We live in a world where rappers are the new rockstars, and the biggest rapper, Drake, is one who sings...kind of. So where does the Weeknd fit in? First let's address the elephant in the room, yes he cut his hair (finally).
The Weeknd is undeniably a very good singer. One can appreciate his natural talent regardless of what kind of music one prefers. His last album Beauty Behind the Madness owned the summer with hits such as “Can't Feel My Face” and “The Hills”. It should be noted however, that The Weeknd did not simply come out of the gate with a major label album debut like many pop stars. In fact, he had three critically acclaimed mixtapes and 1 compilation album over 2 years before he released his first album. What makes him interesting to listen to however, is not just the great singing and expensive production, but the content of his lyrics.
What sets him apart from the typical R&B singer is that he sings about some really explicit things really nonchalantly. Take for example, a few lines from “The Hills” where he sings in monotone about how “Drugs started feeling like it’s decaf” and ending the verse while effortlessly moving into a higher register with the line “all these motherfuckers want a relapse”. The latter line commenting on how fans resent that he is a huge star now, a theme which he further explores in his latest single “Starboy”.
However his latest music seems tame compared to one of his darkest songs he’s made yet is “Initiation” from his mixtape Echoes of Silence. The topic of this song is about a girl trying to gain his approval and in order to do so she has to become accustomed to his drug centered lifestyle. While the entire song paints a wild and scary picture, here are a few lines to give you an idea : “No more crying, heart rate slow, put that rum down you don't wanna die tonight” and perhaps the most ominous line comes in the hook with “Baby, you can have it all, There's just something that I need from you, Is to meet my boys”.
Of course, he is not the first popular musician to be notorious for adulterated lyrics. Morrissey of The Smiths, known for his humor, took a more playful approach while also being raunchy with lines such as “I’d like to drop my trousers to the Queen. Every sensible child will know what this means”. In contrast, a band like Megadeth goes even further down the spectrum of dark imagery (with no humor) saying things like “Screaming for your life, but no one hears a sound, help me, prepare the patient’s scalp, to peel away.”
One could be fooled by The Weeknd’s silky smooth voice, which like almost every good R&B singer has some Michael Jackson influence. Yet, this is a guy that was nominated for a Kids Choice Award for a song called “Can’t Feel My Face”. He has found a way to make songs both edgy and catchy enough to bring him to the top of worldwide charts. In a way, he is the complete anti pop-star... which is pretty rock and roll.