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Best Weeknd Ever: 17 Must-Know Songs Before 'Starboy'

Before the Toronto singer/songwriter's third studio album drops on Nov. 25, sample his finest work so far

1 / 17

"Wicked Games"

It’s the mission statement of The Weeknd canon, not only one of the first singles to shoot him into prominence at the turn of the decade but also an epitomizing experience that set the scene for his slow-rolling, profanity-laced, heart-on-a-sleeve output that continues to this day. –Kevin Rutherford

2 / 17

“High for This”

For many fans of The Weeknd, this opening track of House of Balloons served as the chilling introduction to the mysterious Toronto singer’s world. “Take a glass / Don’t be scared /Trust me girl / You want to be high for this,” are lyrics that your parents warned you about. But you can’t help find yourself drawn into the drug-fueled haze. From the bass drop that’s reminiscent of a gunshot to the chest, the sharp synths that drown you with their weight and his “come hither” falsetto, “High for This” remains one of The Weeknd’s most erotic songs to date. –Bianca Gracie

3 / 17

"The Knowing"

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. –Kevin Rutherford

4 / 17

"Tell Your Friends"

Kanye West and Mike Dean shot Abel the instrumental for their version of a lounge-singer tune, and Abel bodied it. –Zach Dionne

5 / 17

"Rolling Stone"

Rather than supplementing his voice with a whirl of synthesizers, 808s or both, this Thursday cut finds him meandering with soaring falsetto over acoustic guitar, along with screeching siren-like synths proclaiming his entrance and exit. This is still a Weeknd song, after all. –Kevin Rutherford

6 / 17


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. –Kevin Rutherford

7 / 17


This bonus track added to the three-mixtape compilation Trilogy gets Tesfaye waxing Michael Jackson all over the pre-hook (see: the treatment of the line “I never thought I’d feel this kind of hesitation”) in a brooding sequel to his earlier Jackson cover. –Kevin Rutherford

8 / 17

“Lonely Star”

“Lonely Star,” the opening track to Thursday, found The Weeknd moving away from the foggy sounds of the previous mixtape and presenting a more streamlined theme. While the drug and sex references were still around, there was something more captivating and much darker about this Massive Attack–inspired song. His falsetto became more numbing than seductive, more heartbreaking than cocky. There’s a reason why M.I.A. decided to sample it on her fourth album, Matangi. –Bianca Gracie

9 / 17


Didn’t think Tesfaye could pull off—gasp—songs with a real pulse pre-“Can’t Feel My Face” and its runaway success? Then you didn’t hear “Wanderlust,” the Kiss Land cut, with an active bassline to drive the proceedings. Here you go. –Kevin Rutherford

10 / 17


This chilling-yet-romantic, long-as-hell diamond is secretly Beauty Behind the Madness' finest track.
Zach Dionne

11 / 17

"XO/The Host"

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.” –Kevin Rutherford

12 / 17

"Belong to the World"

Sweeping strings and a striking likeness to the percussion on Portishead’s “Machine Gun” announce the densely layered “Belong to the World,” a Kiss Land cut that will surrender more nuances with each listen.
–Kevin Rutherford

13 / 17

"Live For"

Aubrey Graham was an early supporter of the Weeknd, even appearing on one of his early mixtapes. So once the major label debut arrived, lo and behold, there he was again, submitting his singsong rapping to the second verse. Squaaaaad. –Kevin Rutherford

14 / 17

"The Hills"

Can we agree it was kinda crazy a song this dark had such a lock on the Billboard Hot 100's top spot? Among The Weeknd's most replayable joints, too. –Zach Dionne

15 / 17

"Kiss Land"

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. –Kevin Rutherford

16 / 17

"King of the Fall"

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 Your Girl, and if you bring her to one of his shows, all apologies. Except not really.
–Kevin Rutherford

17 / 17

“House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls”

Way before trying his hand at punk on Starboy’s “False Alarm," The Weeknd was already exploring the genre’s sounds on his debut mixtape—with a distorted twist, of course. “House of Balloons” samples Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 1980 hit “Happy House,” and is elevated by the singer’s eerie high-pitched vocals that belong in a fun house. That mid-song transition courtesy of Illangelo and Doc McKninney, which shifts the song's bright pop gloss to the darker side of the cocaine-powdered party, is damn brilliant.
–Bianca Gracie


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