Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (born February 16, 1990), known professionally as the Weeknd, is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer.
Noted for his versatility in vocal style, music production, and eccentric presentation, the Weeknd is often cited as an influence to contemporary music, as well as by other artists.
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye was born in Toronto on February 16, 1990, the son of Ethiopian immigrants Makkonen and Samra Tesfaye. He grew up in the Scarborough area of Toronto. He was raised by his grandmother and mother after his parents split up. While living with his grandmother, he learned Amharic, which he also spoke with his mother. He attended Ethiopian Orthodox Church services. When asked about his father in an interview, he said, "I saw him vaguely when I was six, and then again when I was 11 or 12, and he had a new family and kids. I don't even know where he lived -- I'd see him for, like, a night. I'm sure he's a great guy. I never judged him. He wasn't abusive, he wasn't an alcoholic, he wasn't an asshole. He just wasn't there."
Tesfaye met Jeremy Rose in 2010, a producer who had an idea for a dark R&B musical project. After initially trying to pitch the idea to musician Curtis Santiago, Rose played one of his instrumentals for Tesfaye, who freestyle rapped over it. This led to the two collaborating on an album. Rose produced three songs - "What You Need", "Loft Music", and "The Morning" - and others that Tesfaye had rapped on, which were ultimately scrapped. Rose let Tesfaye keep the tracks he had produced under the condition that he would ultimately be credited for them. In December 2010, Tesfaye uploaded "What You Need", "Loft Music" and "The Morning" to YouTube under his stage name, although his identity was initially unknown. The songs drew some attention online, and were later included in a blog post from Drake. The songs subsequently received coverage from various media outlets, including Pitchfork and The New York Times. Before adopting the stage name the Weeknd, he worked under the aliases of the Noise and Kin Kane.
Tesfaye took to his Twitter to mention that his extended play, Noise, were "a bunch of songs leaked by salty producers and found AFTER HOB dropped". He says that they were demos that he had written as a teenager to try and get recognition. The EP consists of 10 tracks, some of which influenced his debut mixtape, House of Balloons.
Tesfaye began a tour of Toronto, with his first live performance at the city's Mod Club venue. Drake was in attendance to view the performance, which ran for a total of ninety minutes. Drake approached Tesfaye and described a potential musical collaboration between the pair. Tesfaye accompanied Drake at his various shows, often performing as the opening act for shows scheduled at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, as well as appearing at the second annual OVO Fest in July. Over the summer of 2011, Tesfaye contributed to four songs on Drake's Take Care, both as a writer and a featured artist.
Tesfaye refrained from participating in interviews, choosing to communicate via Twitter, after the album was released. This was credited[by whom?] as an advertising tactic for Tesfayes second mixtape Thursday, which was released on August 18, 2011. Tesfaye's third mixtape Echoes of Silence was released on December 21, 2011, a year after his debut singles.
Following this release, the three mixtapes were collectively known as the Balloons Trilogy, and saw Tesfaye receiving offers from various record labels.[which?]
2012-2014: Trilogy and Kiss Land
Tesfaye performing at Coachella in 2012.
In April 2012, Tesfaye began his first tour of the United States, with a performance at the Coachella Festival. The tour culminated in New York with back-to-back sold-out shows, which were positively reviewed by Rolling Stone. Tesfaye expanded his tour to accompany Europe, performing at various European festivals, including the Primavera Sound Festivals in Spain and Portugal, and the Wireless Festival in London. Covering "Dirty Diana" at his performance in London, he received positive responses from both Katy Perry and Florence Welch, who noted the singer's ability to successfully undertake a complex song. In June, the Balloons Trilogy was revealed to have been downloaded over 8 million times, which allowed Tesfaye to initiate formal commercial release of the projects later that year.
On May 16, 2013, Tesfaye premiered the title track to his debut studio album Kiss Land, and announced the album's release date as September 10. The album was later promoted by the singles "Belong to the World" and "Live For" featuring Drake, as well as with Tesfaye embarking on The Fall tour a week prior to the album's release. Upon release, Kiss Land debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling 96,000 copies. It was later confirmed to have sold over 273,000 copies in the United States, as well as receiving generally positive reviews from music critics.
After Tesfaye won the Centric Award at the 2015 BET Awards, he performed "Earned It" with Alicia Keys, as well as debuting the song "The Hills". "The Hills" was later released for digital download, and debuted at number twenty on the Billboard Hot 100. The single later went on to top the chart, marking Tesfaye's first number-one single. The single was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), making it Tesfaye's first diamond-certified record.
