You know The Weeknd by now. You know his songs, especially chart-toppers like "Can't Feel My Face" and "The Hills" plus his Ariana Grande team-up "Love Me Harder." You know his famous friends and collaborators, like, say, Drake. You know his album Beauty Behind the Madness is out this week and is easily one of music's most anticipated records through the end of 2015.
But perhaps you didn't know the man born Abel Tesfaye has been releasing music since the turn of the decade. Maybe you didn't know he had significant buzz under his belt before he even released a full-length album. It's possible you didn't know that, for all the Michael Jackson vocal comparisons, one of his early mixtapes features a King of Pop cover.
As we prep for a weekend of the Weeknd, let's dip into the archives with some of the R&B crooner's prime, choice material that surfaced before he was topping charts across the world.
It’s the mission statement of The Weeknd canon, not only one of the first singles to shoot him into prominence but also an epitomizing experience that set the scene for his slow-rolling, profanity-laced, heart-on-a-sleeve output that continued (and continues) through the decade.
There’s a delicate shift between Tesfaye’s lower register and falsetto; with some artists it’s a noticeable leap, others an effortless, silky-smooth transition. On “The Knowing” it’s barely even there, a natural progression as his vocal rises from wistful repetition of “I know everything” to the three-minute-mark higher register that acts as a extended climax over rolling waves of electric guitar.
Was there a time when the Weeknd didn’t appear as the second coming of the King of Pop himself? If there was, mark down his “Dirty Diana” redo as the moment where he completed his transformation. Blaring, buzzing synths like those he’d adopt in later material highlight the important nuances that allowed this cover to stand out as homage rather than mimicry.
What starts as some sort of lilting Lana Del Rey-esque intro shifts into “XO,” the first half of a hybrid track that evokes a drug-filled evening atop the roof of some not-so-extravagant digs. It’s “The Host” that highlights something far more sinister, a sparse expanse of regurgitating synths trudging beneath commands to just “ride it out.”
There’s much to discuss on the seven-and-a-half-minute title track from the Weeknd’s debut studio album. The centerpiece comes halfway through, when the dude goes all “Pyramids” on us with a sudden axing of the momentum to discuss both the spoils of fame and that which spoiled it, turning the dial up to menacing with the sound of a female scream.
Calling one’s tour the King of the Fall tour apparently necessitated a song to go with it; enter this July 2014 track, with a video that predates his new album by a year on the dot. “King of the Fall” acts as a warning: the Weeknd is Mr. Steal Yo Girl, and if you bring her to one of his shows, all apologies. Except not really.