down some foundation to show me that The Weeknd has the potential and longevity to become a pop star all while staying true to the original identity that people gravitated towards in the first place.
Whether it be old fans or new fans, people are willing to ride with the new Weeknd because he doesn’t seem too different although much more popular. It’s still the guy they’ve always known, or thought so, from House of Balloons.
Again quoting “Tell Your Friends,” the song which I think defines the future Abel Tesfaye looks forward to, he says: “Used to hate attention, now I pull up in that wagon.” The Weeknd believes he can be something big and I believe him too. So, if you want, go tell your friends about him. But you don’t have to, I’m sure they’ll hear about him one way or another.