Release Date: Aug 28, 2015
Record label: Island
Genre(s): R&B, Alternative R&B, Left-Field Pop
From the grand opening of electric chords on "Real Life," one can't help but feel that the Weeknd's second studio album, Beauty Behind the Madness, is a momentous occasion; it's on this album that Abel Tesfaye makes the transition from cult favourite to icon. The brooding nourish R&B crooner preserves the spacey magnificence that has set him apart from other artists of a similar ilk, but does so with superior production to that of his previous works; he's now armed with a sound that is larger and more artfully orchestrated. It feels like the guiltless revelry that the Weeknd has enjoyed since the release of House of Balloons in 2011 is slowly coming to an end on BBTM.
Five years and what amounts to five studio albums worth of releases into The Weeknd’s career, and on Beauty Behind The Madness he finally unleashes the fully unhinged hedonist pop star character that he’s so carefully cultivated. 65 minutes after listening through the release, you may have accidentally overdosed after being exposed to the contact high from the album’s druggy lyrical content. Or, if still able to feel your face, you’re definitely still likely to be completely bowled over by the work done by not just The Weeknd as a vocalist, but a top tier crew of producers, arrangers, songwriters and engineers on the release.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Young, distressed and fucked up, The Weeknd is the most honourably and openly flawed male pop star in recent memory. The Toronto-born singer/songwriter/producer's self-loathing hazy sex and drug trope is empty and cold, yet his affinity for unhealthy relationship, cocaine-mounted sexcapades and trust issues, provide an intense second-hand experience of hook-up culture and wounded dependency through pop escapism, as any one of us can enter his gritty anarchic world of dungeon R&B without dealing with the repercussions.
Nobody makes wistful sleaze sound quite so compelling as Abel Tesfaye. Under the guise of The Weeknd he previously stalked gloomy, self-loathing shadows, revelling in a most seductive mire. Now, with pointed aspirations to be the biggest pop star in the world, Tesfaye finds himself at a neon-lit crossroads. The campaign has been relentless.
Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, has been a thing for a while, but only recently did he become a big thing. In July, Taylor Swift brought him onstage at a stadium show in New Jersey. Stevie Wonder, an influence on Tesfaye’s own biggest influence Michael Jackson, did his own version of The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” last week. At one point in June, all three of the top Billboard Hot R&B Songs belonged to Tesfaye, something no artist had achieved before.
"My cousin said I made it big and it's unusual/ She tried to take a selfie at my Grandma's funeral," Abel Tesfaye sings on "Tell Your Friends", a revealing highlight from his second major label album. For anyone following the Weeknd since House of Balloons materialized from the ether in 2011, watching him walk on stage at the VMAs to perform "Can't Feel My Face"—his first number one hit—certainly felt unusual. Not that the song's success was unpredictable.
In the past year Abel Tesfaye, who began releasing mixtapes of murky R&B as The Weeknd in 2011, has pulled off a number of prime pop coups. First came a collaboration with American megastar Ariana Grande (‘Love Me Harder’), then there was a Top Five hit with ‘Earned It’, written for Fifty Shades Of Grey, 2015’s sixth-highest-grossing film. July brought an onstage appearance with Taylor Swift during her ‘1989’ world tour.
“I’m the nigga with the hair / Singin’ ’bout / Poppin’ pills / F–kin’ bitches / Livin’ life so trill.” So sings Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. the dreadlock-pompadour’d, perpetually blue-balled and lovelorn singer the Weeknd, on the Kanye West-produced “Tell Your Friends,” backed by loose-limbed jazz pianos from peak-College Dropout or Late Registration. With such astute lyrics — perhaps his most self-aware to date — the bedroom-weary 25-year-old can’t be accused of not knowing his audience, which on his last tour comprised a theater full of 18-year-olds with XO tattoos and their chaperones gleefully watching him project NSFW film clips of the aforementioned activities.
The Weeknd wants to be a star. Complex said as much when the Toronto-born singer/songwriter/producer appeared on its cover in 2013 for his first-ever interview. Back then he was a shadowy figure best known for his strange haircut, work on Drake’s sophomore album, Take Care, and a trilogy of mixtapes released in 2011 that cemented his status as the No.
Abel Tesfaye — the mysterious pop innovator who records as the Weeknd — set a weird new standard for gloomy self-indulgence in R&B when he came out of Canada a few years back. He was like Drake with the soul of an art-school goth, singing vaguely creepy things like "It's gonna end how you expected/Girl, you're such a masochist" in a satin-smooth voice over weeded-out, black-light-ready tracks built from stretched-out Siouxsie and the Banshees and Beach House samples. The three mixtapes he self-released in 2011 (collected one year later as his full-length Trilogy) and his proper major-label debut, 2013's Kiss Land, all seemed suspended in a predawn haze, where partying gets dark and drugs feel more like quicksand than rocket fuel.
When it arrived in 2013, the neon glow of the Weeknd’s first album for a major label, Kiss Land, was intended to bring debauched R&B introvert Abel Tesfaye out of the shadows and into the mainstream. How laughable that seems now. Kiss Land’s follow-up, Beauty Behind the Madness, has seen the Drake associate embark on a bewildering charm offensive, like a politician dandling babies.
