15 Best Weeknd Songs
We take a fresh look at the superstar singer's discography following the release of "Starboy."
It honestly seemed like The Weeknd was done. After manifesting in 2010 as the brooding, semi-anonymous creative force on three standout mixtapes "House of Balloons," "Thursday" and "Echoes of Silence," he dropped a debut album in "Kissland" that failed to produce any long-standing hits. Abel Tesfaye was playing shows and keeping fans, but the early hype had completely diminished. Another also-ran, left behind in the grand alt-R&B revival.
But of course, that didn’t happen. In 2015, The Weeknd’s "Earned It," a slinky ballad originally sourced from the "50 Shades of Grey" soundtrack, knifed its way to the top five of the Billboard Hot 100. Later on in the year "I Can’t Feel My Face" hit number one and the corresponding album "Beauty Behind The Madness" was certified triple platinum. In 2016 he released an eager follow-up called "Starboy," which debuted as the top-selling album in the country and looks to be sticking around the top five for a long time. The Weeknd is having a moment. At this point, you have to count him among the Drakes and Rihannas of the world as the true, undisputed superstars of the world.
Putting together a top 15 songs list for The Weeknd is difficult because you’re sourcing from a surprisingly diverse set of eras for an artist this young. There’s his early "House of Balloons" material, from a time when nobody knew who or what he was, that bleeds into the middling "Kissland" period, which quickly turns over into his current renaissance. So read on and take notes — if you’re a new fan, you’re about to hear some early songs that will blow your mind.
15. "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 Hills," 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. Just like that he has created a little diorama. The songwriting, with that huge blast of dubstep fuzz on the low-end, was just the icing on the cake. Sometimes The Weeknd is a parody of himself, and that’s okay.
After The Weeknd released the chart-topping, triple-platinum "Beauty Behind The Madness" in 2015, it seemed likely that he would take some time to count his riches before returning to the well. Instead, in a tradition established by Rihanna’s amazingly dedicated run throughout the past decade, he released his third record, "Starboy," just over a year later. The title track (and opening song) slathers some of Daft Punk’s trademark eternal-night synthesizers under a hedonistic hook about being extremely famous. Pop music is about escapism, and if for one second "Starboy" can make you feel as dangerously powerful as The Weeknd, then his job is done.
The first time The Weeknd popped up post-"Kissland" was this sneaky release in the middle of 2014. "Often" arrived in the summer, 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.
If The Weeknd spends the rest of his life making songs exactly like "Rockin," it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Last year he proved that the world had not outgrown titanic, ice-cold anthems like "I Can’t Feel My Face" and while "Rockin'" isn’t quite that huge, it’s a perfect slab of tech-house glory. Tracks like this often fail to materialize in our modern, self-conscious era. Lyrically, it could’ve been scribbled on a pizza box in a comedown room at 4 a.m., but that’s not the point. It takes real talent to make fluff sound this good.
11. "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 is finally sober and seeing things for what they are. This is a bit of a deep cut, but an important cornerstone.
10. "I Feel It Coming"
This is perhaps the one Weeknd song that opens with an authentically genial message. “Tell me what you really like, baby we can take the time, we don’t really have to fight.” “I Feel it Coming” is the second single from Tesfaye’s celestial "Starboy," and doubles down on diamond-sequined ‘80s pomp he first explored on 2015’s “Beauty Behind the Madness.” Essentially it works as a vocoder-laced ode to generous lovemaking from one of the world’s preeminent deviants. Michael Jackson spent a career selling cleaned-up lust to every man, woman and child on the planet, and it’s clear that The Weeknd is taking notes.
9. "Party Monster"
"I’m good, I’m good, I’m great," moans Tesfaye, shortly rhyming "tequila" with "Selena," "Angelina" and "meet her." "Party Monster" borrows its name from the cultish 2003 Macaulay Culkin project about a murderous New York club kid. The Weeknd hasn’t ever actually murdered anyone (at least as far as we know) but his particular blend of esoteric drug abuse, foppish arrogance and nightly bouts of existential dread makes for a natural cousin to the infamous disco bloodbaths of the late '80s and early '90s. Doc McKinney mixes up a cocktail of minor-note synth bleats, and for a few moments The Weeknd sounds genuinely goth.
8. "What You Need"
For many people, this is the first Weeknd song in the catalog. Released on YouTube in December 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," in its clarity of vision, was a sea change. This was the beginning of a legacy, and it’s still pretty great five years later.
7. "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, mid-tempo 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.
6. "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.
One of the more exciting developments in pop throughout 2016 was established stars getting outside of the dependable DJ Mustard swamp to find some new sounds. Beyoncé wrapped in New Orleans bounce, Solange excavated pillowy alt-rap brass, and on "Sidewalks" The Weeknd builds an anthem out of a squirrely, Hendrix-indebted guitar yelp. Tesfaye enjoys himself on one of his few purely rapped verses, but the back half of the track is cleared out for Kendrick Lamar, who really shines on these low-stakes guest verses. "I reminisce my life innocence, or life innocent or life intimate, with fame, light limo tint." Hell hath no fury like a K-Dot feeling himself.
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"
This "Beauty Behind the Madness" single was the exact sort of scintillating, peak-Jackson disco bombshell the world had 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's 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.