Anonymity was once a staple for the man born Abel Tesfaye. Donning The Weeknd moniker in the early 2010s, he lurked in the shadows of the internet, posting music to YouTube without putting a face to the name. That anonymity worked in his favour, building the hype that set him onto the path of worldwide stardom. Fast forward to present day and he’s one of the highest-selling artists of the generation, topping charts, performing Super Bowls, arena tours and innovating pop with every release.
The Weeknd’s work is adored by his dedicated fans, who take pride in being by his side from the very start. His discography is one of the most heavily discussed in mainstream communities, forever evolving and influencing the world. We take the task to evaluate each full-length release by the Canadian, including studio albums, mixtapes and extended-plays.
Starboy was The Weeknd consolidating his stay in the mainstream. His third album followed a new direction of electro-pop, digging out Daft Punk for mega-hit collaborations. It houses underrated songs such as “A Lonely Night”, “Attention” and “Love to Lay”, granting the best moments the Starboy formula has to offer. Despite the success, Starboy feels void of heart and substance, lost in channelling a sound that’s Weeknd’s most inferior experiment. The hooks lack an impression, exposing how underwritten Starboy is (“True Colors”, “Six Feet Under”, “False Alarm”). He still seems like a juvenile star, something he would quickly vanquish from this point on.
Best tracks: “Starboy”, “Reminder”, “A Lonely Night”, “Die for You”
An ambitious fifth album, Weeknd’s Dawn FM continued down the path of cinematic soundtracks that defined the latter stage of his career. Dawn FM is conceptualised as a radio station for the dead, playing 80s synth tunes for them on the way to the afterlife. There are a batch of highlights here, such as “Sacrifice”, “Is There Someone Else?” and “Out of Time”, which is good enough to slot into Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. What holds Dawn FM back is its rehashing of previous ideas. Melodically, The Weeknd is often found borrowing from other albums, and subsequently struggling to deliver hooks as strong or sticky (“Don’t Break My Heart”). It’s hard to pinpoint moments where Tesfaye’s performances, lyrics or hooks are the dominant attraction. Rather, it’s the production doing most of the work. The album still maintains a solid experience, but Dawn FM doesn’t have the it-factor in songs that could rank among his all-time best.
Best tracks: “Is There Someone Else?”, “Out of Time”, “Sacrifice”
The melancholy of The Weeknd couldn’t be clearer over his 2018 EP, supplying songs that are unashamedly vulnerable, atmospheric and replayable. My Dear Melancholy create emotional pop songs that carry The Weeknd’s signature stamp, bringing both worlds together like he successfully delivered earlier in his career. “Call Out My Name” is a lowkey ballad where the magic is in the powerful hook. It is reminiscent of Weeknd’s older work, which is honoured in “Privilege” as well. “Wasted Times” is proof that My Dear Melancholy is Starboy but with purpose; carrying a pop influence with a unique identity. The upbeat production on “Wasted Times” and “Hurt You” is refreshing and far from cliché, forming an enjoyable base for The Weeknd to pull the veil on his high-profile relationships, which grants some of his best songwriting since his breakout projects.
The brevity works in its favour; any longer and the sound would have swiftly become tedious.
Best tracks: “Call Out My Name”, “I Was Never There”, “Privilege”
The Weeknd’s second album propelled him to stardom for all the right reasons. Beauty Behind the Madness found The Weeknd venturing into the pop world while holding on to his signature flavours. Over fourteen tracks, the Toronto singer maintains a precise balance of genre, which is why the album is popular with day-one fans and those who needed a real introduction. Songs like “Acquainted” and As You Are” are an impressive blend of pop and R&B. “The Hills” is a Weeknd song so good it managed to enter the pop realm on its own merits. This is why Beauty Behind the Madness hits the sweet spot; a significant album with few compromises.
A couple tracks halt Beauty Behind the Madness being higher in this list that are either underwritten or do not impress sonically (“Dark Times”, “Prisoner”).
Best tracks: “The Hills”, “As You Are”, “Shameless”, “Can’t Feel My Face”, “Acquainted”, “Often”
As the middle child of the 2011 breakout mixtapes, Thursday is easy to dismiss. Sonically, it is the most direct out the trio, but its narrative is what takes the tape to greater heights – a girl obsessed with The Weeknd who only gets his attention on the penultimate weekday. The story defines the tape’s highlights, including “The Birds”, “Lonely Star” and the title track, resulting in some of his best songwriting. Thanks to this, there’s an urgent, dramatic aura to Thursday, one that isn’t found on other Weeknd projects. That’s all while Weeknd expands the signature Trilogy sound that has never been accurately replicated by another artist.
Best tracks: “The Birds Pt. 1”, “Lonely Star”, “Thursday”, “Rolling Stone”, “Life of the Party”
The third 2011 mixtape is the most melancholic and depressing instalment of the trio. As an experience, Echoes of Silence is uncomfortably haunting. There is a lingering paranoia that can’t be shaken off, wired in tracks like “XO / The Host”, the doleful “Next”, and the delicate yet eerie “Outside”. The unhinged “Initiation” is straight out a horror film; a disturbing track to listen to. Elsewhere, Echoes of Silence sees The Weeknd become more vulnerable, especially to the power of women. The emotional melancholy seeps through “Next” and “Montreal”, two beautiful songs that are among the best tracks of the Trilogy. The Weeknd feels very human on these songs, a departure from the hedonistic character conveyed on most of the mixtape. His “Dirty Diana” cover comfortably does the original justice, proving that The Weeknd may be the closest artist to Michael Jackson of this generation, at least vocally and stylistically.
