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The Unofficial Documentation of The Weeknd’s Musical Progression

By Deja Brumfield

On June 8, 2015, Abel Tesfaye, more commonly known by his stage name, The Weeknd, released his single titled “Can’t Feel My Face” from his upcoming album at the time, Beauty Behind the Madness. Almost instantly, the song blew up and was played nonstop on practically every radio station. Some have considered it to be The Weeknd’s real “big break” into mainstream music. 

Now with his forthcoming album After Hours, set to be released March 20 of this year, it is interesting to see how he’s progressed not just as a mainstream artist but, since the beginning of his musical career. 

Trilogy (2012)

The Weeknd’s first album titled Trilogy is a compilation of his earlier mixtapes Thursday, House of Balloons, and Echoes of Silence. It’s with this album that he established his R&B sound early on.

This 30 song collection allows his audience to get an inside look into the life he was living at the time, full of sex, alcohol, and an assortment of drugs. 

The somber sound of tracks such as “What You Need,” “Wicked Games,” and “Same Old Song” put the listeners in a hazy state. While these songs as a whole are melodic, the lyrics reveal a deep sadness and the pain comes through every line.

On the other hand songs such as “House of Balloons/ Glass Table Girls,” “Loft Music,” and “The Birds, Pt. 1” offer a more upbeat sound. Yet these, in a way, reveal more emotion than their slow counterparts and it’s almost as if he’s trying to mask sad lyrics with livelier beats.

Kiss Land (2013)

After gaining a decent amount of traction from Trilogy, The Weeknd describes the loneliness that comes with fame in Kiss Land.

While he still sings about similar topics as he did in his previous album, you can tell his attitude is different about it. No longer is he facing these things alone but, now, he’s facing them surrounded by others. Yet, even with the crowds, he still feels alone.

In “Adaption” he explains how he chose fame over a relationship and how he’s never regretted something more. He searches for his past in “Belong To the World” but simply finds someone who is empty inside just like him. 

This album abandons the soulful sounds of Trilogy and steps into the electropop realm. As he got bigger, his sound changed but the things of his past haven’t changed all too much. 

In more upbeat songs such as “Live For” and “Kiss Land,” he boasts of his newfound fame and all the drugs, women, and miscellaneous things that come along with it. The drugs and women are just about the same as before, though in a larger quantity, nevertheless, his fame seems to cloud that realization.

Beauty Behind the Madness (2015)

In this breakthrough album, Tesfaye returned to his R&B roots while still managing to incorporate a pop sound. This move proved to be incredibly smart, winning him a Grammy the following year for best urban contemporary album and Best R&B performance.

This album continues to follow his rise to fame and how he copes with the changes it brings. Songs like “Often,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” and “The Hills,” skyrocketed his career and continued to boost his status. 

His song “Tell Your Friends” discus his journey into the spotlight and how he sees all of these people around him acting differently toward him now that he has clout. Whereas, the chilling song, “The Hills,” talks about a secret relationship he’s in and how he feels as though now everyone is watching his every move. The song was wildly successful and multiple remixes were released (including one with Eminem and Nicki Minaj).

He still includes somber tracks such as “Shameless” and “Angel” that seem to dig deeper into the more raw side of his love life and the true emotions that he feels behind the scenes. 

However, the song that really helped him become more well known is “Can’t Feel My Face,” a poppy dance track that has split meaning. While on the surface it seems to be about his relationship with a woman and how he goes numb around her, it doubles as a metaphor for cocaine usage. Despite its meaning, it was still able to earn him a nomination for a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice award, much to his distaste.

Starboy (2016)

Perhaps his most unique album, Starboy, experiments with a multitude of sounds and genres that it seems to be all over the place.

 The video for the song titled “Starboy” opens with the old Abel being killed by Starboy, the fresh cut alter ego of The Weeknd. This new character seems to explain the extreme difference in sound from previous albums.

“Party Monster” and “False Alarm” are just two of the tracks where the experimentation is evident. Unlike many of his older songs, it is obvious that autotune is being used and while it isn’t very flattering to his natural vocals, it’s just the thing to entice newer fans to get more invested. 

As he delves deeper into a more mainstream sound his audience only continues to grow. Additionally, he proves his various ranges and can successfully tackle any genre that the music world throws at him.

My Dear Melancholy (2018)

Yes, I know, it’s a mixtape and not an album but, nonetheless, it still helps to see the development of The Weeknd as an artist.

This mixtape brings us back to the days of gloomy, heartbroken Abel. For many of his earlier fans, its release was very exciting and they became more eager to hear the “old” Weeknd once more. 

The title of the album is really all you need to figure out the overall tone. Each and every song is raw and intimate, detailing every emotion he’s feeling to the fullest.

It feels as though we are right there with him experiencing each heartbreak.

In “Wasted Times” he expresses his regret for leaving one relationship for another that was less fulfilling. He wonders where she is now and what he could do to get her back.

In “Privilege” he talks about the way he’s coped with letting his true love go and how he doesn’t want to hear about that relationship anymore because it only causes him pain. The sound of each track brings a feeling of nostalgia for old fans and a sense of interest for new.

After Hours (2020)

This highly anticipated album is expected to be one for the books. Although it’s not dropping until March 20, three singles have already been released, as well as a short film.

Based on “Heartless,” it appears as though he’s possibly going for more of an upbeat vibe with this album and that he may go back to flexing his wealth and women.

 “Blinding Lights,” however, has more of an 80s’ feeling and it’s one that many fans are excited for him to experiment with.

“After Hours,” however, seems to be a mixture of both Trilogy and Kissland. The beginning brings us back to the somber sounds of Trilogy. Then about midway through the song transitions to a more electronic sound.

Regardless of how this new album turns out, there’s no doubt that The Weeknd has not been afraid to test several different musical phases and progressed immensely as an artist.

Through all the changes he makes, there’s no denying that his fan base will only continue to grow as he experiments with more sounds and genres.


What’s your favorite Weeknd album? Let us know on Instagram and Twitter!

Reach the writer on Instagram

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