Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (born 16 February 1990), known professionally as The Weeknd (pronounced "the weekend"), is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer. The Weeknd initially gained recognition after anonymously uploading several songs to YouTube in late 2010. This allowed him to release of his debut mixtape, House of Balloons, in early 2011. He released two further independent projects later that year, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, before signing to Republic Records in September 2012.
The three mixtapes received widespread critical acclaim upon release, and proceeded the release of the compilation album Trilogy. In 2013, he released his debut studio album Kiss Land, which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. It was later confirmed to have sold over 273,000 copies in the United States.
The Weeknd released his second album, Beauty Behind the Madness, in 2015, breaking chart records in the process. It saw him become the first ever artist to have simultaneously held the top three spots on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart, with "Earned It", "The Hills", and "Can't Feel My Face". It also became his first number one album on the US Billboard 200, and saw triple platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The album additionally oversaw his first Grammy Award win for Best Urban Contemporary Album, as well as "Earned It" winning Best R&B Performance. He won both awards at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony in 2016.
He released his third studio album, Starboy, in 2016 to generally positive critical reception. The album's title track topped the chart in several countries, including the U.S., the UK and Canada, and became The Weeknd's third number-one single. It gave him his second consecutive number one album, which also later saw platinum certification.
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye was born on 16 February 1990, in Toronto, Ontario. He is the only child of Makkonen and Samra Tesfaye, who were Ethiopian migrants to Canada in the late 1980s. He was raised in a multicultural neighbourhood in Scarborough, a district in the city's east end.
During his youth, his mother would work several jobs in order to support the family, often taking odd jobs as a nurse and caterer. She would also attend night school to learn English. His father later abandoned the family, prompting his maternal grandmother to take care of The Weeknd. This allowed him to become fluent in Amharic in his early years, with the Semitic language acting as his first language. His grandmother would also take him to services at an Ethiopian Orthodox church.
Describing his teenage years as "KIDS without the AIDS", The Weeknd first began smoking marijuana once he turned 11, and later moved on to harder drugs, often shoplifting from local supermarkets with a high school friend to supplement his use of ecstasy, oxycodone, xanax, cocaine, psilocybin, and ketamine.
He attended both the West Hill Collegiate Institute and Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute in the district, however, he did not graduate from either of these high schools. He subsequently chose to drop out from the latter in 2007, and also left home, residing at 65 Spencer Ave in neighboring Parkdale. He has also credited his stage name as being inspired by his high school dropout status "after [he] left one weekend and never came home", although, producer Jeremy Rose claims the name was his own idea. The spelling was modified in order to avoid trademark issues with the Canadian band The Weekend.
2010–2011: Career beginnings and mixtapes
The Weeknd met Jeremy Rose in 2010, a producer who had an idea for a dark R&B musical project. After initially trying to pitch the idea to musician Curtis Santiago, Rose played one of his instrumentals for The Weeknd, who proceeded to freestyle over it, prompting the duo to begin working on an album together. Rose produced three songs – "What You Need", "Loft Music", and "The Morning" – and others that The Weeknd had rapped on, which were ultimately scrapped. Rose let The Weeknd keep the tracks he had produced under the condition that he would ultimately be credited for them. In December 2010, The Weeknd uploaded "What You Need", "Loft Music" and "The Morning" to YouTube under his stage name, although his identity was initially unknown.The songs drew some attention online, and were later included in a blog post from Drake. The songs subsequently received coverage from various media outlets, including Pitchfork Media and The New York Times.
On 21 March 2011, The Weeknd self-released his debut mixtape, House of Balloons. The mixtape included vast production from Canadian producers Illangelo and Doc McKinney, and included the tracks produced by Rose, although, he did not receive production credits. House of Balloons was met with critical acclaim, and was named as one of ten shortlisted nominees for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize.
He later embarked on a tour of Toronto, delivering his first live performance at the city's Mod Club venue. Drake was also in attendance to view the performance, which ran for a total of ninety minutes. Drake then approached the artist, and described a potential musical collaboration between the pair. The Weeknd also accompanied Drake at his various shows, often performing as the opening act for shows scheduled at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, as well as appearing at the second annual OVO Fest in July.. Throughout the summer, the duo worked extensively on what would later become Take Care, Drake's multi-platinum Grammy Award winning sophomore studio album. The Weeknd contributed to five songs on the album, as either a writer or featured artist.
With his identity still relatively unknown, The Weeknd refrained from participating in interviews, choosing to only communicate via Twitter. This proved to be a successful promotional tactic for his second mixtape Thursday, which was released on 18 August 2011, with the same means as his debut. It was also subject to acclaim from music critics. His third mixtape was released just over a year following the release of his first ever singles, in 2010. Titled Echoes of Silence, it was released on 21 December 2011, and also saw positive critical reception.
