The Crown: The Weeknd
This month #TheCrown focus’s on The Weeknd Anyone who’s heard him sing or seen his stage moves knows the debt he owes to Michael Jackson. He often says it was Jackson’s music that made him want to be a singer, and the lyrics to “Dirty Diana” that made him want to write songs. But Jackson was even more important to his family than to most, because of their East African roots. “People forget — ‘We Are the World’ is for Ethiopia,” he says. “At home, if it wasn’t Ethiopian music, it was Michael. He was our icon.”
In his music, Tesfaye has presented a conflicted, frequently cold view of women and relationships. On Drake’s “Crew Love,” he brushes off a girl who dares to distract him from his art (“Take your nose off my keyboard/What you bothering me for?”). On “Often,” he brags about turning a woman’s erogenous zone into a meteorological phenomenon.
Part of the allure of the Weeknd’s music is its emotional chilliness — the way he creates a world that sounds both sexy and numbed-out. Tesfaye says the sex in his music is mostly autobiographical. “I mean, no girl has ever actually rained,” he says. “But if that’s not what you mean, then yeah. I don’t want to sound like that guy where sex is not an obstacle. But I’ve had a lot of sex.”
The Weeknd met Jeremy Rose in 2010, a producer who had an idea for a dark R&B musical project. After initially trying to pitch the idea to musician Curtis Santiago, Rose played one of his instrumentals for The Weeknd, who proceeded to freestyle over it, prompting the duo to begin working on an album together. Rose produced three songs – “What You Need”, “Loft Music”, and “The Morning” – and others that The Weeknd had rapped on, which were ultimately scrapped. Rose let The Weeknd keep the tracks he had produced under the condition that he would ultimately be credited for them. In December 2010, The Weeknd uploaded “What You Need”, “Loft Music” and “The Morning” to YouTube under his stage name, although his identity was initially unknown. The songs drew some attention online, and were later included in a blog post from Drake. The songs subsequently received coverage from various media outlets, including Pitchfork and The New York Times
On 21 March 2011, The Weeknd self-released his debut mixtape, House of Balloons.The mixtape included vast production from Canadian producers Illangelo and Doc McKinney, and included the tracks produced by Rose, although, he did not receive production credits. House of Balloons was met with critical acclaim, and was named as one of ten shortlisted nominees for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize.
He later embarked on a tour of Toronto, delivering his first live performance at the city’s Mod Club venue. Drake was also in attendance to view the performance, which ran for a total of ninety minutes. Drake then approached the artist, and described a potential musical collaboration between the pair. The Weeknd also accompanied Drake at his various shows, often performing as the opening act for shows scheduled at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, as well as appearing at the second annual OVO Fest in July. Throughout the summer, the duo worked extensively on what would later become Take Care, Drake’s multi-platinum Grammy Award winning sophomore studio album. The Weeknd contributed to five songs on the album, as either a writer or featured artist.
With his identity still relatively unknown, The Weeknd refrained from participating in interviews, choosing to only communicate via Twitter. This proved to be a successful promotional tactic for his second mixtape Thursday, which was released on 18 August 2011, with the same means as his debut. It was also subject to acclaim from music critics.His third mixtape was released just over a year following the release of his first ever singles, in 2010. Titled Echoes of Silence, it was released on 21 December 2011, and also saw positive critical reception.
Following this release, the three mixtapes were collectively known as the Balloons Trilogy, and oversaw The Weeknd receiving multiple offers from various record labels.Before adopting the stagename “The Weeknd”, he worked under the aliasses of “The Noise” and “Kin Kane”.
On April 2012, The Weeknd began his first tour of the United States, with a performance at the Coachella Festival. The tour culminated in New York with back-to-back sold-out shows, which were positively reviewed by Rolling Stone. The Weeknd later expanded his tour to accompany Europe, initially performing at various European festivals, including the Primavera Sound Festivals in Spain and Portugal, and the Wireless Festival in London. Covering “Dirty Diana” at his performance in London, he received positive responses from both Katy Perry and Florence Welch, who noted the singer’s ability to successfully undertake a complex song. Furthermore, in June, the Balloons Trilogy was revealed to have been downloaded over 8 million times, which allowed The Weeknd to initiate a formal commercial release of the projects later that year.
In September 2012, The Weeknd signed with Republic Records in a joint venture with his own imprint XO. The compilation album for the mixtapes, entitled Trilogy, was released two months later, and consisted of several remastered versions of songs, as well as three additional ones. It also officially credited Rose as a producer and writer on the three songs from House of Balloons for which he did not initially receive credit. Trilogy charted at number four on the U.S. Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 86,000 copies. It also debuted at number five on the Canadian Albums Chart, with similar sales. Trilogy was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and double-platinum by Music Canada in May 2013.He had also gained a nomination for the Sound of 2013 poll award by the BBC a week later.
Beauty Behind the Madness was released on 28 August 2015, and debuted atop the Billboard 200, earning 412,000 album equivalent units in its first week. It also reached the top 10 in over ten countries, as well as reaching number one in Canada, Australia, Norway, and the United Kingdom.The album was promoted by The Weeknd headlining various summer music festivals, including Lollapalooza, the Hard Summer Music Festival, and the Bumbershoot Festival. He also announced his first large-scale tour across the United States, which began in November, and concluded in December.The album later went double platinum in the US, and sold 1.5 million copies worldwide. It was also reported to be the most-streamed album throughout 2015, with over 60 million, as well as being ranked on multiple lists concerned with detailing albums of the year.
On 8 September, The Weeknd became the first male artist to have simultaneously held the top three spots on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart, with the three singles that proceeded the release of the album. They all also went platinum in the United States. After engaging in multiple musical collaborations with Belly, Meek Mill, and Travis Scott, The Weeknd was featured on “Low Life“, the triple platinum single from Future’s fourth studio album. The Weeknd also appeared on Saturday Night Live alongside actress Amy Schumer, performing as the show’s musical guest on 10 October. This was his first performance on the show as a solo artist, after appearing with Ariana Grande to perform “Love Me Harder”.
The Weeknd was featured on “FML”, a track on Kanye West‘s The Life of Pablo. It marks the second collaboration between the pair, with West providing production and writing on “Tell Your Friends” from Beauty Behind the Madness. The Weeknd also appeared on “6 Inch“, the fifth song on Beyoncé‘s Lemonade. He was later announced by Spotify as being among the top five most streamed artists in their first year partnering with Sony to provide the streaming service on the video game console, PlayStation 4.
On 24 August, in preparation for his third studio album, Republic Records executive vice-president Wendy Goldstein confirmed The Weeknd begun collaborations with French electronic music duo Daft Punk. A month later, the album’s title was announced as Starboy, and had a release date of 25 November. He soon released the album’s title track, which features Daft Punk. The song was an unprecedented success, seeing platinum certification and also going number one in the United States, as well as in various other countries. A second collaboration with Daft Punk, entitled “I Feel It Coming“, was released a week proceeding the album’s release, alongside the solo efforts “Party Monster” and “False Alarm“. The Weeknd then returned to Saturday Night Live on 10 October, performing “Starboy” and “False Alarm”. He would then release a 12-minute short film, titled M A N I A, on 23 November. Directed by Grant Singer, it featured excerpts from the album, including snippets from “All I Know” featuring Future, “Sidewalks” featuring Kendrick Lamar, and “Secrets”.