Abel Tesfaye, known to most as The Weeknd, has been taking the world by storm for the past year. He has collaborated with many artists, including Sia for her song “Elastic Heart”, and “Love Me Harder” by Ariana Grande, and has had hits himself with, “Earned It”, “Often”, and “The Hills”. While his previous two albums, Trilogy and Kiss Land, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, Tesfaye’s most recent album, Beauty Behind the Madness, released August 28, is a great addition to his musical portfolio.
Tesfaye’s alternative Rhythm and Blues sound is reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s unique pop songs. “Can’t Feel my Face,” the obvious biggest hit of the album, has an 80’s vibe with an edge. The smooth synthesizer work reminds listeners of popular music past, with clear influence from Prince and David Bowie. The song’s pop beat is different than the mysteriously jarring tunes off of the album like “Real Life” and “The Hills”. Tom Breihan from Stereogum.com wrote, “Beauty Behind The Madness is the moment Tesfaye takes all the free-floating anxiety and fear and cold, clammy darkness that’s been in his music since day one and turns it into pure big-tent pop gold”. His variety of tunes are as catchy as they are explicit; one cannot help but sing along.
The evocative, dark undertones are especially prevalent in one of the songs, “In the Night.” The track tells the story of a young girl living in a new city, who is sexually assaulted by her superior. The upbeat tempo of the song conceals the ulterior meaning, and has thus been repeatedly compared to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Much like Billie Jean in the classic song, the character in “In the Night” undergoes trauma from which she feels powerless. Lyrics include “In the night when she comes crawling/Dollar bills and tears keep falling down her face/She’ll never walk away (I don’t think you understand)”. The quote shows how, like Billie Jean, she feels as if she just wants a friend in the world, someone to understand her. The song is probably the most optimistic of the songs on the album despite its tragic content.
The album reflects Tesfaye’s emotions, with its provocative tones and luring vocals. “Earned It” from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, gives a sensual feeling to the album. He discusses deserving love, whilst still emitting his typical soulful vocals. He tells of the girl he is with being perfect, and spending some of his best times with her. Subtle piano combined with steady taps of a cymbal draw beautiful complement his eerie, electro-enhanced vocals.
On the album, the Weeknd collaborates with Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Rey and Labrinth.“Dark Times”, with Ed Sheeran, tells the story of the two artists battling their demons. “And I’ve got something I’ve been trying to let go, pulling me back every time.” Their misery and pain in their attempt to change themselves is evident and morose. Similarly, “Prisoner”, with Lana Del Rey, depicts a miserable rise in the entertainment industry, with Abel being a prisoner to his newfound love and Lana being a prisoner to her rising career. The slow start and rhythmic pulsing shows Abel’s weakness and Lana’s more confident caution. The help of these musical powerhouses allows him to powerfully emphasize themes of love and tragedy in his latest work.
The Weeknd’s tortured soul is evinced in his art, and his rapidly rising fame is par for the course. Beauty Behind the Madness debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 list, and sold 412,000 albums in the first week of release. Since I loved his previous collaborations, I found the new album to be excellent. After buying the album the day it was released, I listened to it the whole ride down to Georgetown. Beauty Behind the Madness truly shows that beauty can come from anywhere, even the underworld.