Rising to fame only within the past decade, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, or The Weeknd, is a record-breaking singer, songwriter, actor, and record producer. Continue reading for an inside look into the life and career of the Artist behind the hits “Blinding Lights,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” and “Heartless.”
Growing up and rise to fame
Abel Tesfaye was born in Toronto, Canada, and was raised in a town called Scarborough. He is the only child of Ethiopian immigrants who emigrated to Canada in the 1980s. Tesfaye was raised by his Mother and Grandmother as his Father was not present in his life. Tesfaye was born on February 16, 1990, and is 30 years old.
Tesfaye has publicly admitted that he smoked marijuana, used illicit drugs, and shoplifted throughout his teenage years. After dropping out of West Hill Collegiate Institute and Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute (located in Scarborough, Canada) in 2007, he also left home and relocated to Toronto. Many of his musical themes center around the lifestyle that he led throughout his teen years.
Tesfaye has claimed that the idea behind his moniker, the Weeknd, came to be from his account of leaving one weekend and never coming home. The spelling of the moniker eventually dropped the last “E” in order to avoid trademark issues with another Canadian band.
The Weeknd began his musically prolific journey when he just happened to cross paths with a music producer named Jeremy Rose. The Weeknd and Rose utilized the popular video uploading platform Youtube to upload their songs. The videos, which were released under the name “The Weeknd,” skyrocketed to popularity after they were shared online by hit-musician and fellow Canadian, Drake.
Due to Drake’s notoriety and influence in the music industry, The Weeknd was able to gain increased popularity and access to recording opportunities. As a result, he released his first album titled House of Balloons which gained critical acclaim and was shortlisted as a nominee for the Polaris Music Prize of Canada.
The album was available as a free download and received an influx of outstanding reviews. The Weeknd delivered his first live performance at a nightclub in Toronto, the booming Canadian metropolis. In 2011, he released two additional records as free downloads by the names of Thursday and Echoes of Silence. That same year, he was also invited by Drake as a contributor to the Artist’s new album, Take Care.
By 2012, The Weeknd’s career began to pick up speed. This year he was signed to a record label, Republic Records. After two short months with the label, he released his next album, Trilogy, which contained the remastered versions of his three previously-released mixtapes. This was The Weeknd’s first hit record. His next album, Kiss Land (2013) was adored by his fans, however, did not reach a particular level of success beyond this immediate fan base.
As a result of lackluster excitement over Kiss Land, he commissioned his record label for help in creating hit songs that would appeal to a more broad range of followers. This move proved to work in his favor, as he was paired with Swedish producer Max Martin and given the opportunity for a duet with Ariana Grande.
In 2014, he released a song with Grande titled Love Me Harder, which catapulted the Weeknd to a top 10 spot on Billboard’s music charts. At this point, the Weeknd was becoming a household name. His second studio album, Beauty Behind the Madness, was subsequently released in 2015 and highlighted the smash hit singles “The Hills,” “Earned It,” and “Can’t Feel My Face.” “Earned It” was featured on the soundtrack of the 2015 film, Fifty Shades of Grey, which starred Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.
The Weeknd’s momentum did not stop after Beauty Behind the Madness. In 2016, he released the Grammy-winning album Starboy in which he collaborated with esteemed rapper Kendrick Lamar and Electronic band Daft Punk. He also collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, a chart-topping rapper, and Lana Del Rey, a swooning Indie songstress. Two years later, he released My Dear Melancholy (2018) and in 2019 he debuted as an actor in the Netflix film, Uncut Gems, starring Adam Sandler.
Rewards and recognitions
In 2013, The Weeknd won Juno Awards, or JUNOS, for Breakthrough Artist of the Year and R&B/Soul Recording of the year. The Juno Awards are a way for Canada to celebrate and recognize their country’s musical talent. In 2015, he won Artist of the Year and R&B/Soul Recording of the Year for the second time.
In 2016, he won Songwriter of the Year, Album of the Year, R&B/Soul Recording of the Year, and Single of the Year for “Can’t Feel My Face.” In 2017, he won R&B/Soul Recording of the Year for the fourth time for his album Starboy. In 2016, he won two awards from the Canadian Radio Music Awards, including SOCAN Song of the year for “Can’t Feel My Face” and Fans’ Choice as himself. In 2014, he won the Allan Slaight Award for Canada’s Walk of Fame. This title is awarded to young Canadian’s who make a positive impact on the arts.
In 2015, he earned American Music Awards for Favorite Soul/R&B Album and Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist. He has won 6 ASCAP Rhythm and Soul Music Awards and a whopping 10 ASCAP Pop Music Awards.
In 2016, he won 8 Billboard Music Awards. Tesfaye won Top R&B Male Artist from the Billboard Music Awards in 2019. In 2017, The Weeknd won the Power Artists Award at the Billboard Power 100. In 2015, he won the Centric Award at the BET Awards for “Earned It.”
Tesfaye has won 3 Grammys. He won Best Urban Contemporary Album for Beauty Behind the Madness in 2014. He was awarded Best R&B Performance for “Earned It” in 2016. He also won Best Urban Contemporary Album for Starboy in 2018.
He has broken two Guinness World Records, one The Most Streamed Album on Spotify for One Year in 2017 (Beauty Behind the Madness), and one for Most Consecutive Weeks in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 by a Solo Male Artist, also in 2017. In 2016, he was awarded a People’s Choice Award for Favorite R&B Artist.
