A dishevelled Abel Tesfaye, unveiled his sonic, new wave R&B sound to eager masses at Coachella in Los Angeles on 14 April. He stumbled through his impressive catalogue of thematic tales of lust and hurt that have become a staple for his fans, who mouthed every lyric.
For many who hadn’t been keeping track, this mysterious singer, who goes by alias The Weeknd, could’ve easily been dismissed. But, truth is, The Weeknd is one of the newest unlikely messiahs of R&B.
When he first uploaded three songs – ‘What You Need’, ‘Loft Music’ and ‘The Morning’ – on YouTube early last year, he caused quite a bit of an indie blog frenzy that only grew with the release of a free nine-track free mixtape album titled ‘House of Balloons’.
There was a sense of mystery to this Canadian muso. His Ethiopian roots and brand of nonchalant sex, drugs, and overindulgence was highly produced with the right blend of swagger, emotion, and astute sampling – everything from Siouxsie and the Banshees’ ’80s hit ‘Happy House’ to Beach House and Aaliyah.
It was only a matter of time before he was selling out shows in LA and Canada. Even Drake tweeted a link to his website, solidifying the fact that The Weeknd was part of the next wave of artists to watch out for in 2011.
He lived up to the hype with two more mixtapes. ‘Thursday’, with all its melancholic dub influences, was enough to convince anyone who had any doubt what calibre of singer he is. And the third part of the trilogy, ‘Echoes of Silence’, went further down his path of destructive synths conveying similar tales of jaded love, including a moving rendition of Michael Jackson’s ‘Dirty Diana’.
So it was no wonder that he catapulted to the frontline of up and coming indie singers. In June, ‘House of Balloons’ was named as one of 10 shortlisted nominees for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. He lost out to Arcade Fire, but that’s OK because his site crashed due to too many downloads of ‘Echoes of Silence’. He’s since become quite the talk of the town – despite refusing to do any interviews – with supporters like Pitchfork, MTV, BET, Rolling Stone, XXL, The Source, and 2DopeBoyz, who hailed him “Songbird of his Generation”.
Drake also wanted a piece of this innovation and invited The Weeknd to appear on three tracks from his ‘Take Care’ album – ‘Crew Love’, ‘The Ride’ and ‘Cameras/Good Ones Go Interlude’.
And this is part of the reason newspapers like The National Post have applauded the singer for refusing to be boxed in any form or way. “He gets away with heavy-metal guitars and reggae grooves (‘Life of the Party’), acoustic ballads (‘Rolling Stone’), singing en francais (‘Montreal’) and voice-morphing, dubstep-tinged fantasy (‘Initiation),” they say.
I may have done this before but DAMN. This dude inspires a lot of the stuff other dudes are piggybacking on. He’s magic. POOF POOF.