Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, had to start at the bottom before having hits like “Starboy,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” and “Blinding Lights” reach the top of the charts. The self-described “street child” from Scarborough, a Toronto suburb, told Variety that it was difficult growing up there. I genuinely believed that cinema would be my savior, but I wasn’t able to actually produce a movie to make myself feel better, you know? People appreciated music because it was immediate and very direct therapy. My life was definitely spared by it.
The Weeknd is currently one of the best-selling musicians in the world after releasing five studio albums, four No. 1 Billboard songs, and winning three Grammys. Ten facts you might not know about the Canadian singer, who will headline the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show in Tampa Bay on February 7.
1. He’s trilingual
The Weeknd, an Ethiopian-born child of immigrants, was raised outside of Toronto in a diverse community that included residents from other East African nations as well as those from India, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. He told Variety that he first learned to make words in Amharic, the language of Ethiopia, because his granny, who raised him together with his mother, would not speak English. “I learned English too thanks to television and living in Canada, but I went to a French immersion school where speaking English would get you in trouble, and I couldn’t say it to my grandmother, so it’s almost like English is my third language, even though it’s now my first.”
2. He has a special connection to Jim Carrey
The Weeknd also revealed to Variety that when he was 4 years old, his single mother Samra Tesfaye took him to see the 1994 comedy The Mask, which stars fellow Ontario native Jim Carrey. It “blew me away,” he said, adding that it gave him more motivation to pursue his dream of going to film school. Nearly 30 years later, The Weeknd invited Carrey to his Los Angeles condo to hear some new songs in 2019. The two men were introduced by text.
In the end, they not only learned they shared a neighborhood and even pulled out telescopes to wave at one another, but Carrey also recognized the precise theater where his mother had taken him to see The Mask. The Weeknd said, “On my [30th] birthday, he called and said to peek out my window, and on his balcony, he had these enormous red balloons, and he picked me up and we went to brunch. “It was bizarre. I went to brunch with Jim Carrey on my first day of turning 30 because he was my first artistic inspiration.
3. He initially wanted to spell his stage name differently
The singer admitted in a 2013 Reddit AMA that he “hated” his real name and had switched to the stage name “The Weekend” in his late teens because it “sounded cool.” There was only one issue: a Canadian rock band already existed. As a result, he dropped the final “e” to protect his intellectual property. However, according to music producer Jeremy Rose, he and his bandmate went by the moniker “The Weekend,” but their former partner omitted the “e” after a dispute in 2010.
4. His trademark former hairstyle was a pain — literally
The Weeknd claims that his signature dreadlock haircut, which was made popular by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, occasionally causes him to have neck pain. He maintained the look despite trying to avoid looking “like everyone else” and to be recognized as “iconic and unusual.” However, he admitted to Rolling Stone in 2015 that he would “definitely chop it” if it began to impair his vision.
In 2016, he finally chopped off all of his hair, unveiling his new short hairstyle on the Starboy album cover. He subsequently quipped in an interview with The Guardian, “I think I felt a single tear come down my face,” adding that he’d also missed the privacy he could have from donning baseball caps.
5. He dropped out of high school
The Weeknd eventually dropped out of high school at the age of 17, convincing his best buddy La Mar Taylor to follow him after transferring schools multiple times. The two made the decision to relocate to a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto’s Parkdale suburb with the help of another friend, Hyghly Alleyne. As he hauled his mattress outside of their house, he recalled his mother giving him “the ugliest look somebody could possibly have.” He stated to The New York Times in 2015, “She looked at me like she had failed.” He acknowledged to Rolling Stone that he still experiences anxiety when “talking to someone intelligent” and said that he later started playing crossword puzzles to expand his vocabulary.