Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (born 16 February 1990), known professionally by his stage name The Weeknd 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.
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye was born on 16 February 1990, in Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. He is the only child of Makkonen and Samra Tesfaye, who were Ethiopian migrants to Canada in the 1980's. He was raised in a multicultural neighbourhood in Scarborough. During his youth, his mother would work several jobs to support the family, often as a nurse and caterer, while also attending night school. His father later abandoned the family, prompting his maternal grandmother to take care for him. This allowed him to become fluent in Amharic, with the Semitic language acting as his first language. She would also take him to services at an Ethiopian Orthodox church.Abel and his grand mother would listen to Ethiopian music which further influenced his mysterious and sexy type of music he puts out.
He started smoking marijuana at age 11, and later moved on to hard drugs. Describing his teenage years as "KIDS without the AIDS", he would shoplift from the local supermarket with his high school friend, and began using MDMA, Xanax, cocaine, psilocybin and ketamine. He attended West Hill Collegiate Institute and Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute, but did not graduate from either of these high schools. His stage name was inspired by his high school dropout status, adopting the name "The Weeknd" after he left one weekend and never came home", although producer Jeremy Rose claims the name was his own idea. The spelling was modified to avoid trademark issues with the Canadian band The Weekend.
2010–2011: 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, Tesfaye embarked on a tour and delivered his first performance at the Mod Club in Toronto with Drake looking on from a balcony. 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 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.
2012–2014: 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 citie 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 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: 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 topped the Billboard 200 with first week sales of 412,000 equivalent units (326,000 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 began in November. The tour featured opening acts from 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.
In December 2015, Billboard reported Beauty Behind the Madness was 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. Later that month, The Weeknd released two new songs, "Low Life" (a collaboration with Future), and a remixed version of Jeremih's "Pass Dat".
In early 2016, The Weeknd was featured on the song "FML" from Kanye West's 2016 album, The Life of Pablo and appeared on Beyoncé's song "6 Inch" from her album Lemonade. In April, Spotify announced that the Weeknd was among the top five most streamed artists in their first year partnering with Sony on PlayStation 4. On 24 August 2016, The Weeknd was reportedly working together with French electronic music duo Daft Punk, and was confirmed by Republic Records executive vice president Wendy Goldstein, while he was interviewed by Billboard. On 26 August 2016, Cashmere Cat released a single to his new album, "Wild Love", and The Weeknd is featured on this track providing vocals.
On 21 September 2016, The Weeknd announced the name of his third studio album, Starboy. The 18 track album was released through XO and Republic. The following day he released the title track, which features Daft Punk. Starboy was released on 25 November. On 1 October 2016, The Weeknd was a musical guest on Saturday Night Live where he performed "Starboy" and "False Alarm". On 17 November, The Weeknd announced two new singles from Starboy titled "Party Monster" and another collaboration with Daft Punk called "I Feel It Coming".
On 23 November 2016, The Weeknd released a 12-minute-long short film in promotion of the album, directed by Grant Singer, who also directed the "Starboy" music video. Named Mania (stylized as M A N I A), it features the songs such as "All I Know" featuring Future, "Sidewalks" featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Secrets", "Party Monster" (with background vocals from Lana Del Rey) and "I Feel It Coming" featuring Daft Punk. Within 24 hours of releasing Starboy, it was the number one album in over 80 countries.
In 2017, he also appeared on Future's sixth studio album, on the track "Comin Out Strong", Nav's "Some Way" and Lana Del Rey's "Lust For Life".
Artistry and image
Tesfaye 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. His other influences include David Bowie, The Smiths, Bad Brains, Talking Heads, DeBarge 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 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, Halsey,Nick Jonas and Tove Lo have cited him as a musical influence.
Awards and nominations
See also: List of awards and nominations received by The Weeknd
The Weeknd has won two Grammy Awards, eight Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards, nine Juno Awards, and has been nominated for one Academy Award.
In November 2015, to further promote his album Beauty Behind the Madness during the "King of the Fall Madness 2015" Tour, The Weeknd collaborated with PAX Labs to release a limited edition version of the PAX 2 vaporizer. PAX was also an official sponsor for the "Madness" tour, which included presenting special backstage VIP activations. The limited edition vaporizer featured The Weeknd's "xo" brand on the front, and plays "The Hills" when turned on. The original PAX 2 was priced $279.99, while the "Madness" Tour Limited Edition cost $324.99.
PAX Labs chief marketing officer Richard Mumby stated "Music and fashion have always been a natural fit for Pax...This was the perfect opportunity to bring together The Weeknd's style with our technology."
In 2016, The Weeknd announced a partnership with Puma, signing on to the company as the new Global Brand ambassador, and will represent the "Run the Streets" campaign. Puma released an official statement saying "His laidback, streetwise style and swagger make him the right fit to headline PUMA's latest Sportstyle campaign, 'Run The Streets' which launches in November". The Weeknd will also star in H&M's Spring 2017 campaign, which would feature new collaborative pieces developed with the Weeknd’s XO brand. The menswear collection will be called "Spring Icons Selected by The Weeknd" and will be available on 2 March 2017.
Tesfaye began dating model Bella Hadid at the beginning of 2015; the couple were first seen together in April at Coachella. Hadid has starred in his music video "In the Night" in December 2015. 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 that although the two are still in love, their schedules conflicted too much. He began a relationship with singer Selena Gomez in January 2017.
His hairstyle—which was partly inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat—was by far his most recognizable trait. "There's not much to maintaining it", he said — 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 said. "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". In 2016, he cut his hair, which was visually illustrated in the music video of the first single; the title track off of his third album, Starboy.
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, The Torch and GQ have said that it is instead a reference to his recreational use of ecstasy and oxycodone.
He is a fan of the HBO hit series Game of Thrones. In the context of media outlets reporting cases of police brutality, in 2016, he tweeted "blue lives murder".
In January 2015, Tesfaye was arrested for punching a Las Vegas police officer. He pleaded no contest, and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service.
Being presented the Bikila Award for Professional Excellence Award in 2014, he decided to donate $50,000 towards a class at the University of Toronto on Ge'ez, the classic language of Ethiopia. In 2015, he collaborated with Ryan Seacrest's foundation to visit Children's Hospital in Atlanta. In 2016, he donated $250,000 to Black Lives Matter.
Main article: The Weeknd discography
- Kiss Land (2013)
- Beauty Behind the Madness (2015)
- Starboy (2016)
- 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)
- 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)