Don’t tell Roger Waters, but The Weeknd is one of the most successful streaming artists of all time. With over 33 billion streams, the Canadian pop/alt-R&B singer has more listens than Justin Bieber, Post Malone, BTS, and even Taylor Swift.
Since emerging on the scene with several viral songs on YouTube in 2011, The Weeknd (AKA Abel Tesfaye) has only continued to evolve in his sound and aesthetic with each album release.
As with other influential shape-shifting artists like David Bowie, taking a journey through the best Weeknd songs is both a matter of “which album” and “which version of The Weeknd”? This guide will dive into The Weeknd’s greatest hits.
“Can’t Feel My Face”
After only initially dropping a string of successful mixtapes, The Weeknd scored his first Billboard top 100 hit in 2015. The breakout track that sent his career through the stratosphere was “Can’t Feel My Face“, the first single from his 2015 album Beauty Behind The Madness.
The personality we see from The Weeknd throughout this era is more or less the persona that made him famous. Sporting his iconic palm tree dreadlocks, his smooth falsetto introduced us to an artist equal parts tortured, seductive, and substance-addled.
“Can’t Feel My Face” features a hoppy, party-ready bass line reminiscent of a Michael Jackson single. Its lyrical content invites a seamless romantic comparison between a love interest and the effects of cocaine, such that any contrast between the two becomes almost indistinguishable. Much the same, the catchy hook’s proclamation of, “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you, but I love it”, is too much fun to deny.
“The Hills“, his second smash-hit from the very same album, presented a far darker look at a similar topic. Its head-bobbing, downtempo plea that you understand, “When I’m f—-d up, that’s the real me,” would soon become a red-flag battle cry of questionable romantic partners the world over.
When the music video for “Starboy” (the lead single from The Weeknd’s 2016 album of the same name) came out, it marked The Weeknd’s first major reinvention of himself.
At the beginning of the video, Abel is seen being suffocated to death by a masked figure. After Abel drops dead, his murderer is then revealed to also be himself, his signature dreadlocks gone for good. “I’m tryin’ to put you in the worst mood” are the first words this brand-new version of The Weeknd sings.
You might think it would seem an unlikely start to one of the year’s biggest party songs. However, a choppy, futuristic beat from dance music pioneers Daft Punk brings the braggadocios single to life. “I’m a motherf—-n’ Starboy”, The Weeknd swaggers over the breathy chorus.
The title, coupled with the re-inventive sentiment, is hardly a coincidence. The song and album both pay tribute to “Starman” singer David Bowie. Also, famous for constantly changing his image and sound, Bowie passed away from cancer earlier in the year.
2019 proved another transformative year for The Weeknd. Rather than release an album, he starred as a 2012 version of himself in the Safdie Brothers‘ film Uncut Gems. The movie, a pulse-pounding thriller starring a battered and bloodied Adam Sandler and featuring a shimmery electronic soundtrack, would bear great influence over his future musical direction.
In 2020, The Weeknd would once again debut his brand-new look in the video for his next album’s first single. Sporting a bloody, bandaged nose and red suit, The Weeknd cackles maniacally before “Blinding Lights” kicks in.
In stark contrast with Abel’s severe appearance, “Blinding Lights” is an immensely catchy and upbeat dance song. With sugary synths and a propulsive beat, the song’s grooves and melodies invite comparisons to 1980s pop and even a little disco. It even spawned a viral TikTok challenge in which people attempted choreographed dance routines to it.
“Save Your Tears”
“Save Your Tears” became the next single on his 2020 album After Hours to further push this artistic direction. The song is no less of a saccharine and melodic dance floor hit. However, in its video, Abel is seen wearing unsettling facial prosthetics that make him resemble an overly Botoxed version of Freddie Mercury from Queen. It’s definitely one of the more creepy music videos of one of The Weeknd songs.
This blend of sonically soothing and visually unnerving would continue into The Weeknd’s 2021 Super Bowl Halftime show performance.
“Take My Breath”
The release of Dawn FM in 2022 would only push The Weeknd’s attempts to craft visionary dance music. On the album, he once again teams with Daniel Lopatin (aka OPN), producer of the Uncut Gems score among other movie soundtracks. On the album cover for Dawn FM, he continues his quest to “uglify himself,” appearing in realistic old age makeup.
The album’s first single, “Take My Breath”, is an undeniable dance floor earworm. The song steadily undulates in and out of a central groove throughout its length. Between yet another Michael Jackson-esque chorus, the dark and bass-heavy beat builds and drops with precision.
Even though its lyrics tackle suicidal ideation, the song is strangely befitting of a party atmosphere. It even appears in commercials for Peloton! Overall, it’s quite hard not to find yourself not doing a “Night At The Roxbury” head-bob along with it.
The Best Weeknd Songs Of All Time
Few mainstream artists evolve and push boundaries like The Weeknd. Knowing the best Weeknd songs is only a starting point in a much deeper musical journey. You’ll also want to discover deeper cuts as well as similar artists you’ll probably enjoy just as much.
What’s on your list of the best Weeknd songs? What are the Weeknd songs that you absolutely can’t live without? Please let us know in the comments.
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