According to the legend, Abel Tesfaye decided to change his name because he didn’t like it. He changed the spelling to become The Weeknd after finding out about a Canadian rock band with the same name.
Now, the musician once known as Abel, a mixtape dropper turned legitimate hitmaker, is one of the most well-known artists in the entire globe. The Weeknd is determined to explore R&B and pop music on his terms, from the Canadian live music scene to high-profile collaborations, Oscar nominations, and an eventual battle with the Recording Academy.
We’ve compiled ten of The Weeknd’s best tracks so far in honor of the release of his new album Dawn FM tomorrow (January 7).
Check out the list below, and scroll to the end for a playlist of all 10 tracks.
1. “Can’t Feel My Face”
The first time The Weeknd hooked up with pop superproducer Max Martin, this hit was born. Like many other great Top 40 songs throughout history, the song shouldn’t be taken at face value, pun absolutely intended. A clever exploration of the struggles of drug addiction under the guise of a groovy bop, “Can’t Feel My Face” was a true breakout moment for The Weekend. The track earned him his first real solo hit following successes with Ariana Grande and as part of the soundtrack to Fifty Shades of Grey
2. “Blinding Lights”
The Weeknd’s biggest hit to date, the Recording Academy be damned, is “Blinding Lights,” which breaks the record for the most weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and is named Consequence’s Top Song of 2020. It features the Toronto native at the top of his career, belting out his falsetto vocals over vintage synth-pop music and a massive hook that, however, was only a club mainstay for a short period of time before a global epidemic took over our life. By that time, the song had sufficiently ingrained itself in our collective consciousness to act as a comforting soother during the lockdown.
3. “Save Your Tears”
The Weeknd is now an expert at conjuring an ’80s-inspired soundscape, as exemplified on “Save Your Tears,” the second-best track on 2020s After Hours. (The Ariana Grande version is also stellar, though we’re opting to highlight the original here.) While “Save Your Tears” doesn’t break new ground for The Weeknd lyrically, it’s simultaneously wistful, nostalgic and unbelievably catchy — a heady combination that reinforces the fact that he is one of the biggest acts in the pop landscape right now.
4. “Starboy” ft. Daft Punk
The misery in the lyrics is just the way that Abel Tesfaye likes to have fun, but those robotic, irresistible “Hahs,” are classic Daft Punk. The story goes that The Weeknd flew to France to work on “I Feel It Coming,” but when he heard a dark, propulsive beat coming from another room, he felt inspired to write “Starboy” on the spot. The French duo went all but silent following their The Weeknd collaboration, before finally breaking up in 2021. This song — a massive, career-altering hit for the lead artist — stands as an odd bookend to one of the great musical careers of the last fifty years. The Weeknd may be the “Starboy,” but here, Daft Punk is the star.
5. “The Hills”
The Weeknd couldn’t totally abandon his dark, drugged-out persona from his early work as he started to develop a more maximalist, pop-centered sound for his 2015 album The Beauty Behind the Madness. His past and future are beautifully merged in “The Hills,” which combines an addictive hook with a genuine sense of peril and gloom. He goes out of his way to show us the full depth of his apathy, to the point where he can’t even perform well sexually and doesn’t feel like himself without being totally screwed up. His lyrics are also a little bit smart. He even gets borderline defensive on the bridge, asking, “Who are you to judge?” — almost like a shallow opportunity to absolve himself from his destructive behavior. It’s the furthest iteration of his bad boy persona, juxtaposing a slurred, depressive state with a manic cry for help. As The Weeknd began to deal with and dismantle this fraught persona in the 2020s After Hours, “The Hills” feels like a memory of relapse that’s as riveting as it is horrifying.