In-Reviews Series

The Weeknd: In Review

Ayman Ahmer

5 Diamond-Certified tracks. Ninety-eight million monthly Spotify listens. Longest running song in US Chart history. Abel Tesfaye’s rise from homelessness to superstardom is an achievement explained through the combination of visionary artistry and God-given talent. On his most recent album, Dawn FM, The Weeknd embraces feelings of pride and accomplishment, securing a place amongst the greatsWe still celebrating Superbowl/Catalogue looking legendary” Ayman Ahmer reviews.

Indeed, when The Weeknd boasts, there’s a certain level of arrogance he pulls off with aplomb to greater effect than other artists. There is never a sense of exaggeration. His hard-hitting lyrics, reminiscent of the late Prince, have inspired a new generation changing the RnB/Hip-Hop scene. The Weeknd continues to reinvent his craft, sound and image to stand above others and cement icon status. Each album or ‘chapter’ act as a checkpoint in this wild and immersive journey that The Weeknd is taking us on.

5. ‘Starboy’ (2016) 

In months preceding the release of Starboy, critics and fans shared uncertainty over the direction of The Weeknd’s upcoming body of work. The release of MANIA, a visual piece teasing upcoming songs, sparked excitement around the project. Starboy would go on to become one of The Weeknd’s better commercially performing albums, charting all eighteen songs on the Billboard Hot 100. As with many of his albums, a narrative arc is present, opening in a dark place and ending with a light at the end of the tunnel.

There is a perfect balance between classic pop and the dark RnB/Hip-Hop tracks, which make this album so valuable in a highly acclaimed catalogue. I Feel It Coming and Die For You are two stand-out tracks that illustrate The Weeknds ability to make timeless music. While other artists such as Drake release certain songs with the sole purpose of commercial gain, The Weeknd seemingly prioritises music above everything else.

Several motifs revolving around notions of evil and wickedness which highten the dark ambience

Starboy was The Weeknd’s first real concept album showcasing a character, infatuated with fame and money, on his journey through the struggles of the dark Hollywood underworld. There are several motifs revolving around notions of evil and wickedness which heighten the dark ambience of this album in parts. There are also many dance/house- inspired tracks such as A Lonely Night and Rockin’ that add another dimension to this multi layered project. Perhaps the only limitation when analysing critically, would be the tendency to play it safe. In comparison to The Weeknd’s other projects, ‘Starboy’ is not as daring and bold.

Starboy was an important album that revealed elements of The Weeknd’s artistic vision and creativity to a widespread audience.

4. ‘Trilogy’ (2012)

In 2012, The Weeknd repackaged his 3 highly acclaimed mixtapes ‘House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence’, into a thirty-track compilation titled ‘Trilogy’. This is where it all began. The triple CD album is comparable to a rough diamond. For many fans however, it is indeed the raw nature of the album that explains their close affiliation to it.

A poignant experience for listeners

The Weeknd constructed a unique sound reflecting the pain and loneliness felt roaming homeless through the streets of Toronto. The mere sadness of several songs in the album can make this a poignant experience for listeners. However, this is what defines ingenious music. The ability to determine one’s emotions can significantly enhance the quality of an album. While melancholy is a dominant theme, there are also many songs injected with the hard drugs that The Weeknd was probably taking at the time! Striking as it may seem, it is the unfiltered quality of the album that positively separates it from other pieces of work.

For ‘Trilogy’ to become Certified Triple Platinum in spite of its provocative nature, illustrates the promise many saw in The Weeknd at the time. The reality is that this version of The Weeknd will never return. This body of work acts as a holy grail for new listeners willing to revisit the beginnings of a gifted artist.

3. ‘Kissland’ (2013)

It is fair to say that The Weeknd’s debut studio album threw many fans and critics off. In anticipation, many expected The Weeknd to branch out into the mainstream pop world. Instead, he surprised fans with the continuation of the nihilistic and vulnerable music that had brought him approval in the underground music scene. While Kissland didn’t receive the same commercial acclaim as many of his other albums, it was a statement piece.

As an alternative RnB album, Kissland became certified gold, receiving significant recognition from original XO fans. The detailed production of all the tracks resemble the score of a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie. Kissland is an intense heartfelt album displaying the dark and sacrilegious life that The Weeknd struggles to give up. The juxtaposition of The Weeknd’s innocent sounding vocals, and the unholy lyrics he is singing, makes this album particularly distinctive.

Moody aura

There is raw emotion that listeners can feel to their core. Songs such as Professional and Pretty are tracks that intensify the moody aura of the album. The honesty that The Weeknd transmits into his music undeniably has an emphatic effect on his listeners. Kissland is an offering that shows us the wild features of Abel’s life in movie-like fashion.

2. ‘Dawn FM’ (2022)

Encapsulates feelings of self-destruction and suicide

Confident. Assured. Iconic. The release of ‘Dawn FM’ inducted The Weeknd into music royalty. Tesfaye takes listeners on a cinematic odyssey – reflecting the transition between purgatory to the afterlife. The first half of the album is seemingly dominant in themes of nihilism and disbelief. The second track, Gasoline, acting as an homage to 80’s group Human League, encapsulates feelings of self-destruction and suicide – “I know you won’t let me OD/and if I finally die in peace/just wrap my body in these sheets and pour out the gasoline.”

The Weeknd continues to redefine his sound, taking his music out of his comfort zone. ‘Dawn FM’ is layered with 80’s synths and beautiful melodies. Back-to-back tracks Take My Breath and Sacrifice take listeners into euphoric disco surroundings. Star-studded appearances of Quincy Jones and Jim Carrey help produce several iconic moments throughout the album. The faultless transitions between the songs help maintain the feeling of a journey through an apocalyptic underworld.

As usual, The Weeknd expresses his heartbreak in certain tracks but this time it is slightly different. There is a certain degree of maturity to his lyrics, proving his growth as an artist. The final track, Phantom Regret by Jim, a word-poem recited by Carrey, is a fitting conclusion to a chapter of chaos, closing in peace and harmony.

1. ‘After Hours’ (2020) 

Through After Hours’, The Weeknd presents the epitome of musical excellence. Every aspect of this album is refined and polished. This time, The Weeknd took his alter-ego to grand heights adopting a Joaquin Phoenix-esque Joker persona. The battered and bruised face along with the red blazer will undisputedly be remembered in decades to come. After Hours plunges into the finer details of love, heartbreak and anguish – infused with the glitzy sound of the 80s.

The album produces a gratifying collision between two genres that The Weeknd has mastered. There is a blend of the dark RnB world, first shown in Trilogy and Kissland, and new wave/dream pop that The Weeknd has seemingly perfected. After Hours produced monster hit records – Blinding Lights became a Diamond-Certified track, Save Your Tears and Heartless, both became 3x Platinum.

Aside from these iconic tunes, there are countless classics on this album, namely After Hours itself. The 6-minute epic essentially provides three songs in one. On first listen, this is perhaps The Weeknd’s most daring song. The track shows off his beautiful falsetto over a groovy techno beat and is executed exceptionally. After Hours will be looked back on as Tesfaye’s magnum opus that defined him as the artist he always dreamed of becoming.

Ayman Ahmer

Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @theweeknd via @instagram. No changes were made to these images.

In-article video courtesy of The Weeknd via No changes were made to this video.

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