All bets regarding Abel Tesfaye's career arc were off once Trilogy, material previously released at no (financial) cost to the listener, went platinum. For a period after that, it seemed like the singer had peaked just short of pop-star status. His eager congregation pushed Kiss Land, the proper debut, to number two in the U.S., yet none of its singles, not even the one that featured Drake, reached the Hot 100.
DRUG ADDICTION, sex abuse, threesomes. Do these sound like common subjects for songs by someone hyped as the next King of Pop? Maybe not. But they might well be perfect topics for a star out to rewrite that role. True to its title, pitch-black lyrics haunt “The Beauty Behind The Madness,” the new album by Abel Tesfaye, the man known as The Weeknd.
Back in 2013, Abel Tesfaye did something absolutely shocking: he put his face on the cover of his album. What seems like the biggest piece of non-news in history was actually a big deal at the time, because despite Kiss Land‘s downright amateur-looking cover art, Tesfaye was very much averse to showing his face in public, the media hype surrounding his out-of-nowhere 2011 House of Balloons mixtape becoming so deafening that people wondered one question: “Who the hell is behind this?” Was it a guy? Was it a band? Was it iamamiwhoami? Few press photos existed at the time, which left fans of the Weeknd’s bleak afterparty R&B to scour the XO Records web presence for hints, clues, and whatever pixelated scraps of information they could find. Some outlets made a bid for traffic by publishing nothing but the latest rumors about him.
Abel Tesfaye, the Canadian songwriter who calls himself the Weeknd, used to be pop’s bleakest, creepiest Don Juan. The come-ons he sang in his high, sweet tenor — and in the scratchy moan that sometimes replaced it — were more like warning labels. They detailed how loveless, drugged-out, callous, self-destructive and self-absorbed he could be.
It seems fitting that The Weeknd, who built his early catalog on mystique and myth-making, opens his sophomore album, Beauty Behind The Madness, with a song called “Real Life. ” His breakout 2011 mixtape trilogy—highlighted by opener House Of Balloons—capitalized on the mystery surrounding his identity, but ever since his debut, Kiss Land, collapsed trying to replicate PBR&B’s amorphous, trippy aesthetic, he’s crossed over as a more open and polished figure, stepping out of the sketchy, dark backroom of the club to make music for the people dancing in it. Last year, The Weeknd seemed to consciously pivot toward songs equipped for Top 40 radio, starting with a pop collaboration with Ariana Grande, “Love Me Harder.
No one can drain the glamor and excitement from sex, drugs, and R&B quite like Abel Tesfaye. His first three releases as the Weeknd were moody, desperate transmissions. House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence arrived from a nihilistic, alien world. (Or maybe not. For your own sake, I ….
There has always been a blurry line between numbness and escapist pleasure in the Weeknd's music. His misanthropic R&B is fixated on the drug-fuelled, endless after-party lifestyle and his (unfortunately titled) third album continues the indulgence while tapping a new musical vein. Just as his sex-addicted songs were starting to feel aimless on 2013's disappointing Kiss Land, the Toronto singer/songwriter star has done two things: added more pop structure on insanely catchy 80s-pop-cribbing tunes (Can't Feel My Face, In The Night, As You Are); and added more first-person and seemingly autobiographical detail into the mix (Real Life, Losers, Tell Your Friends).
The most interesting artists tend to cultivate a narrative that doesn’t so much run parallel to their art, as strike directly through it. The very best do it unconsciously. Judging from it’s title, The Weeknd’s latest album Beauty Behind the Madness seemed to hint at the possibility of a twist in the depraved saga of Toronto-bred R&B singer, Abel Tesfaye.
Video for "Can't Feel My Face" from The Weeknd. Video for "Can't Feel My Face" from The Weeknd. In the video for the song that dominated the summer, The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face," Abel Tesfaye goes up in flames. And he does it while busting dance moves that belie the singer-songwriter-producer's reputation for moody introspection.
Before the release of Beauty Behind the Madness, Abel Tesfaye, bka The Weeknd, seemed like he was having an identity crisis. A maestro of dejected, drug-addled mixtape R&B who couldn’t break the mold of his impressive debut House of Balloons with his inability to advance his sound on its two subsequent follow-ups Thursday and Echoes of Silence (later released in compilation as a full-length proper album called Trilogy), Tesfaye continuously dwindled in Balloons’s wake. His second LP Kiss Land further crumbled his good will, with its lackluster innovation: the title track, for example, recycled a Main Attrakionz beat.
The Weeknd, seen performing in April at Coachella, has a new album, "Beauty Behind the Madness. " The Weeknd, seen performing in April at Coachella, has a new album, "Beauty Behind the Madness. " “Foggy,” “murky,” “bleary” — those were the words that once described Abel Tesfaye’s work as the Weeknd, in which this Canadian singer used moody, open-ended R&B arrangements to deliver clouded confessions (or were they boasts?) about living in a haze of illegal drugs and ill-advised sex.