I couldn’t tell you if Abel Tesfaye, known the world over as The Weeknd, is the new face of R&B.
It’s not because of his singing style, or his voice. No true R&B artist has had such a rapid rise to superstardom in recent memory than The Weeknd. In a matter of four years, Tesfaye went from an underground singer who had a hit track with Drake to becoming one of the most recognizable voices in the music industry.
He’s not Trey Songz, Usher or even R. Kelly. The Weeknd is different, dark and a unique voice in R&B that’s still needs some getting used to. He’s not a slow-jam singer, nor is he a guy that sings about love and affection. He has a terrific voice that’s used in a different light. If he’s not the face of the genre right now, he’s certainly becoming a trailblazer after releasing his third studio album, Beauty Behind The Madness.
That isn’t to say Tesfaye has changed his ways from his first two albums, Trilogy and Kiss Land. Even in both of those albums, The Weeknd showcased his mysterious mantra behind unique beats and passionate lyrics. This time around, it’s different. The Weeknd is a mega-star, and his music is well-known. More people are starting to understand what kind of man and singer The Weeknd is, and depending on what side of the R&B spectrum you stand on, that’s either refreshing or problematic.
The Weeknd is a singer that wears his emotions, more so dark and mysterious, on his sleeve. He sings about casual sex and non-monogamous relationships like they happen every day. Hell, the man even says it in one of his hit tracks, “Often”: “She asked me if I do this every day, I said ‘often.'” Tesfaye is blunt and will cut straight to the point. If he sings a song about having sex, you’d rather him just say he’s fucking instead. This is the path that The Weeknd takes his listeners down with his new album.
Track by Track
The top two tracks on this 14-track endeavor are surely not what anyone expected. The lead track, “Real Life,” is a song that basically tells us how The Weeknd is who he is. His mother calls him “destructive” and how he would push women out of his life that loved him. Love has never been his cup of tea (which would probably explain a lot, as we’ll get to later on). Tesfaye follows that with “Losers,” a track that reminisces of his decision to drop out of high school at 17 years old to pursue a music career. While these two weren’t the strongest tracks to open the album, you understand why from a story-telling perspective. These two songs mold who he is, and we’re about to go on a journey filled with “holy shit” moments.
“Tell Your Friends” is the third track. Tesfaye begins to let loose on what consumes his life and he doesn’t care. He’s a free spirit that’ll do what he wants, when he wants and how much. The Kanye West-produced track has a classy R&B beat. This is the most talking Tesfaye does on the album, showing off his versatility in his delivery. It’s a nice change of pace to the first two tracks and is a good lead into the meat of the album, where The Weeknd’s four hit songs lie.
When I mentioned earlier about The Weeknd being a unique voice in R&B, it goes back to the four hits that are on this album. One is the darkest of all possible songs (“The Hills”), one is a dance hit (“Can’t Feel My Face”) and two are the raunchiest tracks to hit the airwaves (“Often” and “Earned It”). There aren’t many artists that can cloud the meaning of a song and provide a deeper message. “The Hills” talks about how much a girl wants Tesfaye to come over when her boyfriend isn’t home. The underlying message is cheating, which if you watch the music video, all we see is an exploding car. But there’s symbolism and darkness behind it. “Often” and “Earned It” have no deeper message. They’re just about sex and somehow found their ways to the radio. Kudos to you, sir.
After we go down the dark path of “The Hills,” the best part of the album arrives. Two songs stole the show at Nos. 6 & 8. The first is “Acquainted.” It’s constructed in a marvelous G-minor melody and is where The Weeknd shows off the most emotion so far. He tells about falling into a trap with a woman, but still has sex with her and is just glad to know her. Now that’s a good friend. There are morals somewhere in this, I promise. Also, the third verse shows off his full range and he does it effortlessly.
“Shameless” goes a different route, going to an A-flat melody and is about 90 percent acoustic guitar. Pretty much, he’s the guy that’s around for sex whenever and it may not even be enough for her. If you can’t tell by this point in the album that we’re heading for a really dark place, then welcome to the party. Remember the bluntness I spoke about? Yeah, The Weeknd doesn’t really care. The dude goes all out.
Towards the end of the project, we get to two pleasant surprises and one of them doesn’t even involve The Weeknd. “In The Night” is Track 10, and the first thought that comes to mind is Michael Jackson. This track feels like a revamped “Billie Jean” with the way Tesfaye shortens up the end of each line, and the overall theme of the song, which is of a girl falling victim to sexual abuse. The other shock is the track “Dark Times,” where pop star Ed Sheeran makes a surprise appearance. The British pop sensation known for singing about finding love right where he is, finds himself drunk and has a bruised eye. But for a dark song like that, Sheeran knocked it out of the park. His hip-hop/R&B appreciation is well known, but to see him utilize his soul into a song like this was one of the more pleasant surprises of this album.
Tesfaye closes out the project with “Angel.” It’s a track that talks about how Tesfaye knows he may not be good for this girl that was more than he could ask for, and while he hopes the relationship will work out, The Weeknd hopes she’ll find someone better. A surprise guest appearance was also on this track. Maty Noyes, a teenager from the Los Angeles area, got a small feature in the third verse. She’s actually been getting more attention by the few words she’s sung than anything else on this record that Tesfaye has done. It was a beautiful (pun intended) way to end this project.
Call The Weeknd what you will. He’s too blunt, might be too inappropriate and lives a lifestyle not suited for the growing generation. But whatever he’s doing, it’s working. That’s why he’s had four top-of-the-chart hits off this album alone.
If this is the path R&B is going, then The Weeknd at age 25 is certainly trying to blaze a trail within the genre. How that’s perceived in the R&B game hasn’t been known yet. Time will tell. He’s going to be around for a long time making music like this. As he becomes more seasoned, perhaps he’ll change the way he writes. For now, it’s working and you shouldn’t fix what doesn’t need fixing.
Beauty Behind The Madness started off slow, but picked up greatly midway through. The instrumentals and beats complemented each of the tracks perfectly, despite going down a dark path that can’t be explained. The Weeknd is not pop material. The lyrics and songs are too dark for this bright image pop music is trying to display.
Regardless, this album is how The Weeknd skyrockets into superstardom. He’s not the face of R&B yet, but that may change in time.