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Exploring the Weeknd | Krishna Nagarajan

Two weeks ago I was listening to Land of the Snakes by J. Cole when something clicked – I began feeling bored, almost, as to what I was hearing. I then decided to switch artists – how about Kendrick Lamar? The feeling remained the same. This isn’t to take away from any of their music; I’m an avid fan of both artists. I just wanted something different. I began asking around and skimming the web for music I’d enjoy that wasn’t just that of the artists I regularly listen to. I needed a new artist to truly explore.

I then began listening to Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd. Now, I’ve heard of The Weeknd before. You’ve probably listened to his music before as well. We all know his hits – Die For You, Heartless, Blinding Lights, Can’t Feel My Face… the list goes on. But as I went deeper into his discography, I began to appreciate his creative genius more and more. I still haven’t listened to all of his albums, but nonetheless, below is a brief review of my three favorite albums that have truly stood out to me.

House of Balloons (Original)

I’ll preface this by saying that this mixtape is my favorite body of work by Tesfaye. Released in 2011 after The Weeknd was cosigned by Drake a few months prior, House of Balloons was ahead of its time and set a mood that shaped much of R&B for the next decade. Tesfaye’s come-up in this tape is so raw – nothing about it feels “industry-plantish” or fake and this body of work is incredibly well put together. Over psychedelic, almost eerie beats, The Weeknd details his difficulties with love and heartbreak and an overall sense of cloudiness drapes over the album as he talks about his experiences navigating through this time. The production is immaculate and helps set the mood for what is inarguably his greatest body of work to date.

Thursday (Original)

Released five months after House of Balloons, Tesfaye started right where he left off. I think these albums go hand-in-hand, especially considering how similar they are in terms of the style of music. Thursday feels slightly more experimental than The Weeknd’s previous mixtape in some aspects; his unique blend of psychedelic pop, rock, hip-hop, reggae, and dubstep clearly shines through in his sophomore mixtape. Here, Tesfaye contends with newfound fame (, self-indulgence, and love (not to mention references to substance abuse, which add to the overall eerie persona that The Weeknd had created for himself at the time). This unique vision that Tesfaye presented pointed to clear signs of a superstar in the making, and from this point onward, his career skyrocketed.

After Hours

Fast forward roughly nine years, and The Weeknd is now a superstar. This album only helped him further cement that status. After Hours feels like one of Tesfaye’s most complete bodies of work and is a testament to his overall growth as an artist. While many of the themes referenced in this album are not especially new, the album still left me feeling like he had pushed himself as an artist and gone in a new direction with regard to his production. This album didn’t feel as “mainstream” as Beauty Behind the Madness or Starboy, although, in reality, the album sold 444,000 units in its first week. This was a timeless album in a sense – it felt like a roller coaster until the end and helped me appreciate the artistry of one of the greatest musicians of our generation.

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