Three-time Grammy winner Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, has inevitably undergone several changes in music style since the launching of his career in 2011 with the release of “House of Balloons.”
The Weeknd turns 32 on Feb. 16, marking over a decade of being an active member in the record industry. In many ways, Tesfaye’s style and composition have evolved throughout time, becoming more complex as he’s added elements of different genres to his albums. However, there are some common themes, mostly found in his lyrics, that have shown up consistently in his songs over the years.
This compilation of his three 2011 albums “House of Balloons,” “Thursday” and “Echoes of Silence” was released in November 2012, marking The Weeknd’s grand entrance into the world of music. All the tracks seem to be inspired by the rap and alternative R&B genres, with a little bit of soul tied to them. “Trilogy” has dark and depressing themes woven into the lyrics, hidden by Tesfaye’s ethereal voice and dream-pop back beats. This is one tool he’s carried with him throughout the entirety of his career.
The Weeknd’s first official album was “Kiss Land,” which came out in September 2013. Tesfaye once said in an interview with Complex that this collection of songs served as a symbol of tour life, but it’s a universe entirely made up in his head. He also described it as a horrifying place that he would never want to visit because it represents true fear. Fully committing to this theme, there are chilling sound samples of screaming used in the background of some of the tracks as well as warped vocals in songs, such as “The Town.” Overall, this album has a dubstep feel to it, maintaining some R&B elements and adding a little bit of a hip-hop flair.
“Beauty Behind The Madness”
In August 2015, The Weeknd dropped his album “Beauty Behind The Madness.” The tracks in this set give listeners a better look into Tesfaye’s mind as he reveals struggles of his new reality as an up-and-coming artist. He dives deeper into themes of sex, love, drugs and fame and portrays the duality of the material excess and empty lifestyle that celebrity status brings. These songs maintain an R&B and hip-hop style, but bring euphoric elements to the table with angelic hooks and ad-libs. “The Hills,” one of his most popular singles from the album, is arguably what pushed his career into the mainstream music industry and helped him to gain popularity.
When The Weeknd introduced his album “Starboy” in November 2016, he seemed to be embracing his new mainstream media fame. He focused even further on issues of a consuming and excessive life that his new celebrity status seemed to encourage and how that changed him. He seems to express the idea of finding joy through the suffocation within these songs. He also added electronic elements into this album and further delved into the pop genre.
“My Dear Melancholy,”
During March 2018, The Weeknd dropped his shortest album yet, “My Dear Melancholy,” which featured only seven tracks. Possibly his most self-reflective album, he opened up to listeners about what he thinks of himself and past relationships he’s had through dark and vulnerable lyrics. This album is much more pop-focused, but has hints of R&B as well. Overall, the compilation of songs is less successful than its predecessor, “Starboy,” which had more hits.
“After Hours” was released in March 2020 and is likely The Weeknd’s most popular album to date with tracks such as “Heartless,” “Blinding Lights,” “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears.” Tesfaye strives to tell a story of mental trepidation throughout these songs. However, he hides a lot of dark lyrics in upbeat melodies that sound like they’re inspired by the ‘80s. The Weeknd has always had a cinematic, storytelling flair to his music, but it’s made more obvious in this album than ever before.
The Weeknd’s latest collection of songs, “Dawn FM,” was released in January 2022. This album contains elements of all the genres he’s delved into before, proving just how fluid he is between hip-hop, R&B, pop and electronic styles. Tesfaye explained that he wants listeners to imagine they’re stuck in a sort of purgatory, which he views as being stuck in traffic. While you wait, the album is like a radio host that guides you to the other side. Even though this seems bleak, Tesfaye once again hides chilling meanings in happy melodies, a speciality of his.
The biggest difference in The Weeknd’s sound over the last decade has to be the addition of new components pulled from several different genres throughout time. He started out simple, with one or two genre inspirations, and continued to make his music more complex by pulling elements of several different styles. So instead of it just being R&B, he now moves fluidly between rap, hip hop, pop, electronic and ‘80s sounds. One thing that’s remained the same is his vulnerability in his oftentimes dark lyrics, although he almost always accompanies those deep meanings with back-tracks that make you want to get up and dance.