THE WEEKND, COURTNEY LOVE & MORE STAR IN CARINE ROITFELD’S BAZAAR ICONS
Music and fashion collide in the best of the Fall 2017 collections.
By Carine Roitfeld and Interview by: Brooke Mazurek; Photographs by: Brigitte Lacombe; Creative Direction by The Style Council, Lacombe, Aug 3, 2017
The Weeknd hates giving interviews. In the past, they’ve required the 27-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter to make himself available backstage or at his condo, only to have his body language scrutinized and his hairstyle woven into elaborately clumsy metaphors.
Before releasing Starboy, the hugely successful 2016 album that established the Weeknd as one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, he chopped off his famous dreadlocks and stashed them in his manager’s safe. But his new, softer coif, which plateaus ever so slightly above his forehead, still attracts annoying questions that he would prefer not to answer. Instead he offers a glimpse into his psyche by way of e-mail.
Ask the press-shy cinephile about his favorite movies, for instance, and he’ll opine about his favorite villains. “The last one I was really infatuated with was Heath Ledger’s Joker,” he writes. “David from the new Alien saga who has no remorse for human life” also piques the Weeknd’s interest. He adds that when he was 10, Nas and Puff Daddy were his style gods for their “haircuts and baggy clothes,” and that until a few years ago he loathed wearing suits.
He’s gotten good at it lately, though. In May, when he and girlfriend Selena Gomez made their debut as a couple at the Met Gala, it was his bespoke Valentino tuxedo, accessorized with a diamond-and-sapphire Cartier woman’s brooch, that landed him on nearly every best-dressed list.
On the rare occasion that outsiders make their way into the Weeknd’s orbit, what they often discover is a man more earnest and kind than the one whose lyrics can seem ripped from the pages of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. While his music is rooted in experience, he offers up a simple explanation for the disparity between his lyrical and real-life personas: “I’m not in a rush to let people know everything about me. Mystery is always great.”
But by “great,” maybe he means important. Because before the Weeknd became the Weeknd, he was mystery incarnate. Born Abel Tesfaye in Toronto to Ethiopian-immigrant parents who fled the country in the late 1980s to escape a civil war, he was raised by his mother and grandmother in the suburb of Scarborough. At 17, he dropped out of high school and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto with his best friends, La Mar Taylor and Hyghly Alleyne. Rent was paid mostly with welfare checks, food was sometimes shoplifted, and copious substances were consumed, all while the future star crafted what would become his 2011 avant-R&B trifecta of online mix tapes: “House of Balloons,” “Thursday,” and “Echoes of Silence.” Even before the Weeknd’s highly explicit and intimate music received an endorsement from fellow Canadian Drake, his decision to upload his work to YouTube under his stage name helped him amass a cyber following that had no clue what he looked like.
If his ascent to superstardom seems somewhat effortless, it’s by design: The Weeknd’s approach to his music’s sonic complexities is a closely guarded secret. “Abel is always going to be that guy, the one not giving away too much information,” says Taylor, now his creative director, who collaborated with the stage designer Es Devlin on the shape-shifting light sculpture that floats above the stage on the Weeknd’s current world tour. “Abel worked on the set design as I imagine he works on the music—composing every nuance in scrupulous detail,” Devlin says, adding that the Weeknd has synesthesia, which allows him to “see specific colors in the music. Certain chords are a precise shade of blue; others are blinding white.”
Having achieved A-list status, the Weeknd is grappling with the notion of being both known and unknown in a world where fans expect more access than ever. So how will he preserve his mystique?
“Luckily, the only thing the world demands of me is music,” he says. “I don’t have to give them anything else for the rest of my life.”
Still, he engages with his 14 million Instagram followers and even responds to interview questions. Perhaps the key for him will be to do so only up to a point. Asked if he would ever tinker with his public persona for his next album, he expresses interest. “Kind of like pulling a Ziggy Stardust. Maybe I’ll retire from being the Weeknd,” he says before backtracking. “Or maybe I’ll just give him a break.”
This article originally appears in the September 2017 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR, available on newsstands August 22.
But I also love that new Kendrick [Lamar] song [“Humble”]: “Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks.” I love that because it’s not “Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock.” I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much “Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock” – I am so not that.
❝Do you feel the inequality in Hollywood? Of course. I think that’s, you know, something that we are constantly trying to break down those barriers, break down those walls when it comes to being a woman in Hollywood or a person of color in Hollywood, especially being for me being a black woman in Hollywood. Of course it’s important that we continue to break down those molds and those barriers and those doors that were once closed and open them up, especially for the people that are coming after us or for me, for people who have gone before me and opened those doors for me so I’m able to be in this position, so I think it’s, we continue to do that and that’s the only way to progress forward for sure.❞ — Variety Cover Shoot: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Zendaya.