On June 8, "Can't Feel My Face", a previously leaked track, was released as the album's third single, following its performance at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. The song debuted at number twenty-four on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached number-one on the Hot 100, making it his third top 10 hit, and his second number-one hit in the United States. He occupied all three slots on Billboard'sHot R&B Songs chart simultaneously with the aforementioned singles, becoming the first artist in history to accomplish this. He headlined FVDED in the Park, a festival in Surrey, British Columbia. Tesfaye was unveiled as one of the musical faces of the streaming service Apple Music, a position he harboured with frequent collaborator Drake. During the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, Apple debuted a two-part promotional commercial featuring Tesfaye, which had a guest appearance from John Travolta. It was revealed that his second studio album would be titled Beauty Behind the Madness.
Beauty Behind the Madness was released on August 28, 2015, and debuted atop the Billboard 200, earning 412,000 album equivalent units in its first week. It reached the top 10 in over ten countries, as well as reaching number one in Canada, Australia, Norway, and the United Kingdom. The album was promoted by Tesfaye headlining various summer music festivals, including Lollapalooza, the Hard Summer Music Festival, and the Bumbershoot Festival. He announced his first large-scale tour across the United States, which began in November, and concluded in December. The album went double platinum in the US, and sold 1.5 million copies worldwide. It was reported to be the most-streamed album throughout 2015, with over 60 million, as well as being ranked on multiple lists detailing albums of the year.
On September 8, Tesfaye became the first male artist to have simultaneously held the top three spots on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart, with the three singles that preceded the release of his album. They all went platinum in the United States. After engaging in multiple musical collaborations with Belly,Meek Mill, and Travis Scott, Tesfaye was featured on "Low Life", the triple platinum single from Future'sfourth studio album. Tesfaye appeared on Saturday Night Live alongside actress Amy Schumer, performing as the show's musical guest on October 10. This was his first performance on the show as a solo artist, after appearing with Ariana Grande to perform "Love Me Harder".
On August 24, in preparation for his third studio album, Republic Records executive vice-president Wendy Goldstein confirmed Tesfaye began collaborations with French electronic music duo Daft Punk. On the same day, Tesfaye also announced a collaboration with Norwegian record producer Cashmere Cat, titled "Wild Love". A month later, the previously mentioned album's title was announced as Starboy, and had a release date of November 25. He released the album's title track, which features Daft Punk on September 21. The song received platinum certification and went to number one in the United States, as well as in various other countries. A second collaboration with Daft Punk, entitled "I Feel It Coming", was released a week proceeding the album's release, alongside the solo efforts "Party Monster" and "False Alarm". Tesfaye returned to Saturday Night Live on October 10, performing "Starboy" and "False Alarm". He released a 12-minute short film, titled M A N I A, on November 23. Directed by Grant Singer, it featured excerpts from the album, including snippets from "All I Know" featuring Future, "Sidewalks" featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Secrets" and "Die for You".
On March 27, 2018, Tesfaye began publicity for a new official release in an Instagram post. On March 29, 2018, a billboard appeared in London, England promoting a possible album titled My Dear Melancholy, and on the same day the project was officially announced. On March 30, 2018, the extended play My Dear Melancholy, was released. On June 6, 2018, the Weeknd announced his new Beats 1 radio show Memento Mori, which's first episode was released two days later. Later in the year, on November 21, 2018, the compilation album The Weeknd in Japan was released and served as his first greatest hits album.
