Is the Weeknd simply full of shit?
Of all the breakout stars of 2011, Toronto’s Abel Tesfaye—who records and performs as the Weeknd—is perhaps the one we know the least about. He doesn’t grant interviews, seldom makes public appearances, and mostly communicates with his rabid followers via cryptic, all-lowercase tweets. All of which raises the question: is this guy full of shit?
There’s something distinctly fishy about the R & B singer’s apparent reclusiveness. Consider, for example, his ultra-limited live schedule. To date, his only gigs outside of his hometown have been in the crap-bucket southern Ontario cities of Guelph and London, when any reasonable person would have made the brief trip to New York or Montreal.
By keeping his appearances so scarce, the Weeknd is promoting himself a bit like a Beanie Baby: never let supply match demand and always keep the fans desperate for more. And the critics, like lovers spurned, keep on knocking at his door despite repeatedly being turned away.
The media frenzy started last March, right around the time Tesfaye released his digital mix tape House of Balloons as a free download via his website. It all began when Drake (yeah, that rapper from Degrassi) began incessantly plugging the Weeknd to his millions of Twitter followers, which should have been enough to make us suspicious. If Tesfaye was really so secretive, why didn’t he stop his mega-famous buddy from ordering us to “Follow the young king”? (Seriously, that’s the real quote.)
Even though little of the promotion came from Tesfaye himself (who frequently showed up in photos with his face obscured), the whole thing reeked of marketing. After all, the dude clearly isn’t bashful—for evidence, just go to YouTube to see a clip from a Juno Awards after party in which the singer joins Drake on-stage and shakes his booty while his own song is playing over the PA.
The Weeknd further promoted his brand by aligning himself with some of the most famous people on the planet. In addition to popping up on Drake’s Take Care, he released an officially commissioned remix of Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out”, and appeared on Lady Gaga’s Born This Way: The Remix. Here’s a tip: if you’re trying to shun the spotlight, don’t team up with the “Fame Monster” herself.
He even lent his track “High for This” to an HBO promo for the show Entourage—which, fittingly enough, is a program about the pursuit of celebrity.
So why bother with the media-shy shtick? The truth is that the Weeknd’s veil of anonymity makes his music sound way cooler. Every groove on his three mix tapes to date (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence) is steeped in creeped-out nocturnal atmosphere, with reverb-swathed electronics mingling with stuttering beats and hedonistic soul. All hype aside, there’s no denying his brilliance at setting a spine-tingling atmosphere.
Unlike so many R & B singers who glorify a life of excessive partying, songs like “Loft Music” and “High for This” make it sound utterly sickening. These tales of raunchy sex and late-night drug binges are so self-destructive that you’ll want to call up a rehab clinic and stage an intervention on the spot.
But how much of a bummer would it be if Tesfaye gave interviews and turned out to be a nice, thoughtful, well-adjusted dude? Because surely no one can actually be as fucked-up as those lyrics would suggest and live to tell about it. As he croons on “Rolling Stone”, “I got you, until you’re used to my face, and my mystery fades.”
In the last few weeks, however, we’ve started to see some hints that he’s making the move from pseudo-underground man of mystery to full-blown pop star. On Christmas Day, he tweeted that he will give his mixtape trilogy an expanded commercial release in 2012. And just last week, he put out a call for Toronto-area musicians on his Facebook page, writing that applicants must be willing to “travel and perform live in concert”. Translation: dude is touring this year (and how much do you want to bet that he’s opening for Drake?).
Yes, the music is fantastic, and the Weeknd’s clandestine approach to promotion is deliciously intriguing. Let’s just not be fooled by his apparent modesty, or forget to recognize him for what he is: one of the most savvy self-promoters in the game. And for Tesfaye’s sake, let’s hope that we still care about him once—as he puts it—we’re used to his face and his mystery fades.