The Weeknd has earned it
Even though Abel Tesfaye has generated some of the biggest hits in recent years (from 2015’s “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills” to this year’s “Starboy,” all three No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100) and his Michael Jackson-esque voice is instantly recognizable on the radio, there remains a bit of mystery as to how the Weeknd, a Toronto underground R&B act, eventually evolved into one of the biggest pop stars on the planet.
Today the 27-year-old singer is as much a fixture on award show red carpets (likely on the arm of Selena Gomez) as he is on the charts; he’s an urban fashion icon who has collaborated with H&M and Puma; and he’s a crossover artist with two Grammys who has worked with the biggest names across multiple genres, from Drake and Kanye West to Daft Punk and Max Martin.
This existence seems like an alternative universe compared to the Weeknd of just six years ago, who had released three critically acclaimed mixtapes over the course of nine months seemingly out of nowhere.
A clever anti-marketing campaign kept his identity relatively secret, and that shadowy approach marked the sinister sounds he was producing prolifically—almost angelic vocals floating on top of moody beats and atmospheric samples from songs by Beach House and Siouxsie and the Banshees. The uniqueness grabbed attention and contributed to the use of “alternative R&B” as a new genre label.
After the Weeknd’s major label debut Kiss Land in 2013, followed by a series of shows supporting Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience Tour and eventually his own headlining tour, a fuse was lit for a string of explosive hits: “Often,” released a full year before the album it teased; the catchy Ariana Grande duet “Love Me Harder,” and then “Earned It,” a slow burner from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack that reached No. 3 on the Hot 100. When Beauty Behind the Madness finally arrived in the summer of 2015, conditions were perfect for the Weeknd’s chart takeover, and “Can’t Feel My Face” gave him his first No. 1 smash while driving home the stylistic comparisons to the King of Pop.
The Weeknd’s massive Starboy World Tour, rolling into T-Mobile Arena on Oct. 14 with support from Gucci Mane and fellow Canadian artist Nav, is his largest endeavor yet, a science-fiction setting conceptualized for his futuristic hits. The giant spaceship set piece that is apparently dropping off this visitor from another musical universe looks like something that could be piloted by the disco robots of Daft Punk, who collaborated with the Weeknd on two tracks from the current album.
But it’s Tesfaye who’s in control, onstage without a bevy of guest stars or backup singers or dancers, alone in the spotlight he’s been cultivating for years. His music may have become more approachable and less mysterious over the course of his rapid rise, but he remains one of the most intriguing figures in the modern music landscape, and all indications are he plans on keeping it that way.
T-Mobile Arena 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14, starting at $39.75 plus tax and fee. 888.929.7849