On November 24, 2019, "Blinding Lights", the expected lead single of his fourth studio album, was announced via a Mercedes-Benz commercial on German television. The next day, footage of a music video being shot in Fremont Street, Las Vegas surfaced. News outlets then began reporting that Tesfaye would follow up "Blinding Lights" with another single titled "Heartless". In promotion of the upcoming album, episode seven of the Weeknd's manager Cash's Memento Mori Beats 1 radio show was released on November 27, 2019. The single "Heartless" went on to debut at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and later became his fourth number one single on the chart, the following week. The second single "Blinding Lights" went on to debut at number 11 on Billboard Hot 100 the same week "Heartless" topped it, fell to number 52 in its second week, and then after a long climb reached number one on the chart on the issue dated April 4, 2020. Tesfaye revealed the album's title, After Hours, and release date, March 20, 2020, on February 19, 2020, and released the album's title track as a promotional single simultaneously. On March 7, Tesfaye appeared on Saturday Night Live, performing "Blinding Lights" and the previously unreleased "Scared to Live". Subsequently, the album was released on March 20, 2020, containing the singles "Heartless", "Blinding Lights" and "In Your Eyes". The record debuted atop the US Billboard 200, earning 444,000 album-equivalent units of which 275,000 were in pure sales. Shortly after the album release, on March 29, 2020, Tesfaye announced the release of three more previously unreleased songs: "Nothing Compares", "Missed You" and "Final Lullaby". In the album's first charting week, Tesfaye became the first artist to lead the Billboard 200, Billboard Hot 100, Billboard Artist 100, Hot 100 Songwriters and Hot 100 Producers charts simultaneously.After Hours had a second consecutive week at number one on the Hot 100 Songwriters chart (April 2020), due to five entries on the latest Billboard Hot 100 (singles), all of which he co-wrote and co-produced. In April 2020, Tesfaye announced he would be co-writing and starring in an upcoming episode of American Dad!, which later premiered on May 4, 2020.
Widely expected to receive multiple nominations for After Hours, Tesfaye was shut out of any nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards (2021). Tesfaye took to his social media to criticize the Recording Academy, claiming corruption. Speculation arose that the announcement of his then-upcoming Super Bowl performance as well as the discrepancy of being nominated as pop music versus R&B contributed to the snubs. In response to the controversy, the Academy chairman Harvey Mason Jr. issued a statement:
We understand that The Weeknd is disappointed at not being nominated. I was surprised and can empathize with what he's feeling. His music this year was excellent, and his contributions to the music community and broader world are worthy of everyone's admiration. We were thrilled when we found out he would be performing at the upcoming Super Bowl and we would have loved to have him also perform on the Grammy stage the weekend before. Unfortunately, every year, there are fewer nominations than the number of deserving artists. But as the only peer-voted music award, we will continue to recognize and celebrate excellence in music while shining a light on the many amazing artists that make up our global community. To be clear, voting in all categories ended well before The Weeknd's performance at the Super Bowl was announced, so in no way could it have affected the nomination process. All Grammy nominees are recognized by the voting body for their excellence, and we congratulate them all.
In January 2021, Tesfaye responded by saying that his previous Grammy awards are of no value to him any more. On February 5, 2021 The Highlights was released, as his second greatest hits album. Tesfaye performed at the Super Bowl LV halftime show on February 7, 2021 after announcing he would perform in November 2020. He reportedly spent $7 million on his performance at the show. Despite having a mixed response, the show resulted in a surge in streaming and downloads for Tesfaye's After Hours album as well as for the seven other songs he performed.
Tesfaye's songs are "built around a fogged, crepuscular production", and feature slow tempos, rumbling bass, and forlorn echoes. Tesfaye often sings in a falsetto register, exhibiting an enticing tone. J. D. Considine finds his singing's "tremulous quality" similar to Michael Jackson, but writes that he eschews Jackson's "strong basis in the blues" for a more Arabic-influenced melisma. Tesfaye possesses a wide light-lyric tenor vocal range, which spans over three octaves. His vocal range reaches its extreme low at the bass F (F2), and its peak high at the tenor G? (G?5), with a natural tessitura within the upper fourth octave. Tesfaye often makes use of his head voice in order to build resonance to belt out strong high notes within the fifth octave. His music incorporates samples that are unconventional in R&B production, including punk and alternative rock. Marc Hogan of Spin says that Tesfaye's samples tend "to draw from rock critic-approved sources, though generally ones that already share elements of his sexual menace", with samples of artists such as Beach House, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Aaliyah. Tesfaye worked mostly with producers Illangelo and Doc McKinney, whom Pitchforks Ian Cohen credits with developing "a state-of-the-art R&B template" with the artist. In concert, Tesfaye reappropriates his digitized productions with a suite-like arena rock aesthetic.
His emotional, plaintive lyrics often express feelings of hurt and deal with subject matter such as sex, drugs, and partying. Hermione Hoby of The Guardian characterizes Tesfaye's songs as "narcotised-slow jams" and delineates their message as "partying is an existential experience, sex is fraught with alienation, and everything registers as unreal and unsettling".The Guardians Paul MacInnes has stated that he views Tesfaye's three mixtapes as "a rough trajectory of party, after-party and hangover". Anupa Mistry of the Toronto Standard observes throughout his mixtapes a "cast of supine, stoned zombie-women ... whose legs willingly part after being plied with substances and who morph into threats only when [he is] coming down and feeling vulnerable". Tesfaye has viewed that, by singing vulgar, ignorant lyrics in an elegant, sexy way, he is paying homage to R. Kelly and Prince.