2012–2014: Trilogy and Kiss Land
In April 2012, The Weeknd began his first tour of the United States, with a performance at the Coachella Festival. The tour culminated in New York with back-to-back sold-out shows, which were positively reviewed by Rolling Stone. The Weeknd later expanded his tour to accompany Europe, initially performing at various European festivals, including the Primavera Sound Festivals in Spain and Portugal, and the Wireless Festival in London. Covering "Dirty Diana" at his performance in London, he received positive responses from both Katy Perry and Florence Welch, who noted the singer's ability to successfully undertake a complex song. Furthermore, in June, the Balloons Trilogy was revealed to have been downloaded over 8 million times, which allowed The Weeknd to initiate a formal commercial release of the projects later that year.
In September 2012, The Weeknd signed with Republic Records in a joint venture with his own imprint XO. The compilation album for the mixtapes, entitled Trilogy, was released two months later, and consisted of several remastered versions of songs, as well as three additional ones.[better source needed] It also officially credited Rose as a producer and writer on the three songs from House of Balloons for which he did not initially receive credit. Trilogy charted at number four on the U.S. Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 86,000 copies. It also debuted at number five on the Canadian Albums Chart, with similar sales. Trilogy was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and double-platinum by Music Canada in May 2013. He had also gained a nomination for the Sound of 2013 poll award by the BBC a week later.
On 16 May 2013, The Weeknd premiered the title track to his debut studio album Kiss Land, and also announced the album's release date as 10 September. The album was later also promoted by the singles "Belong to the World" and "Live For" featuring Drake, as well as with The Weeknd embarking on The Fall tour a week prior to the album's release. Upon release, Kiss Land debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling 96,000 copies. It was later confirmed to have sold over 273,000 copies in the United States, as well as receiving generally positive reviews from music critics.
The Weeknd later appeared on the 20/20 Experience World Tour, joining headline act Justin Timberlake for six shows. This was three weeks prior to his contributions to the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), contributing "Devil May Cry", as well as featuring on Sia's "Elastic Heart". The latter proved to be the second lead single from the soundtrack.
In 2014, The Weeknd remixed "Drunk in Love", a single by Beyoncé from her eponymous studio album. Retaining the theme and concept of the song, he detailed the synopsis through the perspective of a male. The remix was well-received, and came days prior to the announcement of The Weeknd's first headlining tour, entitled the King of the Fall tour. The tour was held across the United States in September and October, and saw Schoolboy Q and Jhené Aiko as supporting acts. This oversaw his release of the single "Often", leading to speculation it was the first single from his second studio album. He later collaborated with Ariana Grande on a duet titled "Love Me Harder", which peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. Days later, he released "Earned It", a single from Fifty Shades of Grey (2015). This marked his second contribution to a movie, and the song was an unprecedented success, peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.
2015: Beauty Behind the Madness
After The Weeknd won the Centric Award at the 2015 BET Awards, he performed "Earned It" with Alicia Keys, as well as debuting the song "The Hills". "The Hills" was later released for digital download, and debuted at number twenty on the Billboard Hot 100. The single later went on to top the chart, marking The Weeknd's first number one single. The single was quickly certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
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 its performance at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. The song debuted at number twenty-four on the Billboard Hot 100, and also reached number-one on the Hot 100, making it his third top 10 hit, and his second number-one hit in the United States.He also occupied all three slots on Billboard's Hot R&B Songs chart simulatenously with the aforementioned singles, becoming the first ever artist in history to accomplish this. He later headlined FVDED in the Park, a festival in Surrey, British Columbia. The Weeknd was also later unveiled as one of the musical faces of the streaming service Apple Music, a position he also harbored with frequent collaborator, Drake. During the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, Apple debuted a two-part promotional commercial featuring The Weeknd, which also had a guest appearance from John Travolta. It was also revealed that his second studio album would be titled Beauty Behind the Madness.
Beauty Behind the Madness was released on August 28, 2015, and debuted atop the Billboard 200 with first week sales of 412,000 album equivalent units. It also reached the top 10 in over ten countries, as well as reaching number one in Canada, Australia, Norway, and the United Kingdom. The album was promoted by The Weeknd headlining various summer music festivals, including Lollapalooza, the Hard Summer Music Festival, and the Bumbershoot Festival.He also announced his first large-scale tour across the United States, which began in November, and concluded in December. The album later went double platinum, with sales of 2 million units worldwide. It was also reported to be the most-streamed album throughout 2015, with over 60 million, as well as being ranked on multiple lists concerned with detailing albums of the year.
On 8 September, The Weeknd became the first male artist to have simultaneously held the top three spots on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart, with the three singles that proceeded the release of the album. They all also went platinum in the United States. After engaging in multiple musical collaborations with Belly,Meek Mill, and Travis Scott, The Weeknd was featured on "Low Life", the triple platinum single from Future's fourth studio album. The Weeknd also appeared on Saturday Night Live alongside actress Amy Schumer, performing as the show's musical guest on October 10. This was his first performance on the show as a solo artist, after appearing with Ariana Grande to perform "Love Me Harder".
The Weeknd was featured on "FML", a track on Kanye West's The Life of Pablo. It marks the second collaboration between the pair, with West providing production and writing on "Tell Your Friends" from Beauty Behind the Madness. The Weeknd also appeared on "6 Inch", the fifth song on Beyoncé's Lemonade. He was later announced by Spotify as being among the top five most streamed artists in their first year since partnering with Sony to provide the streaming service on the video game console, PlayStation 4.
