Shrouding himself in mystery, Toronto-based artist The Weeknd released three incredible mixtapes (later repackaged as Trilogy) back in 2011 and in the space of a year, was helmed as the future of R&B. Living up that title, he later signed to Island Records and released his first proper album Kiss Land in the summer of 2013.
In order to celebrate his achievements, I decided to share my ten favourite songs by him. Proving a lot harder than I’d anticipated; I thought I’d share a few of the tracks which didn’t quite make the final cut, but deserved an honourable mention: “Rolling Stone”, “House of Balloons – Glass Table Girls” and “Next”. Without further ado, I present, my favourite songs by The Weeknd.
Number Ten: “Twenty Eight” – Trilogy. Featured as one of three bonus tracks on Trilogy, “Twenty Eight”, is an inclination to The Weeknd’s more sinister side. Whilst his voice is sugar coated, it’s the malice and threatening tone of his words which hide the darker tone. “This house is not a home to you / But you decide to lay down, lay down” he coos in that fragile falsetto of his; channelling elements of Michael Jackson.
Number Nine: “Lonely Star” – Thursday. In “Lonely Star”, the opener for Thursday, Tesfaye is in seduction mode: “Baby you can have it all… baby you can be a star”. Bringing out his signature musings of “oooh yeah”, the track’s layered vocals and hypnotic production perfectly set the tone for this mixtape.
Number Eight: “Initiation” – Echoes of Silence. The reason why “Initiation” makes the cut, is because of its adventurous and experimental nature. Sounding nothing like his previous material from Thursday and House of Balloons, “Initiation” sees The Weeknd take pitching his voice to another level. Throughout the song, Tesfaye both sings and raps, whilst his voice rises from low and heavy, to light and delicate over a feisty and persistent beat. As odd as it sounded upon first listen; the overall effect is truly refreshing.
Number Seven: “Love in the Sky” – Kiss Land. The only song on the list taken from Kiss Land, “Love in the Sky” was the song which I had on repeat for a long, long time. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the material on the record is great, only, it wasn’t anywhere as good as Trilogy. Taking his voice to unchartered territories as he flutters “We’ll find our love in the sky” over the pounding drums and electronics; the delivery of this single line, justifies exactly why this had to be included.
Number Six: “Echoes of Silence” – Echoes of Silence. Releasing almost thirty songs in the space of a year is something some artists couldn’t do in their entire career. That’s why, with “Echoes of Silence”, the closing track of Trilogy, you get the feeling that The Weeknd had given everything he had; and this was his final breath. Swapping the fancy production for a simple piano progression, the track sees Tesfaye at his most vulnerable state. You can really feel the aching pain behind that wavering falsetto; stunning.
Number Five: “The Morning” – House of Balloons. The best way to describe “The Morning”, is to imagine yourself on a rollercoaster ride. I’ll explain… The journey, like the song, is split two ways. The first is the ascent. The slow, calculated rise to the top of the hill; in the song, it’s the part before the first chorus. Then, reaching the peak, you plummet down a number of hills; heart racing, hands held aloft. That’s what happens as soon as that bass kicks in for the chorus.
Number Four: “The Birds Part 1 / The Birds Part 2” – Thursday. First and foremost, I know these are two separate songs, but it only makes sense to pair them together; alone, they are incomplete. The more upbeat of the two, Part One’s military-like beat paired with The Weeknd’s lyrics about impassive sex and broken relationships “Don’t make me make you fall in love” present a heart-breaking yet emotionless aesthetic. Then, you have the delicately laced ballad, in Part Two. Opening with a recording of what appears to be a woman in tears, the track juxtaposes its counterpart both sonically and lyrically; presenting the best of both worlds.
Number Three: “Earned It” – Fifty Shades of Grey OST. No artist/movie combination could be more perfect than that of The Weeknd and Fifty Shades of Grey. His entire discography echoes sexual undertones which perfectly suit the film’s vibe. Produced by Stephan Moccio and Da Heala, “Earned It” is The Weeknd’s most successful song to date, reaching the third and fourth spot in both the US and UK respectively. Not taking anything away from the song, the fact that it’s arguably his safest, most accessible track so far, may have played a part. Despite that, the richer, more traditional production approach is incredibly refreshing to hear: a side we hadn’t been introduced to before.
Number Two: “The Knowing” – House of Balloons. One of the simpler songs in terms of structure and instrumentation, “The Knowing” served as the closing track to House of Balloons. Speaking about the parallels between betrayal and revenge, “The Knowing” sees one of Tesfaye’s strongest vocal, and lyrical delivery. His intonations of “I know everything” give you the sense that he’s unaffected by this infidelity, but there’s still pain there, there always is. This was also the first song I ever heard by The Weeknd, and it’s stuck with me ever since the first listen.
Number One: “Montreal” – Echoes of Silence. What makes The Weeknd’s music so enticing, so addictive, is the way in which he brings something new to the table with each song, album. Whether it’s through the way he pitches his voice, or through a production choice; he’s not afraid to try something new. “Montreal”, opens with the chorus of “Laisse Tomber Les Filles”, a French song by France Gall (which translates to “Leave the girls alone”). Of course, it’s not really surprising as many parts of Canada speak French, but the execution is immaculate; especially when you piece the translation to the song’s sentiment. One of Tesfaye’s trademarks, is addressing an ex-lover, and in “Montreal”, he’s at his best. There you have it, you’ve seen my top ten songs by The Weeknd. But what are yours? Have I made a monstrous mistake by leaving out an obvious choice?