Abęl Makkonen Tesfaye (born 16 February 1990), known professionally by his stage name The Weeknd (pronounced "the weekend"), is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer. In late 2010, Tesfaye anonymously uploaded several songs to YouTube under the name "The Weeknd". He released three nine-track mixtapes throughout 2011: House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, which were critically acclaimed. The following year, he released a compilation album Trilogy, thirty tracks consisting of remastered versions of the mixtape material and three additional songs. It was released under Republic Records and his own label XO.
In 2013, he released his debut studio album Kiss Land, which was supported by the singles "Kiss Land" and "Live For". His second album, Beauty Behind the Madness, which became his first number one album on the Billboard 200, included the top-five single "Earned It" and produced the number-one singles "The Hills" and "Can't Feel My Face". The songs have simultaneously held the top three spots on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart, making him the first artist in history to achieve this. The Weeknd has won two Grammy Awards and has been nominated for an Academy Award.
Abęl Makkonen Tesfaye was born on 16 February 1990, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and raised in Scarborough, and is an only child. He is of Ethiopian descent; his parents, Makkonen and Samra, migrated from Ethiopia in the 1980s. His mother worked several jobs including nursing, catering, and night school. Since Tesfaye's father was never around when he was growing up, and his mother was constantly working, his grandmother took care of him most of his young life. Because of this, Tesfaye speaks fluent Amharic; it was the first language he learned. His grandmother would take him to services at their Ethiopian Orthodox church.
Tesfaye says he adopted the stage name The Weeknd after dropping out of high school at the age of 17 and, along with a fellow crew-member, "left one weekend and never came home". The spelling was modified to avoid trademark issues with a Canadian band already named The Weekend.
2010–11: Career beginnings and mixtapes
Tesfaye met producer Jeremy Rose, who had an idea for a dark R&B musical project called "The Weeknd". After trying to pitch the idea to musician Curtis Santiago, Rose played one of his instrumentals for Tesfaye, who freestyled over it, and they began working on an album. He produced three songs – "What You Need", "Loft Music", and "The Morning" – and others that Tesfaye rapped on, which Rose ultimately scrapped. Rose let Tesfaye keep the tracks he had produced under the condition that he would ultimately be credited for them. However, in December 2010, Tesfaye uploaded "What You Need", "Loft Music", and "The Morning" to YouTube under the name "The Weeknd", though his identity was initially unknown. The songs drew attention online through word of mouth, including a blog featuring the songs posted by rapper Drake, who also helped generate interest in The Weeknd. They subsequently received coverage from outlets such as Pitchfork Media and The New York Times.
On 21 March 2011, Tesfaye released the nine-track mixtape House of Balloons for free through his website. It featured production by Illangelo and Doc McKinney, although it did not credit Rose for his tracks. House of Balloons was met with critical acclaim, and was named as one of ten shortlisted nominees for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize.
In July, The Weeknd embarked on a tour and delivered his first performance at the Mod Club in Toronto. The hour-and-a-half long performance created buzz about him. His next performance took place at Toronto’s Molson Canadian Amphitheatre. He collaborated extensively with rapper Drake lending his vocals to several standout tracks on Drake's multi-platinum Take Care album and appeared as one of the special guests to Drake's second Annual OVO Fest on 31 July 2011. During the summer, the press noted that The Weeknd refused to participate in interviews and chose to only communicate via Twitter. His second mixtape Thursday was released on 18 August 2011, as a free digital download from The Weeknd's website, and was well received by critics. The Weeknd's third mixtape, titled Echoes of Silence, was released on 21 December 2011. Upon this release, the three 2011 mixtapes were collectively known as the Balloons Trilogy, each receiving critical acclaim and growing Tesfaye's fanbase.
2012–14: Trilogy and Kiss Land
In April 2012, The Weeknd began his U.S. tour by performing at the Coachella Festival. He and his band visited various major cities and culminated in New York, where two sold-out shows were positively reviewed by Rolling Stone. Tesfaye and his tour band continued in major European festivals, including the Primavera Sound Festivals in Spain and Portugal, Wireless Festival in London, plus concerts in Paris and Brussels. At his debut UK show in London, he covered Michael Jackson's "Dirty Diana" in front of an audience which included Katy Perry and Florence Welch. In June, it was reported that the Balloons Trilogy had been downloaded 8 million times and that it would be formally released later in the year.
In September 2012, The Weeknd signed with Republic Records in a joint venture with his own imprint label XO. The compilation album Trilogy was released in November, consisting of remastered versions of the mixtapes and three additional songs. It also officially credited Rose as a producer and writer on three songs from House of Balloons. Trilogy charted at No. 5 on the Canadian Albums Chart, and No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 86,000 copies. Shortly after in December, the BBC announced that The Weeknd had been nominated for the Sound of 2013 poll. In May 2013, Trilogy was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and double-platinum by Music Canada.
