The 10 best Weeknd songs
Been meaning to get into the beautiful, sinister R&B of Abel Tesfaye? Here's where to start.
After emerging in 2011 as the brooding, semi-anonymous creative force on three standout mixtapes — House Of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes Of Silence — mysterious R&B sensation The Weeknd dropped a debut album, Kiss Land, that failed to produce any long-standing hits. There was a lot of buzz, but it seemed like the Weeknd was done.
But then Abel Tesfaye stepped out of the shadows and started playing huge gigs, including a show-stopping performance at Coachella 2012 and support slots for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Drake. His song Earned It found its way onto the 50 Shades Of Gray soundtrack, while this year's Beauty Behind The Madness featured guest spots from Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey and topped the UK album chart.
Want to know where to start? Here are The Weeknd's best songs.
10. The Hills
The Weeknd is great at naming songs. There isn’t any limit to the things he references. You can catch him name-checking Cocteau Twins records right alongside ex-girlfriends. The best example is the recently released The Hills, which is a very vain song about going to some (of course) dark, cavernous party in the nice part of town. Naturally, he borrows the name of a long-forgotten mid-2000s MTV drama for the title. Beautiful. The songwriting, with that huge blast of dubstep fuzz on the low end, was just the icing on the cake.
The first time the Weeknd popped up post-Kiss Land was this sneaky release in the middle of 2014. Often arrived in the summer of last year, and while it never quite took the world by storm, it was an example of Abel Tesfaye’s burgeoning pop songwriting talent. Often boasts seven credited writers, a far cry from the solo days of his past, but the increase in collaboration has helped reach down and nurture the star power he’s always had.
8. The Morning
So much of The Weeknd’s universe takes place at night. The dusky, sulky savagery that shares the same barbarism with guys like Drake or Miguel. The Morning is the reprieve, manifesting in a few sunbeam guitar squeals in the chorus. “All that money, the money is the motive," he sings, finally sober and seeing things for what they are.
7. What You Need
For many people, this is the first Weeknd song in the catalog. Released on YouTube in December of 2010, long before we knew the man’s name, background or even the nature of the project, it captured us with a delicate blend of shoegaze and narcotic quiet storm. Back in those days, R&B was rarely covered, blogs stuck with their quickly-going-out-of-style indie rock. What You Need changed all that, and it’s still pretty great five years later.
6. Earned It
The song that catapulted the Weeknd into another stratosphere. After his debut album it seemed like he would settle into a nice, consistent career of lovelorn, midtempo ballads, but then along came Earned,which, to be fair, is another lovelorn, midtempo ballad. But coming from an artist who had scratched out a reputation for being a premier destitute playboy, it was cool to hear something from him about genial, relatable devotion. Given its 18 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, it definitely struck a chord.
5. High For This
Perhaps the most epic song in the Weeknd's catalog, but that has much to do with positioning as it does with aesthetics. As anticipation for debut mixtape House Of Balloons burbled, and the story of the anonymous creative force behind it grew, we needed something like High For This to kick down the doors and put us all on notice. It is in the company of the xx’s Intro and Tame Impala’s Let It Happen – namely, opening tracks that redefine parameters and establish mission statements from the first note.
4. Love Me Harder (with Ariana Grande)
OK, so technically this isn’t a Weeknd song. It first appeared on Ariana Grande’s breakout My Everything and peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Grande slays, per usual, but the heart lies in the second verse, where the Weeknd takes over and kicks things into overdrive. He has one of the few male voices in the industry that can match a soprano like Grande tit for tat. It’s also proof that Tesfaye can actually be a little lighthearted when he wants to.
3. Can’t Feel My Face
So it doesn’t have the brooding, horny ache of Earned It, and no it wasn’t on the 50 Shades Of Gray soundtrack, but this Beauty Behind the Madness pre-release single is the exact sort of scintillating, peak-Jackson disco bombshell we’ve been waiting to hear from the Weeknd forever. With as much love as we have for his earlier, self-involved mixtape work, it’s great we live in a world where he can hook up with a super-producer like Max Martin and make the most expensive sounding dance music possible.
2. House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls
If What You Need was what put the Weeknd on our radar, House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls is what made him a star. He sampled a hefty dose of Siouxsie & the Banshees' 1980 standout Happy House, and flipped it into a story about drugs, despair and the muddiness in between. This song is what made him the prince of malaise. These days The Weeknd is too rich and successful to wallow in melancholy, which is great, but it is sad that we might not hear bangers quite like this anymore.
1. Wicked Games
Wicked Game is, of course, a one-hit wonder from California heartthrob Chris Isaak, infamous from its black-and-white, softcore, semi-unbearable music video. Wicked Games is the centerpiece from the Weeknd’s debut mixtape, House Of Balloons, the slimiest, horniest dirge on a suite defined by its unforgivable character. “Bring your body baby, I can bring you fame." As he reaches new levels in stardom, we should remember how his ugly, refreshingly stark early days distinguished him from the pack. He was a star because he directly challenged what music could sound like in the dying vestiges of the blogosphere. The Weeknd is the beginning of the modern era in music.