Beauty Behind the Madness by The Weeknd

The Weeknd just released his latest album on Friday, and boy does it live up to the hype. The Weeknd’s song, Can’t Feel My Face, is, of course, all over radio and the internet. It’s classic pop by way of R&B. And the song’s popularity is completely justified. It’s an addictive song. And its sophisticated metaphor comparing cocaine addiction to a toxic relationship that you can’t shake foreshadows the accomplishment of the album, as a whole.

The Weeknd is an exquisite vocalist, his range echoing that of Michael Jackson to whom he is often compared (Is it a coincidence his album was dropped a day before Jackson’s birthday?). But his range is much broader as he dips into alternative R&B, straight up pop, and hip hop. In fact, it’s hard to box him into any one or two genres. He’s far too experimental and agile to stick to any one thing.

Some critics have called The Weeknd’s sound PBR&B to evoke a sound that takes R&B as its base but that moves beyond it in more experimental ways. Other artists that might fit into this category are FKA twigs, Silk Rhodes, Frank Ocean, Miguel, Ego Ella May, and The Internet. But many fans and artists resent this term and find it derisive in how it ties this music to hipsters and their nostalgia-driven culture.

On the other hand, there is a clear reaching back in a lot of music by some of the most popular artists today. But there’s nothing wrong with that as these artists have taken the music of yesteryear and refined it and made it their own. In fact, there’s been a Tumblr post going around that makes a case that the pace of technological change experienced by kids who grew up in the 90’s – going from big-assed corded phones to computers in your pockets in short order – explains the nostalgia for simpler times. And The Weeknd dips back not just to earlier R&B but to 90’s pop and 90’s rap and hip hop, as well.

You can hear how The Weeknd evokes weed-infused 90’s hip hop in several of his songs. Take The Hills in which he references beats like you hear in Nuthin’ But A G Thang by Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg (as he was called then). Listening to the song you hear the low rumbling tick tick that evokes the image of a low rider slowly driving through a neighborhood as The Weeknd sings: “I can’t find find your house, send me the info/Driving through the gated residential.” In this song, he’s reminding the woman he’s involved with that she’s a cheater, too. And there’s the swagger that’s found in those 90’s classics. But there’s also something more – he’s not blaming her but asking her to accept equal responsibility.

In fact, when The Weeknd sounds the hardest, there’s always something else. He makes the motions, but he’s not the gangsta that he’s frontin’. It’s just a persona. The Weeknd, just like his name, is a character he’s put on. The tropes he brings in of hard core rap and hip hop are just a bit of trolling, in my opinion. He’s all of these things and none of these things. He sings about drug addiction, but I don’t get the feeling he’s struggled with being an addict. Likewise, he talks a big sexual game. But then he sings about how great he is measured by how well he satisfies a woman – the trope gets flipped because ultimately it’s not about him but the women. The Weeknd, himself, winks and nods at this persona in the video above for Tell Your Friends as he buries himself – the persona, the character he’s created, has taken over and is the only truth.

Yes, he’s confessional, even going so far as to open the album by including advice he ostensibly got from his mother to stop being so self-destructive and not push women away. But the fact that The Weeknd is an act, a character, is something that sets him apart from another confessional neo R&B artist, Amy Winehouse. Winehouse presented her most true self in her music. So when she sang about not wanting to go to rehab, it was true. And we, the public, ate it up. But when The Weeknd sings about addiction, we can understand it’s his persona and not him. And in that regard he’s keeping a distance between true self – buried out in some deserted area – and performing self. And maybe he won’t get eaten alive like Winehouse was. At least I hope not, because I want to see how this artist continues to evolve.

  • Tulio:*is lost in a crowd and can't find Miguel*
  • Tulio:This calls for drastic measures.
  • Tulio:(yells loudly) And now you will, of course, wish to have the losing team... SACRIFICED to your glory?
  • Tulio:There he is.

Playlist: SUMMER VIBES (Classics x New Jams)

01 Drake - Hotline Bling
02 Kanye West x Lupe Fiasco - Touch the Sky
03 Frank Ocean - Swim Good
04 Kendrick Lamar - Bitch Dont Kill My Vibe
05 Fetty Wap x Drake - My Way (Remix)
06 Nicki Minaj x Lunchmoney Lewis - Trini Dem Girls
07 PARTYNEXTDOOR - Sex on the Beach
08 Outkast - Miss Jackson
09 A$AP Rocky x Joe Fox x Kanye West - Jukebox Joints
10 Erykah Badu x Common - Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)
11 The Weeknd - Can’t Feel My Face
12 Chris Brown x Busta Rhymes x Lil Wayne - Look at Me Now  
13 Kid Cudi - Day N Nite (Nightmare)
14 Beyoncé x J Cole - Party
15 Childish Gambino x Chance the Rapper - The Worst Guys
16 Usher - Burn
17 Miguel x Wale - Coffee (Remix)
18 Future x Drake - Where Ya At
19 Pharrell x Kanye West - Number 1
20 John Legend x André 3000 - Green Light
21 Jennifer Lopez x NAS - I’m Gonna Be Alright
22 Robin Thicke x Nicki Minaj - Back Together
23 Kelis - Trick Me
24 N*E*R*D* - Maybe
25 Tinashe x ScHoolboy Q - 2 On
26 Big Sean x Chris Brown - My Last
27 JAY Z x Beyoncé - 03 Bonnie & Clyde
28 Jeremih x J Cole - Planes
29 Rihanna - Bitch Better Have My Money
30 M.I.A. - Paper Planes
31 J Cole x TLC - Crooked Smile
32 Snoop Dogg x Pharrell x Charlie Wilson - Beautiful  
33 Kid Ink x Dej Loaf - Be Real
34 Omarion x Chris Brown x Jhené Aiko - Post to Be
35 Eve x Gwen Stefani - Let Me Blow Ya Mind
36 Christina Aguilera x Lil Kim - Can’t Hold Us Down
37 Rich Homie Quan - Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)
38 Drake - Back to Back  
39 Ms Lauryn Hill - Doo-Woop (That Thing)
40 JAY Z x Kanye West - OTIS