The Weeknd Balances Mystery and Exposure on Beauty Behind the Madness

The Weeknd Balances Mystery and Exposure on Beauty Behind the Madness

Fans of an artist ready to breakthrough into the mainstream might worry about trading the quality of music in return for more followers.

For Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd, this is not an issue.

Also known by his legal name Abel Tesfaye, The Weeknd followed up his 2013 debut with a handful of singles, features (most notably on Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder”), and live performances, including Coachella in 2015. Many wondered how Abel would handle his newfound pop appeal on his second LP, Beauty Behind the Madness.

As it turns out, things balance out from the get-go. The Weeknd introduces himself as a vulnerable man, alluding to advice from his mother on “Real Life”. This opener is reminiscent of sounds on his second mixtape Thursday, beginning with the echoing guitar riffs leading into powerful strings and keys.

 Although other Weeknd projects instrumentally have slightly more cohesion, BBTM goes down many different roads. This LP marks the return of a partnership between The Weeknd and producer Illangelo, whom provided beats for the entire Trilogy, yet had no production credits on Kiss Land.

There is clear dubstep influence on the Labrinth-featured “Losers”, in which the pair dive into the positives of being a high school dropout and offers new subject matter from Abel’s standpoint. On the third track “Tell Your Friends”, produced by Kanye West, The Weeknd directs his new fans to check out his Trilogy of mixtapes, while also discussing personal ties. His voice soars over  a piano ballad arrangement, his passion gliding over them like a glass over an oak bar.

 The pop appeal appears in the middle of the project, with the mega-smash hit “Can’t Feel My Face” being followed by “Shameless”, a song that The Weeknd could easily perform in Toronto’s version of the Acoustic Cafe. From there, we get the 50 Shades of Grey waltz “Earned It” and the Michael Jackson-inspired “In the Night”, which continues the horror story Abel weaved through Kiss Land. While the tracks are all a tad glitzy, he soars on a spaceship through a starry night of beats.

The only misstep of the album is the duet with Ed Sheeran, “Dark Times”. The rock acoustic guitar doesn’t seem to fit well with Tesfaye’s soprano vocal tones and descriptive lyrics. Sheeran kills it, making this seem like The Weeknd should be featured on this track, not vice versa.

After a darker feature by Lana Del Rey on “Prisoners”, the album concludes with an epic love ballad titled “Angel”, featuring uncredited vocals from Maty Notyes, a relative unknown in the world. Her voice fits well over the grandiose keys in response to Abel’s calling “hop[ing] that [she] finds somebody to love.” One could consider that this track (and, actually, the album as a whole) could simply be a love allusion to cocaine, and it’s clear that The Weeknd has put his downward spiral behind him.

Indeed, The Weeknd is ready to shoot himself into the limelight.

FAVORITE TRACKS: “Real Life”, “Tell Your Friends”, “Often”, “Shameless”, “In the Night”, “Angel”

LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: “Dark Times (feat. Ed Sheeran)”

WORTH YOUR $$? Yes, absolutely.

RATING: 8/10