— billboard (@billboard) November 26, 2018
Billboard recently tweeted an approximately four-minute-long compilation of The Weeknd’s music video evolution, beginning with clips from his Trilogy tapes and ending with his collaborative efforts on the Black Panther soundtrack.
Beyond the music videos, this was a pretty nostalgic moment for me.
I — although I hate how this always comes across — was one of those people who discovered The Weeknd (aka Abel Makkonen Tesfaye. I remember watching the music video for “Wicked Games” during study hall, completely in awe at the “alternative R&B” sound he practically pioneered.
And that sound was dark, haunting. Choruses were these cacophonies of synthesizers, distortion, and 808s, laying the sonic groundwork for Tesfaye’s detailed nights of excess, which fade away as the sun begins to rise. Tesfaye’s verses were comparatively subdued, hinting at the fragility of the man looking to drown his sorrows in meaningless sex, drugs, and alcohol.
It may have only been teenage angst at the time, but his message resonated with me, effectively converting me into a lifelong fan. My loyalty was first tested when I heard Beauty Behind the Madness.
While songs like “The Hills,” and “Often” still had the quintessential Weeknd sound, the record as a whole — in particular “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Losers (feat. Labrinth)” — felt considerably lighter, lacking the brooding intensity of his earlier work.
It turns out Beauty Behind the Madness only teased Tesfaye’s emerging pop sensibility: Starboy was a full-on assault.
At over an hour in length, Tesfaye’s third studio album full of bland music that struggled to emulate his past successes. Songs such as “Rockin” and “Love To Lay” sounded liked watered down versions of older work, with a grotesque, sugary coating on top. Even the title track couldn’t escape an overly simplified chorus (although it did better job of maintaining some sonic integrity).
The most offensive track would prove to be “False Alarm.” Beginning with a seemingly innocent depiction of a woman obsessed with fame, by the chorus descended into raucous chants of “false alarm” outdone only by Tesfaye’s hysterical, incoherent screaming.
The album had left me feeling disappointed, frustrated, approaching angry. What had happened to the artist I had once been infatuated with? In comparison to Trilogy, Starboy was uninspired, a mere husk of what I consider to be the monumental work from years prior.
The Weeknd had sold out, and I had to accept that. Or so I thought.
After two years of relative silence, The Weeknd returned this year with My Dear Melancholy. The two years since Starboy were apparently a reflective period for Tesfaye, who managed to get back to the real selling point of his past records: the raw intensity of Trilogy, the glittering hooks scattered throughout Beauty Behind the Madness, and the bombastic, electronic production of Starboy, and merge them into on cohesive body of work.
In the process he managed to the craft my favorite song, the immense “Privilege,” a gloomy closer to the project, where Tesfaye address the fallout of a broken relationship over a spacious, gloomy instrumentation.
The Weeknd was back, and better than ever.
So, for anyone who has ever disagreed with the sonic direction your favorite artist or band has taken, remember they have the right to change, and they often exercise it. You may not like every creative decision he or she makes, but it is their decision.
Trust the process: because who knows, maybe your favorite song will be the direct result of their worst album, too.
If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.