There is no question about it, Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name, The Weeknd seemed to have come out of nowhere. Known equally for his strange hairstyle and extremely profane lyrics, the 25-year-old Ontario native has been around for a while now, starting off his career by uploading songs to YouTube under the pseudonym “The Weeknd” (spelling changed as to not have copyright issues with the band, the Weekend).
During his time of being an anonymous artist on YouTube, Tesfaye managed to create a character for himself that he brought to life through his music: a tortured soul who suffers from trust issues when it comes to romantic relationships and counters this by abusing substances and sleeping with numerous women.
Although his debut album “Kiss Land” was released in 2013, Tesfaye only rose to mainstream stardom recently. He has been taking over the radio this year with hit singles such as “The Hills”, “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Earned It”, which was featured in the popular film “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Tesfaye was able add to his fan base in time of the release of his second album, “Beauty Behind the Madness”, which was released on Aug. 28, 2015.
Photo courtesy of XO and Republic Records
“Beauty Behind the Madness” features a number of big-name artists in the pop scene including Kanye West who helped produce “Tell Your Friends”, Lana Del Rey and Ed Sheeran. Much grittier than conventional pop lyrics, Tesfaye has put out an album that, like his previous work, features stories of alcohol and drug abuse, sexual encounters with strangers and self-destruction. The only difference this time is that now, Tesfaye is catering to the masses and not just his following of fans on YouTube and he proves that he does not have to change or censor himself to become a pop “superstar”.
He manages to pull this off with both “The Hills”, in which Tesfaye sings, “I only love it when you touch me, not feel me. When I’m f–ked up, that’s the real me.” and “I Can’t Feel My Face”, a blatant ode to cocaine addiction. Not only do both of these song tell the stories of a drug-fueled “no-strings attached” hookup and drug addiction respectively but are both catchy enough earn top spots on the Billboard 100.
While many artists use their music as a way to boast about their sexual conquests and the drugs they consume, Tesfaye uses his lyrics to issue a warning to his listeners and to show the harsh reality about the lifestyle he leads and the effects it can have on a person. This is seen in the first line of the opening track “Real Life”, where Tesfaye seems to apologize for his actions, “Mama called me destructive, said it’d ruin me someday. Cause every woman that loved me, I seem to push them away.” In the same song Tesfaye acknowledges his flaws, fully admitting that he cannot remain faithful to a single partner, “Tell ‘em this boy wasn’t meant for lovin’. Tell ‘em this heart doesn’t stay to one.”
“Beauty Behind the Madness” is clearly one of the most controversial albums of the year, combining the depressing and bleak with debauchery, telling the story of a man trapped in a lifestyle he himself calls “empty and so cold” on “Prisoner”. These are indeed love songs, but what makes them different is the absence of any sort of emotional connection. Tesfaye proves himself worthy of currently being one of the biggest names in mainstream pop as he continues his lonely life of womanizing.