On 16 May 2013, The Weeknd premiered the title track to his debut studio album Kiss Land, which he said will be released on 10 September. It was also promoted by the singles "Belong to the World", "Live For" featuring Drake and The Weeknd's The Fall tour beginning in September. Kiss Land received generally positive reviews from music critics. Kiss Land debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling 96,000 copies, just two thousand copies short of Keith Urban's Fuse, which took the number one spot that week.
The Weeknd also appeared on the soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, contributing "Devil May Cry" and featuring on "Elastic Heart" by Sia, the second single from the soundtrack. In late 2013, The Weeknd joined Justin Timberlake on his The 20/20 Experience World Tour for six shows. In February 2014, he remixed the Beyoncé single "Drunk in Love". The remix was more of a cover, as The Weeknd tweaked the beat to fit better with his version of the song, that is told through the male perspective.
On 26 June 2014, The Weeknd announced that he will be headlining the King of the Fall tour, essentially a mini-tour across America in September and October 2014. ScHoolboy Q and Jhené Aiko were confirmed as support acts. The announcement came the day after The Weeknd released his new song, "Often", on SoundCloud, leading to speculation that the tour will unveil more new material from him. On 20 July 2014, The Weeknd released another track titled "King of the Fall" to promote his upcoming tour, which started in September. On 30 September 2014, the song "Love Me Harder" was released which is a duet between The Weeknd and Ariana Grande, the song went on to peak at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. On 23 December 2014, he released "Earned It", the song was released as a single from the 2015 film Fifty Shades of Grey, which has peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Weeknd performed a rendition of the song alongside Alicia Keys at the 2015 BET Awards.
2015–present: Beauty Behind the Madness
On 27 May 2015, The Weeknd released a music video for a new song "The Hills". The song was later released as a digital download as the first single from The Weeknd's second studio album dubbed, Chapter III. "The Hills" debuted at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the week's "Hot Shot" debut; the single later went on to top the chart. In addition to the single's official release, a further three songs were leaked online in the corresponding days. On 8 June, "Can't Feel My Face", one of the leaked tracks, was officially released as a second single following a performance of the song by The Weeknd at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference on the same day. The song debuted at number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached number-one on the Hot 100, making it his third top 10 hit and his first number-one hit in the United States. On 4 July, The Weeknd headlined FVDED in the Park in Surrey, BC, Canada.
In Billboard's Hot R&B Songs chart for the week of 25 July 2015, The Weeknd held down all of the top three spots, with "Can't Feel My Face" at number one, "The Hills" at number 2 and "Earned It" at number 3. This made him the first artist in the history of that chart to earn this distinction.
Following the announcement of the launch of Apple's new streaming service, Apple Music, it was unveiled that The Weeknd has joined as one of the musical faces alongside frequent collaborator Drake. During the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, Apple debuted a two-part promotional commercial featuring The Weeknd and a guest appearance from John Travolta.
On 28 August 2015, The Weeknd's second studio album, Beauty Behind the Madness, was released and debuted atop of Billboard 200 with first weeks sales of 412,000 equivalent album units earned (with 326,000 from pure album sales). It spent three weeks at the top of the chart. The album reached the top 10 in over ten countries and topped the charts in Canada, Australia, Norway and the United Kingdom. The Weeknd promoted the album by headlining summer music festivals, including Lollapalooza in Chicago, the Hard Summer Music Festival in Pomona, the Summer Set Music and Camping Festival in Somerset, Philadelphia's Made in America Festival, Austin City Limits in Austin, and Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival. 'The Madness Fall Tour 2015', The Weeknd's North American tour to promote his new album was announced on 20 August 2015, and will begin in November. The tour will feature opening acts Travis Scott, Banks and Halsey. On 24 August 2015, The Weeknd released a video for "Tell Your Friends", a song produced by Kanye West from the album.
On the week of 8 September 2015, The Weeknd became the first male artist in nearly seven years with two songs on the Hot 100's top three in the same week, with "Can't Feel My Face" at number 2 and "The Hills" at number 3, both as a lead act. The Weeknd has been featured in several collaborations this year, including Belly's "Might Not", Meek Mill's "Pullin Up" and Travis Scott's "Pray 4 Love". The Weeknd also featured on Disclosure's sophomore album, Caracal, a collaboration entitled "Nocturnal". On 10 October 2015, The Weeknd joined actress Amy Schumer on Saturday Night Live as a musical guest. This was his first performance on the show as a solo artist after appearing during Ariana Grande’s set for their "Love Me Harder" collaboration.