During the American leg of his Fall tour promoting Kiss Land, Tesfaye collaborated with condom-producing company ONE to give away limited-edition condoms at his shows. They featured the visual identity of the new album with Oxcy - the album's mascot - printed on one side.
In November 2015, to further promote Beauty Behind the Madness, Tesfaye collaborated with Pax Labs to release a limited edition version of the PAX 2 vaporizer, an electronic cigarette that could be used in shows during The Madness Fall Tour. The e-cigarette featured the "xo" branding on the front, as well as having the ability to play "The Hills" when turned on. With the original PAX 2 priced at $279.99, the limited edition e-cigarette cost $324.99. PAX also acted as an official sponsor for the tour, presenting special backstage VIP activations for fans who bought packages that included the e-cigarette. PAX Labs chief marketing officer Richard Mumby stated "Music and fashion have always been a natural fit for Pax...This was the perfect opportunity to bring together the Weeknd's style with our technology."
In 2016, Tesfaye announced a partnership with Puma, as a Global Brand ambassador, for the company's "Run the Streets" campaign. It was launched in early November, with the final collection made available to coincide with the release of his album Starboy. He also hosted several pop-up retail stores for the "Starboy: Limited Capsule" collection, which were available across North America, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. With this partnership, Tesfaye also released three capsule collections named PUMA X XO including T-shirts, caps, sweatpants, bomber jackets and a pair of shoes called the Parallels.
Tesfaye has also begun his own XO branded merchandise, which was furthered by a collaboration with H&M to present its Spring 2017 campaign. The campaign would feature new collaborative pieces developed with the singer's brand, and was released on March 2, 2017. Tesfaye collaborated with H&M again for a fall collection, however, after an incident which he described as "deeply offensive" in 2018, he cut ties with the company. In May 2017, Tesfaye had a limited edition pop up sale for the "Starboy 2017 Limited Capsule Collection". The collections were available in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami Beach, Houston, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Tesfaye has collaborated with artists and designers such as Kidult, Alexander Wang and Futura for small-lived and sometimes exclusive capsule collections.
In October 2017, Tesfaye began marketing and promotion on a partnership with Marvel on Instagram. A week later, he attended New York Comic-Con and it was revealed that a Starboy comic book would be released on June 13, 2018, with the title character being a superhero modelled after himself. In August 2018, XO released a collection of apparel in collaboration with A Bathing Ape. They released another collection in January 2020.
On August 31, 2020, Variety reported that Tesfaye partnered with TD Bank to launch Black Hxouse, an entrepreneurial initiative. On September 9, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $221 million joint venture with Hxouse for Black Canadian entrepreneurs.
Tesfaye began dating model Bella Hadid in early 2015. The couple were first seen together in May at Coachella, and Hadid starred in his music video for "In the Night" a few months later. They appeared as a couple at the 2016 Grammy Awards. On November 11, 2016, it was reported that the couple had split due to their conflicting schedules. Tesfaye reportedly started dating Selena Gomez in January 2017 and they moved in together temporarily in September of that year, but broke up a month later. By May 2018, Tesfaye and Hadid had started dating again, before splitting up once more in August 2019. It was later reported that the two were in touch again nine months later.
Tesfaye often used drugs to help get over his writer's block on earlier albums, and also abused illegal substances such as "ketamine, cocaine, MDMA, mushrooms, and cough syrup". Speaking in December 2013, he said that drugs were a "crutch" for him when it came to writing music. On social media, he typically suffixed his first name with "xo", which is often used as an emoticon for "a kiss and a hug". According to writer Hermione Hoby, this was Tesfaye's intention, though VH1's Zara Golden believed it was a reference to his recreational use of ecstasy and oxycodone. He later altered the handles on his social media to reflect his stage name in preparation for the release of Starboy.
