By Neeva Shafiian
In 2010, a little known Canadian singer and lyrical genius stole the hearts of hardcore R&B music fans with a new breed of dark love songs. Abel Tesfaye, who goes by the intentionally misspelled moniker The Weeknd, sings about love and vice above an irresistible beat. His voice, which alternates between soft and gloomy to raspy and powerful, brings vitality to words that speak of death. He produces lyrics that describe painful abuse, somber self-indulgence and a captivating love. After he dropped a couple mixtapes, The Weeknd caught the attention of rap virtuoso Kanye West and soon after he began collaborating with artists like Drake and Ariana Grande.
Tesfaye’s slow but steady rise to fame has recently reached a climax. His critically renowned album debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 200 chart. Beauty Behind the Madness sold 412,000 copies in its first week, making it the largest album debut so far in 2015. Today, it sits comfortably on the top of several charts. Even if you haven’t heard of the man with the eclectic style and beautiful voice, you’ve surely heard his songs. “Earned It” quickly became a smash hit following its feature in the film Fifty Shades of Grey. The MJ-esque “Can’t Feel My Face” became the song of the summer, gripping on to its number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (something many major artists have yet to do). Currently, “The Hills” is being played constantly on popular stations around the country giving The Weeknd his third hit from the album. Many fans believe the song peeks into one of his hidden relationships with an A-list celebrity—the aforementioned Ariana Grande.
Beauty Behind the Madness immediately enchants a listener with “real life.” Tesfaye writes of the troubles of giving one’s heart to someone and maintaining a relationship—”Mama called me destructive, oh yeah/ Said it’d ruin me one day, yeah/ Cause every woman that loved me, oh yeah/I seemed to push them away.” In fact, this battle with commitment is a common theme throughout the album. “Acquainted,” “Shameless,” and “As You Are” are all exposés that focus on deep loves that had quick expiration dates due to character faults. “Tell Your Friends,” produced by none other than Kanye West, is an open door into a complicated lifestyle of relationships, drugs and fame. Tesfaye’s wounded voice admits to the dark side of sexuality in “Often” with lyrics that some listeners consider to be borderline offensive and misogynistic. Although the words may be discomforting, the brutal honesty about relationship struggles are relatable. The funky, yet dark, “In The Night” describes a girl who was abused as a child and now parties when she’s “dancing to relieve the pain.” In the closing song “Angel,” Tesfaye describes the sacrifice of being selfless and letting a girl go because it is in her best interest.
The hit album also features some notable collaborations. In the anthem of the pursuit of dreams “Losers,” Tesfaye collaborated with British singer Labyrinth to reminisce on their decisions to drop everything and make the bold moves that commenced their careers. Featuring British sensation Ed Sheeran, “Dark Times” warns women about their addictions that relapse during depressing times. One of the most anticipated tracks on the album, “Prisoner,” features the indie-pop princess Lana Del Rey. Together, their voices talk about a tortured love under the pressure of Hollywood.
The Weeknd’s Beauty Behind the Madness is a perfect blend of 14 songs that will get stuck in your head and force you to sing along.