As of 1 December 2015, Beauty Behind the Madness became the most-streamed album throughout 2015 with over 60 million listeners. It was also placed at number five on Rolling Stone's 50 Best Albums of 2015. On 25 December 2015, The Weeknd released two new songs, "Low Life" and a remixed version of Jeremih's "Pass Dat".
Artistry and image
The Weeknd cites Michael Jackson, Prince and R. Kelly as his main inspirations. He often says it was Jackson's music that made him want to be a singer, and the lyrics to "Dirty Diana". He also said his high-flying vocal style was influenced by habesha singers like Aster Aweke. He grew up listening to a variety of music genres, including soul, quiet storm, hip hop, funk, indie rock, and post-punk. Other influences include Portishead, Massive Attack, Cam'ron, Aaliyah, D'Angelo, The-Dream and Swizz Beatz.
The Weeknd's songs are "built around a fogged, crepuscular production", and feature slow tempos, rumbling bass, and forlorn echoes. The Weeknd sings in a falsetto register, and exhibits a pleading, anxious tone. J. D. Considine finds his singing's "tremulous quality" similar to Michael Jackson, but writes that he eschews Jackson's "strong basis in the blues" for a more Arabic-influenced melisma. His music incorporates samples that are unconventional in R&B production, including punk and alternative rock. Marc Hogan of Spin says that The Weeknd's samples tend "to draw from rock critic-approved sources, though generally ones that already share elements of his sexual menace", with samples of artists such as Beach House, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Aaliyah. The Weeknd worked mostly with producers Illangelo and Doc McKinney, whom Pitchfork Media's Ian Cohen credits with developing "a state-of-the-art R&B template" with The Weeknd. In concert, The Weeknd reappropriates his digitized productions with a suite-like arena rock aesthetic.
His emotional, plaintive lyrics often express feelings of hurt and deal with subject matter such as sex, drugs, and partying. Hermione Hoby of The Guardian characterizes The Weeknd's songs as "narcotised-slow jams" and delineates their message as "partying is an existential experience, sex is fraught with alienation, and everything registers as unreal and unsettling". The Guardian's Paul MacInnes interprets The Weeknd's trilogy of mixtapes as "a rough trajectory of party, after-party and hangover". Anupa Mistry of the Toronto Standard observes throughout his mixtapes a "cast of supine, stoned zombie-women ... whose legs willingly part after being plied with substances and who morph into threats only when [he is] coming down and feeling vulnerable". The Weeknd viewed that, by singing vulgar, ignorant lyrics in an elegant, sexy way, he is paying homage to R. Kelly and to some degree Prince.
Some journalists have associated The Weeknd with a broadening of R&B's musical palette to incorporate indie and electronic styles; his work has been categorized with the alternative R&B tag (sometimes humorously referred to as PBR&B). Mistry writes that he "will be obsequiously praised as the future of R&B music – because [he] is a black singer, not because he’s making quantifiable, canonical R&B". AllMusic's Andy Kellman categorizes him as an "alternative R&B act". Prior to his major label deal, The Weeknd withheld his identity and maintained an enigmatic, shadowy persona while releasing his mixtapes online.
The Weeknd has received praise from many musical artists. Veteran artist Babyface who spoke positively about The Weeknd stated, "I do love The Weeknd, and I love how, whoever he’s working with, they’re using pieces of R&B with other things that feel really great. [...] It’s promising in the sense that I think there are other unknowns that will come forward and get back to being musicians. I think more than anything, what I miss is the musicians being part of the process." Drake, Nick Jonas and Tove Lo have cited him as a musical influence.
Bella Hadid began dating The Weeknd at the beginning of 2015; the couple were first seen together in April at Coachella. Hadid starred in his Music Video "In the Night" in December 2015. They made their red carpet appearance as a couple at the 2016 Grammys in February.
His hairstyle—which is partly inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat—is by far his most recognizable trait. "There's not much to maintaining it," he says — just a hard shampoo every once in a while. He began growing it out around 2011: "I want to be remembered as iconic and different," he says. "So I was like, 'Fuck it — I'm gonna let my hair just be what it wants.' I'll probably cut it if it starts interfering with my sight. I can kind of see it right now. But if I cut it, I'd look like everyone else. And that's just so boring to me."
On social media outlets such as Twitter, he suffixed his name with "xo". According to Hoby, it is meant as an emoticon for "a kiss and a hug", while VH1's Zara Golden said that it is instead a reference to his recreational use of ecstasy and oxycodone.
- Studio albums
- Compilation albums
- Trilogy (2012)
- The Weeknd International Tour (Spring 2012)
- The Weeknd Fall Tour (2012)
- The Weeknd Kiss Land Fall Tour (2013)
- King of the Fall (2014)
- The Madness Fall Tour (2015)