In celebration of The Weeknd hitting a world-breaking milestone of 108 million Spotify listeners, Daria Paterek picks her ten favourite (and arguably more underrated) The Weeknd songs for Impact’s Music Essentials.
What You Need (‘House of Balloons (Original)’, 2011)
Effortlessly sampling Aaliyah’s Rock The Boat, What You Need is a sultry, slow, and sensual ballad where The Weeknd compares his lovers to drugs. Beginning the song with the sample sets the scene for the track’s metaphor and gives further depth to the song, as Aaliyah repeats “baby, now hold me close”, establishing the dependent relationship between The Weeknd and his lovers.
Raw and rough, What You Need is the epitome of R&B – it’s seductive on the surface, but toxic and heart-wrenching if you search deeper, which I think perfectly summarises The Weeknd’s discography.
Discussing the disorientation, anxiety, and depression that he truly feels under a false persona, House of Balloons signifies the true reality behind a seemingly celebratory occasion.
House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls (‘House of Balloons (Original)’, 2011)
Like What You Need, this two-part song is another incredible entry in The Weeknd’s debut mixtape ‘House of Balloons’, which explores his rise to fame, and consequently his entry into the drug-ridden, sex-filled and money-obsessed music world. The first part, House of Balloons, consists of Abel convincing himself that he’s happy in this world that he’s entered, repeating “We’re happy here/ In a happy house/ Oh this is fun, fun, fun, fun’ when in reality ‘it hurts to breathe”. Discussing the disorientation, anxiety, and depression that he truly feels under a false persona, House of Balloons signifies the true reality behind a seemingly celebratory occasion (his rise to fame).
The track then moves to Glass Table Girls, which is stylistically different to House of Balloons, with it being rapped and later sung in a lower pitch. “Bring the 707 out”, Abel sings, as the song’s focus is on consuming drugs and having sex. By the end of the track, he’s completely gone, singing “la,la,la,la,la,la,la”.
Shameless (‘Beauty Behind The Madness’, 2015)
Swiftly moving onto The Weeknd’s second album, ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’, Shameless is a massive change from all the other tracks on the album. Acoustic guitar makes this stripped-back track feel more intimate and adds a more remorseful vibe that makes the meaning of the song – a sexual relationship gone bad – feel more raw than other songs on the album, making it stand out in the best way. The guitar solo at the end makes it a masterful music production.
In The Night (‘Beauty Behind The Madness’, 2015)
Many critics and listeners alike have noted the similarities between The Weeknd and Michael Jackson, and I believe that In The Night makes this comparison feel the most valid. Behind the upbeat tempo and masterful instrumental, In The Night hides its dark meaning, which delves into the lifelong trauma that a woman experiences after experiencing sexual abuse during childhood.
“In the night, she hears him calling”, The Weeknd sings, as the woman he sings about can never escape the trauma that she experienced, using “dancin’ to relieve the pain”, as she is stuck in a vicious cycle of sexualising herself to try and come to terms with what has happened to her.
Prisoner (‘Beauty Behind The Madness’, 2015)
Prisoner is the first collaboration between The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey, and it’s clear why this was only the beginning of the incredible collaboration between the two artists. In this song, Abel is “a prisoner to [his] addiction” of drugs, sex, and money, whereas his lover, who is voiced through Lana, thinks she’s “been in Hollywood too long”. The song perfectly balances the two artists, as its gospel-like chorus merges both Lana’s and Abel’s sombre tones.
False Alarm (‘Starboy’, 2016)
One of my favourite things about The Weeknd is his versatility, which is demonstrated by songs such as False Alarm. A certified club banger, False Alarm is intense and extremely upbeat, and it’s a mix of pop and punk sounds.
Completely different to most of the songs on this list, you’ll either have a love or hate relationship with this track. While contemporary reviewers resented the EDM/mainstream sounds of this song, I believe that The Weeknd’s exploration of different sounds and genres makes this song a true standout on ‘Starboy’.
The typical The Weeknd song formula: […] dark, slow, and sombre
Hurt You (‘My Dear Melancholy’, 2018)
The fifth song on ‘My Dear Melancholy’, (which I personally believe is The Weeknd’s most underrated project) Hurt You, depicts The Weeknd warning his lover who is still in love with him, as he doesn’t want to keep hurting her.
Compared to prior songs (like the ones featured within this list), this song presents some emotional growth as The Weeknd clearly states his intent within the first line of the song: “And now I know relationship’s my enemy/ So stay away from me”. The song is one of his numerous collaborations with DJ Gesaffelstein – so undoubtedly a hit.
Try Me (‘My Dear Melancholy’, 2018)
Another song from ‘My Dear Melancholy’, Try Me features the typical The Weeknd song formula: it’s dark, slow, and sombre, and fits perfectly within the album. The second song of the album centres around Abel being “ready to go all the way/ if you let me take you down on me” with his ex-lover. If you’re looking for a song reminiscent of The Weeknd’s starting slow and depressing sound, then this song is the perfect one to add to your playlist.
Escape From LA (‘After Hours’, 2020)
The Weeknd’s strength definitely lies in his storytelling, and this is made abundantly clear with this 6-minute track. Addictively dark, the song starts out in typical The Weeknd fashion, with a relaxing instrumental, but then the beat changes, making the song reminiscent of two-part songs such as House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls.
While this song also discusses The Weeknd’s entrancement with sex and drugs, it is also painfully aware. While he comments that “LA girls all look the same/ I can’t recognize/The same work done on they face” he also “don’t criticize” showing an awareness that while his sexual indulgences are wrong, he will continue to entertain them. One of my favourite songs from ‘After Hours’, it shows The Weeknd’s duality and gives me chills every time I listen to it.
The Weeknd rejects his past behaviours and the attempt to become a better person for his lover – showing massive personal growth.
Is There Someone Else? (‘Dawn FM’, 2022)
“I swear I changed my ways for the better, the better/ Cause I wanna be with you forever, forever” confesses The Weeknd, in this track that recognises his previously disloyal and chaotic behaviour described in previous albums.
This song flips the switch on him, as rather than being the disloyal person in the relationship, he faces the paranoia and nervousness of potentially being cheated on. The Weeknd rejects his past behaviours and the attempt to become a better person for his lover – showing massive personal growth.
Featured image courtesy of Marcela Laska via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
In article videos courtesy of The Weeknd via Youtube.com. No changes were made to these videos.
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