The Weeknd – Beauty Behind The Madness
The Weeknd began his career in a shroud of anonymity. Mixtapes he released in 2011 had no physical face attached to them. His verses were featured on works from the likes of Drake and Wiz Khalifa, sometimes completely void of credit. The growing popularity of “Wicked Games” and the release of Kiss Land in autumn 2012 began The Weeknd’s slow and calculated rise from darkness to the limelight of American and Canadian pop music.
Beauty Behind the Madness is released at a theoretically perfect time in Abel Tesfaye’s (The Weeknd’s given name) career. Coming off of the astronomical success of “Earned It” from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack, and several hit singles in the past year, Tesfaye’s newest release has been highly anticipated since its announcement. This anticipation is deserved, as the musically interested public has been waiting for the next male pop superstar since the death of Michael Jackson. The Weeknd is likely to soon pick up the crown and begin the next reign as King of Pop.
There are several tracks on Beauty Behind the Madness that have the capability of elevating The Weeknd to that level of King of Pop. Placing “Real Life” in the position of opening such an important album of 2015 was a bold and successful decision. This work gives the listener an ear into The Weeknd’s new dominating themes: Orchestrated instrumentation that demands full attention in the room in which it is played. This is contrary to the original Tesfaye material, where the music played the part of background noise to mischievous activities. Highly produced choral lines often flirt with the mistake of over-production, and sultry lyricism and steamy vocals that stab their way through your heart and straight into your animalistic desires.
As expected when Kanye West’s name is mentioned in the credits of a song, “Tell Your Friends” takes the crown of best track on Beauty Behind the Madness with ease. West’s audial presence in the production of this track is clearly heard in the soulful piano riffs, bass lines and contorted vocal synths. The sounds continually roll through the rap-sung verses of The Weeknd as he tells his latest sexual exploit to brag about her Abel experience to her friends. This record is right at home in a dark Toronto club in the middle of November at 2:00 a.m.
“Often” and “The Hills” require no special introduction or description here, other than to mention that although these tracks came out months ago, they are right at home on the dark-pop, PBR&B album that is Beauty Behind the Madness. They provide context to this work and remind the listener that there are still elements of the former Weeknd in his new projects, even if Billboard favors half of the tracklist.
On the other end of the spectrum are “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Earned It.” While “Often” and “The Hills” validate The Weeknd’s position as Maestro of Sex, these two tracks are aimed at radio listeners, younger ears and the faint of heart. “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Earned It” will be heard at wedding receptions and homecoming dances for years to come.
Rounding out Beauty Behind the Madness are “Dark Times” and “Angel,” tracks featuring Ed Sheeran and Maty Noyes, respectively. Both records display The Weeknd’s unique ability to collaborate with artists but steal the spotlight, evoke shivers from the listeners’ toes to scalp through dynamic verses and open his deepest regrets and missteps to the world at his own expense, but as a path to success.
The Weeknd was once sought out as the perennial “feature,” an artist that needed to sing at least one chorus on your album in order to garner more publicity for your new release; The Weeknd was good as an addition to a track but not as the feature presentation because he was not yet prevalent enough in popular recognition. Beauty Behind the Madness reverses those roles, as The Weeknd invites two relatively unknown artists to the lineup: Labrinth and Maty Noyes. These features, the massive production throughout the entire album and the unprecedented commercial success of all singles on Beauty Behind the Madness, make this album one of the most prominent releases of 2015. This album will be used for years as a definition of the state of popular music in the early decades of the 2000s. No matter how commercialized The Weeknd’s work becomes, we will always be pulled into thoughts of our past loves and present secrets by the smoky electricity of The Weeknd’s crooning.