On August 24, in preparation for his third studio album, Republic Records executive vice-president Wendy Goldstein confirmed The Weeknd begun collaborations with French electronic music duo Daft Punk. A month later, the album's title was announced as Starboy, and had a release date of November 25. He soon released the album's title track, which features Daft Punk. The song was an unprecedented success, seeing platinum certification and also going number one in the United States, as well as in various other countries. A second collaboration with Daft Punk, entitled "I Feel It Coming", was released a week proceeding the album's release, alongside the solo efforts "Party Monster" and "False Alarm". The Weeknd then returned to Saturday Night Live on October 10, performing "Starboy" and "False Alarm". He would then release a 12-minute short film, titled M A N I A, on November 23. Directed by Grant Singer, it featured excerpts from the album, including snippets from "All I Know" featuring Future, "Sidewalks" featuring Kendrick Lamar, and "Secrets". Upon Starboy's release, it became the number one album in over 80 countries in 24 hours.
In 2017, The Weeknd also appeared on Future's sixth studio album, as well as on the debut single from Nav, who was signed by XO in January. He also became the first ever feature utilized by Lana Del Rey, appearing on "Lust for Life", the title track and second single from her fifth studio album.
Tesfaye cites Michael Jackson, Prince, and R. Kelly as his main musical inspirations. He has attributed Jackson's music as key at spurring him to be a singer, referencing the lyrics to "Dirty Diana" as an example. 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. His other influences include David Bowie, The Smiths, Bad Brains, Talking Heads, DeBarge, 50 Cent, Wu-Tang Clan, and Eminem.
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, exhibiting an enticing 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 artist. 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 has viewed that, by singing vulgar, ignorant lyrics in an elegant, sexy way, he is paying homage to R. Kelly and 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. 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.
His hairstyle — which was partly inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat — has been described as his most recognizable trait. In an interview, he detailed that he began growing it out in 2011, and remarked at the easiness in maintaining it, with "a hard shampoo every once in a while". He eventually cut his hair in 2016, which was visually illustrated in the music video of the first single, attributing an aesthetic shift in music as basis for altering his hair.
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". He has also been cited as a musical influence by Drake, Halsey, Nick Jonas, and Tove Lo.
Awards and nominations
In November 2015, to further promote Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd collaborated with PAX Labs to release a limited edition version of the PAX 2 vaporizer, an electronic cigarette that could be used in shows during the The Madness Fall Tour. The cigarette featuerd the "xo" branding on the front, as well as having the ability to play "The Hills" when turned on. With the original PAX 2 priced at $279.99, the limited edition cigarette cost $324.99. PAX also acted as an official sponsor for the tour, presenting special backstage VIP activations for fans who bought packages that included the cigarette.
In 2016, The Weeknd announced a partnership with Puma, signing on to the company as the new Global Brand ambassador, and will headline the company's "Run the Streets" campaign. It was launched in early November, with the final collection made available to coincide with the release of Starboy. He also hosted several pop-up retail stores for the "Starboy: Limited Capsule" collection, which were available across North America, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. The Weeknd also began his own XO branded merchandise, which was furthered by a collaboration with H&M to present its Spring 2017 campaign. The campaign would feature new collaborative pieces developed with the singer's brand, and was released on 2 March 2017.
The Weeknd began dating model Bella Hadid at the beginning of 2015; the couple were first seen together in April at Coachella. Hadid later starred in his music video "In the Night" in December. They also made their red carpet appearance as a couple at the 2016 Grammy Awards in February. On 11 November 2016, it was reported that the couple had split; citing their conflicting schedules as the rationale for the relationship's termination. He then began a relationship with singer Selena Gomez in January 2017.
On social media outlets, he typically suffixed his first name with "xo". According to writer Hermoine Hoby, it is meant as an emoticon for "a kiss and a hug",while VH1's Zara Golden's stated that it is a reference to his recreational use of ecstasy and oxycodone. He later altered the handles on his social media to reflect his stage name in preparation for the release of Starboy.
Prior to being presented the Bikila Award for Professional Excellence in 2014, he donated $50,000 towards a class at the University of Toronto on Ge'ez, the classic language of Ethiopia. He later worked with Ryan Seacrest's foundation to visit various Children's Hospitals in Atlanta, donating another undisclosed five figure amount. In 2016, he also donated $250,000 to Black Lives Matter, as well as also expressing disdain toward recent cases of police brutality, tweeting "blue lives murder".
- The Weeknd International Tour (2012)
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- Kiss Land Fall Tour (2013)
- King of the Fall Tour (2014)
- The Madness Fall Tour (2015)
- Starboy: Legend of the Fall Tour (2017)
- Ceremonials Tour (with Florence and the Machine) (2012)
- The 20/20 Experience World Tour (with Justin Timberlake) (2013)
- Would You Like a Tour? (with Drake) (2014)
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