Published Aug 24, 2015It's official: the Weeknd is not an open secret. He's no longer an underground XO-repping star loved by a fervid fan base but greeted with a shrug by the mainstream. With the success of tracks "Earned It," "Often" and current hit "Can't Feel My Face" — the latter reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 — Abel Tesfaye is enjoying wider reach and recognition.
Whether you are a recent XO convert, or someone who's been riding with the Toronto-based artist since 2011's House of Balloons, here are five defining Weeknd songs that encapsulate his rise in advance of new album Beauty Behind the Madness, dropping August 28 on XO/Republic. Just maybe you'll hear a few of these on his upcoming "The Madness Fall Tour."
The Five Defining Songs of the Weeknd:
5. "The Hills"
If "Earned It" kicked down the commercial door, "The Hills" wrenched it off its hinges. The early single off of Beauty Behind the Madness, the sinister R&B vibe of "The Hills" walks a fine line between the rebel-minded Weeknd of old and an artist concerned with cultivating his mainstream base. It functions as primer for the impending full-length release.
While 2013's Kiss Land wasn't the breakout commercial hit many were expecting, the rollercoaster pop feel of a track like "Wanderlust" reflects a willingness to "play ball" in tapping into a pop audience. Tesfaye's falsetto comes off confident while the production angles for commercial consideration.
3. "The Birds Pt. 1"
Second mixtape Thursday — of what would come to be called the House of Balloons trilogy — dropped in the later half of 2011. Tesfaye's tendency to wear his Michael Jackson influences on his sleeve is apparent here. While his early work tends to eschew traditional compositional sensibilities, "The Birds Pt. 1" makes concessions to a more mainstream-minded music structure.
2. "The Morning"
Also from House of Balloons, "The Morning" offers lyrics like "Drinking Alizé with our cereal for breakfast," illustrating Tesfaye's nihilistic tendencies and worldview over spaced-out synths, guitar and a crowd-friendly hook. The track showcases Tesfaye's evolving take on R&B/soul.
1. "High for This"
When free mixtape House of Balloons (featuring production by Doc McKinney, Illangelo and Zodiac/Jeremy Rose) dropped in the first half of 2011, it was clear that this hazy blend of R&B, hip-hop and dream pop was on to something. As expressed by Tesfaye's braggart falsetto, single "High for This" best represents the mixtape: profane, mysterious and melancholic.