Published September 2015, mindequalsblown.net.
R&B/Soul – Republic Records/XO
MEB Rating: 9.0
Being a fan of a relatively “unknown” artist is like owning a small piece of treasure. Whether it makes you feel special, super hip, whatever, you get to revel in the fact that you enjoy something that many people may not even know exists, or at the very least appreciate. So then, when the appeal of said artist is exposed and the rest of the world takes notice, what happens? Does your once sacred discovery lose its edge? Does the artist conform to top 40 music standards? These irrational, first-world problem fears are always on the forefront of the minds of underground music lovers, no matter what genre. What happens when their favorite artists become mainstream? Will they still sound the same? Will the sell out? So many questions. So much doubt.
Be it your annoying little brother, music-illiterate uncle, or your college economics professor, everybody knows who The Weeknd is right now, and they more than likely enjoy his music. Luckily though, no concerns arise when listening to the new record Beauty Behind The Madness. The Weeknd (not for lack of talent) was relatively unknown to the general public until recently despite releasing stellar mixtape after stellar mixtape for the past few years. The uber-success of “Cant Feel My Face,” the summer’s most popular song by far, along with a top charting collaborative track with Ariana Grande, “Love Me Harder,” and a spot on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack with “Earned It”, The Weeknd has finally entered mainstream consciousness and super stardom.
The Weeknd has been grinding music out a lot longer than most of the public probably realizes. To keep it short and sweet, after starting in 2010, Toronto-native Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a the one-man act behind The Weeknd, signed to Republic Records in a collaboration with his own label, XO, in 2012. It was then that he combined his previously released, fairly under the radar, mixtapes to create “The Trilogy”, a 30-song album that encompassed everything he had worked towards. Whether you’ve been a fan of him from the beginning or not, you’ll quickly pick up on the fact that Beauty Behind The Madness, as well as all of The Weeknd’s previous endeavors, is reflective, personal, and mysterious. Each song exudes a dose of drug-induced sexuality that is intoxicating and longing. The Weeknd fully understands and grasps the weight of his sound and what he can offer listeners, and despite finally hitting that mainstream success, the style that longtime fans have always enjoyed hasn’t gone anywhere.
The album starts off strong with “Real Life,” a song that is essentially the thesis of Beauty Behind The Madness. The lyrics “Mama called me destructive/Said it’d ruin me one day/Cause every woman that loved me, oh yeah/I seemed to push them away/That’s real life,” encompass the core feelings and themes that The Weeknd explores throughout the album. “Tell Your Friends” successfully follows and is sure to be popular with fans of fellow Torontonian Drake, as it sensitively and charmingly navigates cockiness and love.
For anybody who has turned on the radio once in the last couple months or briefly listened through the album, it’s obvious that “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face” are currently the biggest hits on Beauty Behind The Madness. Lyrically, emotionally, musically, everything is on point. However, there are a lot more tracks that are sure to rank high on the charts in the months to come. Reminiscent of early Michael Jackson (a comparison The Weeknd is no stranger to), “In The Night” has an upbeat swinging tempo that puts The Weeknd’s impressively unique vocal range on full display, while “Shameless,” a slower, more stripped down song, allows lyrical conviction to take center stage.
The album also has several collaborative tracks, which, as expected, are all great. “Losers” features the Weeknd’s traditional sound and style harmoniously with Labrinth‘s. The thirteenth track on the album, “Prisoner” is The Weeknd’s highly-talked about duet with Lana Del Rey. Del Rey’s breathy vocal style seems right at home with The Weeknd’s signature sound as the two mesh together, trading off verses and coming together at the chorus. However, despite the success of the previously mentioned tracks, the most surprising and rewarding collaboration on the album is “Dark Times”, featuring Ed Sheeran. Sheeran’s earnest British sound mixes perfectly with The Weeknd’s falsetto and edgy, Motown-esque attitude on the bluesy track that listeners will certainly have stuck in their head.
No track misses the mark, no beat seems out of place, and no emotion irrelevant on Beauty Behind The Madness. The Weeknd teeters on the fine line between mainstream success and underground indie appeal, a move that is unusual and definitely needed in today’s music. He brings something new to pop and R&B music, and it’s exciting. Expect to see sold out concerts, countless covers, and remixes on top of remixes, because Beauty Behind The Madness is just the beginning of The Weeknd’s mainstream success.