When writing about the greatest artists of the last decade a few months ago here, in what now seems like a different world, Toronto artist The Weeknd was part of the conversation.
I opted for Frank Ocean in the end but the likes of The Weeknd, Janelle Monae, Drake, Tyler the Creator and many more all had strong decades in a decent era for hip-hop and r&b.
The Weeknd is currently one of the few people who is having a good 2020, and his “Blinding Lights” single is probably the biggest global hit of 2020 so far. Even if you wanted to, you would not have been able to escape from hearing it these last few months.
His long awaited “After Hours” finally arrived on a Friday when the world was suddenly falling deep into a massive panic and apprehension about the current Coronavirus pandemic, and in some ways the Weeknd is the perfect artist to soundtrack these eerie times. Lyrically he’s always been a good songwriter, but if you want lyrics about more than girls or drugs or partying you might be disappointed.
On this album there is a bit more vulnerability on show than normal, but it’s still the Weeknd, and overall it’s probably a good thing that he sticks to what he is best at when writing. I couldn’t really imagine the Weeknd dropping a tune about house prices or rent increases. That’s probably good though, and away from his music the Weeknd has adopted a principled stance on a number of matters, including a cancelled Jimmy Kimmel appearance when he found out Donald Trump was gonna be there.
That said on record he is not always the most likeable character, but like Drake and Kanye and many more, this doesn’t take from his music.
Sonically he has always been very interesting and those early mixtapes brought him a huge following and bigger anticipation as each album dropped. He’s been very prolific and has turned into a huge pop star since singles like “Earned it” and “I can’t feel my face”.
The Weeknd is one of the worlds biggest pop stars right now, but the last 5 years of his career have been very much a balancing act, trying to satisfy this new audience while maintaining that cutting edge alternative vibe which he is loved for.
It hasn’t always worked on recent albums, despite some classic singles, and there often seemed to be a lack of unity on these projects overall.
Such is his strength as an artist that he has still managed to remain essential listening for many music fans, and this latest album has been greatly anticipated for a couple of years. “Heartless” came out first and seemed like a return to earlier material, with typically misogynistic lyrics over a dark trappy low slung Metro boomin beat.
Of course it was catchy, but nothing on the level of “Blinding Lights”, which came next. This track sounds like an 80’s throwback in all the best ways, and is deservedly getting kudos and plays pretty much everywhere all year.
The new album works very well as a complete album and it’s arguably his most assured yet. It is full of classics that will both please long term fans and it’s full of hits that will be played on radio for years on end.
Somehow it manages to negotiate that tough balance of keeping both camps happy, and it will be one of the defining albums of this year. “Save your tears”, “Snowchild”, “Scared to Live” and “Hardest to Love” are just some of the classic jams on display.
I saw the Weeknd live at Longitude a few years ago, on a memorable night, and he’s a pretty decent live performer, though hardly the most charismatic. It’s in the studio where he really cooks up the best magic. It’s amazing to think his debut mixtape was only 9 years ago and i’m sure there are a few more decades of great music from him to come.
Like I said earlier, it’s an album that will ultimately help define these dark days of early spring, where it becomes apparent that any type of musical and artistic escape is more important than ever.
No one knows what’s coming down the road, but we can say with certainly that the Weeknd has brought out a magnificent album that will be everywhere this summer.