Tesfaye's hairstyle, which has been described as his most recognizable trait, has been claimed to be partly inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat. In an interview, he detailed that he began growing it out in 2011 and remarked at how easy it was to maintain with "a hard shampoo every once in a while". He eventually cut his hair in 2016, prior to the release of Starboy. In his spare time, he enjoys watching television and playing video games. Despite having previously worked in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto, Tesfaye and Belly cancelled an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in May 2016 due to Donald Trump being present.
After being presented with a Bikila Award for Professional Excellence in 2014, Tesfaye donated $50,000 to the University of Toronto to help them start a course on Ge'ez, the classic language of Ethiopia. He stated that he "was proud to support his hometown by sharing the brilliant, ancient history of Ethiopia." In August 2016 he continued donations to the University in the creation of a new Ethiopic Studies program. In May 2016 Tesfaye donated $50,000 to the St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Toronto, Canada, a church he attended growing up.
In December 2015, he worked with Ryan Seacrest's foundation to visit Children's Hospital in Atlanta. In June 2017, Tesfaye donated $100,000 to the Suubi Health Center, a maternity and children's medical facility in Budondo, Uganda. Tesfaye was inspired to support the center after learning of his friend French Montana's work with Global Citizen and Mama Hope to help raise awareness for Suubi and the people of Uganda.
In April 2020, Tesfaye relaunched his record label XO's popular line of non-medical cloth face masks in an effort to raise money for MusiCaresCoronavirus Relief Fund, which is a campaign launched by the Grammys to help musicians affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was announced that 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the masks will be donated to the relief fund. With the profit, Tesfaye donated $500,000 each to MusiCares and $500,000 to his hometown front-line hospital workers of the Scarborough Health Network in Ontario, Canada for a total of $1 million to COVID-19 relief.
On August 7, 2020, Tesfaye held an interactive virtual concert on TikTok, The Weeknd Experience, to raise funds for the Equal Justice Initiative. Five days later, it was reported to have drawn in 2 million viewers and raised over $350,000 for the non-profit organization.
On November 2, 2020, the University of Toronto announced that after having worked with Tesfaye again, they were able to reach and surpass their goal of $500,000 Ethiopic program. Tesfaye donated $30,000.
In December 2015, Tesfaye was sued by Cutting Edge Music, who alleged that the bassline for "The Hills" had been taken from a composition featured in the score for the 2013 sci-fi film The Machine. One of the producers of the song was alleged to have sent a private Twitter message to Tom Raybould, the composer of the film's score, to tell him about the sample. In September 2018, Tesfaye and Daft Punk were sued for allegedly stealing the rhythm from a poet, singer, and songwriter named Yasminah. Tesfaye denied the allegations.
In April 2019, Tesfaye was sued by British trio William Smith, Brian Clover, and Scott McCulloch, who accused Tesfaye of plagiarizing their song "I Need to Love" in order to create his song "A Lonely Night". They sought $150,000 from Tesfaye and Belly in lieu of copyright infringement. Their original suit was summarily dismissed, with the court ruling that they had failed to show that Tesfaye or anyone else involved in making "A Lonely Night" had access to their song or that the works were substantially similar. The plaintiffs filed an amended claim based on secondary infringement, which is still in litigation.
^Wimmer, Micah (March 21, 2018). "On the Weeknd, House of Balloons, and Its Massive Influence". Medium. Archived from the original on January 7, 2021. Retrieved 2020. Listening to House of Balloons now, years after its initial release, its influence stands out as much as its quality. It might not be fully accurate to name it as the first so-called alternative R&B album, the one that set the stage for Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, Rhye, Tinashe, and Miguel's more experimental work, but regardless, it still seems like a dividing line in the progression of R&B in the 2010s.
^Nazareth, Errol (March 28, 2012). "THE WEEKND CHANGES THE GAME FOR HIP-HOP AND R&B". SOCAN. Archived from the original on January 7, 2021. Retrieved 2020. "Changing the game" and "takin' it to the next level" are both well-worn clichés in hip-hop and R&B...Enter Toronto's The Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye), one of a handful of artists who's helping restore widespread faith and critical respect in both genres.
^Kameir, Rawiya; Hockley-Smith, Sam; Mistry, Anupa (March 21, 2016). "How House of Balloons Changed R&B". The Fader. Archived from the original on January 7, 2021. Retrieved 2020. Five years since its veiled release, a conversation about The Weeknd's debut and its influence on contemporary pop music...The album was documenting a nascent scene that has gone on to shift the cultural paradigm of Toronto, and it did so through a sound that has had a lasting effect on contemporary pop music.