Uniquely designed through its sinister soundscape, Echoes of Silence always has the listener looking over its shoulder.
Best tracks: “Montreal”, “D.D.”, “Next”, “Echoes of Silence”, “Initiation”, “Outside”
The Weeknd unlocked a cinematic, creative vision with After Hours, his fourth studio album. The direction is clear as ever on After Hours, possessing an uninterrupted musical and thematic identity. Themes of celebrity lifestyle are borrowed from Starboy but refined in a cohesive, consistent manner, fleshed out to its full potential. The Daft Punk electro-pop template is ditched in favour of vintage 80s synths (“Blinding Lights”, “In Your Eyes”), drum and bass (“Hardest to Love”) and UK garage (“Too Late”). The songwriting has advanced, opening the gate for The Weeknd’s inner struggles to become clearer than they’ve ever been. Songs like “After Hours”, “Faith” and “In Your Eyes” charged through the barrier into The Weeknd’s bank of all-timers, as do the main hits.
It was only further helped by its inventive concept; a desperate attempt by a successful protagonist to escape Hollywood. He donned a red suit for the entire album cycle, evolving the album’s narrative through music videos, live performances and threads that tied in with the next album, Dawn FM. There was just so much to digest from After Hours, something that continues to this day. This is the closest The Weeknd has got to pop perfection, in a way that retains his creativity.
Best tracks: “After Hours”, “In Your Eyes”, “Heartless”, “Blinding Lights”, “Alone Again”, “Save Your Tears”, “Faith”
Kiss Land is hands down The Weeknd’s most overlooked project, rarely given its plaudits and massively misunderstood at the time of release. As a debut album, it felt derivative from what fans and critics expected after the mixtapes. In hindsight, Kiss Land is not far from the dark essence of its predecessors, but simultaneously shows evolution from a sound which had seen its life lived. Conceptually, Kiss Land is a fantasy—a perfect world, at least how The Weeknd would see one to be. The listener is pulled into the realm with full force, offering nothing but cinematic pieces from start to finish. It is commanded by progressive song structures, many songs lasting six to seven minutes, coupled with colourful production.
Once you tune in with full attention, you unlock the infectious melodies that come with the invention. “Belong to the World” is a testament to the album spirit, a power anthem that adds a new angle to The Weeknd’s love for prostitutes. The song’s production is erratic and layered, topped off with a stellar chorus. “Wanderlust” is a moment of euphoric positivity. The MJ-inspired disco-pop cut is the most infectiously catchy song of The Weeknd’s career–more than his chart-topping hits. Even lowkey songs like “The Town”, “Pretty” and “Professional” have captivating hooks and production, not to mention there’s an improvement on The Weeknd’s lyricism here.
Another great aspect to the album are the transitions, flowing seamlessly into the next track. The songs thus feel ubiquitous to this world The Weeknd is portraying, transportive unlike any project on the list. It is bold, inventive, catchy and filler-free in its ten tracks. All of this is unique to Kiss Land, the Toronto native’s most abstract effort to date.
Best tracks: “Wanderlust”, “Belong to the World”, “Professional”, “Adaptation”, “Pretty”, “Tears in the Rain”, “Love in the Sky”
The Weeknd’s iconic debut mixtape remains his best body of work. House of Balloons shaped R&B for the rest of the decade and never gets old with another listen. It is a blueprint that many artists have tried to replicate, but nothing is better than the original.
At the time, there was no face to the music. It was to the point where people (especially the media) thought The Weeknd was a band, or even a duo. No one had a clue who this mysterious act was until The Weeknd properly came out the shadows after the buzz skyrocketed. The nine-track mixtape pushes musical and structural boundaries, features beautiful vocals, has perfect cohesion, includes a narrative and boasts tons of influence.
House of Balloons is an airy, nymphomanic assemblance of R&B, hip hop, alternative pop, EDM and rock, mixed into a brew to make The Weeknd’s signature revolutionary sound. It is masterful at conveying the druggy atmosphere The Weeknd inhabits, specifically through the unique genre-pushing production that matches the theme of the song in question.
“Wicked Games” is the classic rock&B song that summarises his drug-filled, womanizer lifestyle. It is ethereal, hypnotic and remains one of The Weeknd’s best songs to date. Opening cut “High for This” and “What You Need” take on the quiet storm genre to spectacular effect, with the former track exploding into life on the captivating chorus. The seven-minute centrepiece is peak audiovisual music, projecting its chaotic events on a wall for full show.
And the list goes on. Every song is a highlight, making for not just The Weeknd’s best project, but the most genre-defining works of the century.
Best tracks: “High for This”, “Wicked Games”, “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls”, “The Knowing”, “Loft Music”