The Rise Of The Weeknd

Above: Canadian PBR&B singer The Weeknd
Above: Canadian PBR&B singer The Weeknd

The meteoric rise of The Weeknd has been one of 2015’s most interesting stories. Since garnering one of the earliest and most impactful Drake co-signs, the artist born Abel Tesfaye, has been on the bubble for a few years now. His championing of the future R&B wave ended up landing the sound on the radio, and subsequently onto the charts. But while the day ones have been familiarized with his more moody and melancholic accenting, the Tumblr aesthetic started to fade after an intelligent and rather immediate, posturing towards mass appeal. Tesfaye’s mainstream aspirations became apparent after the hit singles “Earned It”, and more recently the Max Martin collab “Can’t Feel My Face”, made its way into our ears. This was no longer the mysterious XO mastermind that hid behind his music. This was a popstar ready, and comfortable, to take over the world.

Since his global success, some have been quick, and equally lazy, to dump the “sell out” or “whitewashed” tag onto the singer. With such a 180 in his artistic approach, this was surely expected by The Weeknd. And if we’re correct in assuming that, then this all but proves the desired direction of his career. The Weeknd wants to be the biggest musician in the world, and his doubters are looking rather foolish right now. Firstly, his dominance on the charts is unrivalled. He is the most played artist on Beats1 Radio, ahead of the booming franchise that is Drake. Here, he’s beat out his friendly rival by simply by crafting and releasing music. His Billboard presence also, unrivalled. Not only is the Weeknd the first singer to have the top three R&B songs in the world, but he currently sits number one on the top 100. He spent years shaping the landscape of his own genre, and now he’s bigger than it. Right now, around the world, everyone knows the words to at least one of his songs. Sit back and reflect on that for a moment. Could we have imagined an office, a doctor’s waiting room, or the aisles of a Wal-Mart playing the same musician that released House Of Balloons? The same man who crooned “then we fuck faces”? Could that same artist have collaborated with a bubblegum princess like Ariana Grande? This is a success story for pop music, just as it is for The Weeknd. This is an artist making the industry pay its own dues.

Listen to the freshest R&B and take note, The Weeknd’s influence is at an all-time high. Even when it’s not directly that “Toronto sound”, contemporaries like Miguel are embracing Tesfaye’s explicit lyrical nature. The Weeknd opened industry doors for artists like Kehlani and Tinashe, and then, he himself walked through them with the swagger and repertoire to back it all up. But, just as the sonics he established began to oversaturate the game, The Weeknd switched lanes.

It is important to note that Abel has reached this point in his career largely due to his collaborations. From as early as Illangelo, to as recent as megascribe Max Martin, The Weeknd overlays some impressive architecture. His vocal strength lends itself to finely crafted instrumentals. The man’s ear for production is on point, but it’s the artistic guidance of his collaborators that is often unheralded. His first, and arguably most important pairing, was with the Toronto producer, Zodiac, who helped mold XO into the brand that eventually brought him to Drake’s attention. And then of course, there is Drake himself, who gave XO the ultimate lifeline, shining the largest spotlight any local artist could have possibly received at the time. But as we’ve seen lately, Drake co-signs do as much for Drake’s image, as they do for the artist attached to the OVO movement. This isn’t a negative aspect by any means, but it obviously made things awkward for The Weeknd during his Drake shepherding. The Weeknd didn’t want to be an OVO affiliate, because he was looking to reach his own potential.

The Weeknd’s first mainstream album, Beauty Behind The Madness, is hitting shelves later this month. We’ve heard a few of the big songs already, and the majority of them add to the growing mystique of a popstar. Tesfaye sprinkles in “The Hills” and jumps on tracks like “Might Not” to please his early adopters, but the album release will show his real hunger for stardom. He’s always had the talent. He’s always had the drive. It may seem like The Weeknd came out of nowhere to most, but the rest of us know that this was a long time coming. It’s not even the Fall, and the year already belongs to the king.

Aidan D'Aoust

Aidan D'Aoust

Aidan is a writer from Toronto. His favourite things in the world are music, movies, and mini dachshunds. Give him a follow on Twitter at @aidandaoust, where he’ll also accept your mixtape submissions.

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