Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd, has already accomplished a lot in his ten-year music career. He’s one of the biggest names in music around the globe, and now will be adding yet another milestone to his big list of them when he performs at the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Concert this year. So, with the stage set, I took this week to rate The Weeknd’s body of work so far, here are the results.
Obviously, the thirty-year-old Canadian native must be doing something right if he’s already achieved three Grammy’s, Canada’s Allan Slaight Award, eight Billboard Music Awards, five American Music Awards, nine Juno Awards, and two MTV Video Music Awards, among being nominated for countless others and collaborating with other superstar music artists around the world as well. So, what is it? What makes him special? Well, it all starts with genre and style.
“The Weeknd is one of the most influential R&B and pop artists of the 2010s. Not only just because of the dark, drug heavy subject matter but also because of how his producers have created this dreary atmosphere on almost everything he does.” Andrew Doucette, a staff member of both Madison College’s Clarion Newspaper and Clarion Broadcasting, said this as part of his analysis on The Weeknd over email.
As Doucette’s quote suggests, most of The Weeknd’s music is fundamentally pop with R&B, rock, and rap influences. Unlike many in his field, most of Tesfaye’s subject matter brings a darker vibe to already dark topics such as hard partying, drugs, love, sex, heartbreak, self-consciousness, and death. From a production standpoint, much of Tesfaye’s signature sound comes from a slow, deep, fuzzy, haunting, and persisting synthesized-bass heavy backbeat, which mixes very well with his strong and high-ranging, alto-pitched voice.
Okay, that’s great, basically, The Weeknd is just another high-pitched popstar who is only made great by luck and an insane amount of super high-quality production on his music then, right? Well, that’s a fair criticism, but I’m not done yet, and just as in politics, the people have a large say in what makes up mainstream music at any time. Artists put their own spin on whatever the people want to hear, but if no one’s going to listen to the music you’re making anyway, then what’s the point in making it at all?
For me, the biggest aspect of The Weeknd’s sound that sets him apart is the pace of his music. I mentioned earlier that his backbeats are usually anchored by a slow and dominant bass groove, one that forces you to slow down to its speed in order to fully enjoy the mood. And, it almost never has a sad tone to it in his songs; it provides more of a cinematic texture to his tracks instead. For example, “I Feel It Coming,” in which electronic duo Daft Punk collaborated with him, the backbeat driving Tesfaye’s voice is casual. A strong element of Daft Punk’s signature “French Touch” comes through to create a vintage club backbeat and then stays even-keeled through the whole song. A similar aesthetic to his latest chart-topping song, “Blinding Lights.” The bass grooves and clap hits are far enough apart to give The Weeknd the space he needs to take precedence on the track without being obnoxious, unlike many other pop and trap tracks made nowadays. This doesn’t mean The Weeknd’s songs are boring or lacking energy; they usually do the opposite. Just as in writing, a music artist’s ultimate job is to invoke some emotion in the listener, and Tesfaye does that song after song. On the flip side of the retro disco jams like “I Feel It Coming” and “Blinding Lights,” another hit song he produced featuring Daft Punk was “Starboy.” In that song, not much changes technically, but the feel is completely different. Instead of a feel-good dance song, “Starboy” is a darker song that’s closer to The Weeknd’s general theme. It’s as close to The Weeknd gets to rapping ever, and his flow again is faster but phrased very well, giving room for a hard-hitting modern drum machine and reverb to complete the masterpiece without overwhelming listeners.
Overall, The Weeknd is truly a unique singer/songwriter and is one of the most listened to artists for a real reason. Boiled down, his style can be described as a cross between Michael Jackson, Prince, and R. Kelly, which makes sense considering he’s cited all three as being inspirations for him. His high-pitched voice confidently comes through in a true complementary unison with a wide range of commanding bass combinations that don’t take away from the lyrics in beats per minute, volume, or thematic texture. Thus, allowing The Weeknd’s dark material to actually be paid attention to while still making the listener feel engulfed in a song. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd, creates a variety of vivid “bangers” that are easy to “vibe” with without having to do a whole lot extra. I personally give him 4.5 stars out of 5, and I highly recommend anyone who enjoys music to look into him. More about The Weeknd can be found on his website at https://www.theweeknd.com/.