This year, the Weeknd has won two MTV Video Music Awards for Video of the Year and Best R&B for Blinding Lights. He has won and been nominated for endless others throughout his prolific 10-year reign over the R&B and popular music world. He was even nominated for an Academy Award in 2016 for Best Original Song (Earned It) for the Fifty Shades of Grey: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, however, he fell short to Sam Smith, who won that year for his song Writing’s on the Wall for the film Spectre.
Personal Life and Dating
The Weeknd has dated fellow pop star Selena Gomez as well as model Bella Hadid. Tesfaye’s tumultuous relationship with Bella Hadid began in 2015 and is rumored to have inspired many songs on his album After Hours. Bella is the sister of supermodel Gigi Hadid and her brother is Anwar Hadid, who is the boyfriend of Dua Lipa, famed artist of the hits “Don’t Stop Now” and “Break My Heart”. They were first spotted together at the coveted California summer music festival, Coachella.
Tesfaye claimed he was attracted to her work ethic as well as dedication to her family. The pair had shared many adoring photos of one another on Instagram. In November 2016, they were rumored to have broken up whilst The Weeknd performed during the famed televised Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show which Hadid was walking in, making for an awkward moment on the runway.
In January 2017, The Weeknd was then spotted with Selena Gomez. They solidified rumors of a union via posting Instagram pictures vacationing in Italy together. Busy schedules apparently led to the end of their relationship after only 10 months together. In April 2018, Bella Hadid and Tesfaye had officially reconciled when they were spotted again at their favorite music festival, Coachella.
The pair called it quits again in August 2019. There was also a rumor that emerged linking him to Jennifer Anniston, however, this was never confirmed. Even still, the Weeknd has had his share of high-profile relationships. It is undetermined who or if the Weeknd is currently dating.
A Decade of Discogs
House of Balloons, Echoes of Silence, and Thursday
The collective of three Freshman albums from Tesfaye was released in 2011. The releases earned accolades within the R&B music scene, and House of Balloons earned the coveted Best New Music title from Pitchfork, which rated it an 8.5/10. The writer states in the March 2011 review, “House of Balloons is a remarkably confident, often troubling debut that excels at both forward-thinking genre-smearing and good old-fashioned songcraft.”
Tracks Listed on House of Balloons
- High For This
- What You Need
- House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls
- The Morning
- Wicked Games
- The Party and The After-Party
- Coming Down
- Loft Music
- The Knowing
Tracks Listed on Echoes of Silence
- XO/The Host
- Same Old Song
- The Fall
- Echoes of Silence
- Till Dawn (Here comes the sun)
Tracks Listed on Thursday
- Lonely Star
- Life of the Party
- The Zone
- The Birds Pt. 1
- The Birds Pt. 2
- Rolling Stone
- Heaven or Las Vegas
The sophomore album from Tesfaye earned fewer rave reviews than its predecessors, however, it was his first complete studio album. The Billboard album review written in September 2013 describes the juxtaposition of the content of The Weeknd’s lyrics to the dark and intense sounds created by the music itself. Drake has a cameo in Track 6 of the album, Life For.
Tracks Listed on Kissland
- The Town
- Love in the Sky
- Belong to the World
- Life For
- Kiss Land
- Tears in the Rain
Beauty Behind the Madness
Released in 2015, the third edition from the Weeknd contained the smash hit track “Can’t Feel My Face” as well as a track for the soundtrack for the sensual Blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey. The album all but solidified the Weeknd’s presence and force in the R&B, Hip-Hop, and popular music empires. The masterpiece graduated the Weeknd as a household name. In a Rolling Stone article touting the album, the writer heavily compares him to Michael Jackson and Ed Sheeran.
Tracks listed on Beauty Behind the Madness
- Real Life
- Tell Your Friends
- The Hills
- Can’t Feel My Face
- Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)
- In the Night
- As You Are
- Dark Times
Tesfaye’s third studio album, and his second album to hit number one and features cameos by Daft Punk, Lana Del Rey, Kendrick Lamar, and Future. Prior to its release, the Weeknd released a 12-minute long short film to promote the album. Starboy often received mixed reviews and was criticized for being too long. Even still, the album earned a Metacritic Metascore of 67, which is considered highly favorable.
Tracks listed on Starboy
- Starboy (featuring Daft Punk)
- Party Monster
- False Alarm
- True Colors
- Stargirl Interlude (featuring Lana Del Rey)
- Sidewalks (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
- Six Feet Under
- Love to Lay
- A Lonely Night
- Ordinary Life
- Nothing Without You
- All I Know (featuring Future)
- Die For You
- I Feel it Coming (featuring Daft Punk)
This year, The Weeknd released his most recent studio album. The work hit the shelves in March 2020, just before the world was shut down due to the pandemic. While After Hours lyrical content stuck to typical themes presented by Tesfaye, his musical stylings took a different turn. The Weeknd explored new wave and dream pop influences in his work. The shattered records, becoming the record with the most global pre-adds in the history of the Apple Music platform. The album has successfully achieved the status of the Weeknd’s fourth number one album.
Tracks Listed on After Hours
- Alone Again
- Too Late
- Hardest to Love
- Scared to Live
- Escape from LA
- Blinding Lights
- In Your Eyes
- Save Your Tears
- Repeat After Me
- After Hours
- Bleed Out
- Nothing Compares
- Missed You
- Final Lullaby