Posted on August 26th, 2015 (3:00 pm) by Lucy Xiong

Every once in a while comes an album that satisfies a longing and articulates the unsaid. They’re the ones with tracklists that you memorize because you listen to it intro to outro again and again, clarifying something that was just a feeling before it was made tangible by an artist.

In 2012, I listened to Trilogy over and over, disk by disk — replaying “Til Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)” when I got to the end. I quickly became enamored with the honesty and clarity of The Weeknd's (aka Abel Tesfaye) piercingly direct, dark and complex work. Then, Kiss Land immediately became one of my most played albums. Now Beauty Behind the Madness also has me hanging on to every word and every piece of melody. With this album, The Weeknd synthesizes decades of pop music through emotionally incisive and provocative lyrics embedded in subtly apparent elements of neo-R&B soul. With this album, Tesfaye shuts down those who’ve criticized him for not having radio singles on his albums by having four chart-topping advanced singles that have gone platinum before the album has even been released. However, what this album proves above all else is that The Weeknd is pop music’s salvation.

When Tesfaye expressed his pop ambition for this album, fans of his avant-horror R&B panicked a little, worried that his music would lose its vulgar, devious and seductive edge in order to fit the digestible pop music mold. Beauty opens with “Real Life”, reassuring fans that he hasn’t compromised his deviance. Rather, he’s perfected the art of crafting choruses around his famously dynamic and intoxicating melodies. With poignant lines like “Mama called me destructive/Said it’d ruin me one day/Cause every woman that loved me/I seemed to push them away” — The Weeknd saves pop lyrics from the vapid nonsense they've become with substantial moments of emotional catharsis and clarity that will be as relevant in decades to come as they are today. Tesfaye’s Michael Jackson ambitions are definitely coming to fruition.

In fact, Tesfaye announces his rebirth in “Tell Your Friends” by burying himself in the Kanye West-produced music video:

The tracks following are a string of hits — “Often”, “The Hills”, “Can’t Feel My Face”, “Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey).”

Intermingled with this chart-topping foursome are “Acquainted” and “Shameless” — both beautifully unconventional love songs weaved together by The Weeknd’s candid, commitment-phobic, and emotionally unavailable lyrical rhetoric that achieve a purity through its unfiltered honesty. For example in “Shameless”:

“I don't wanna hurt you but you live for the pain
I'm not tryna say it but it's what you became
You want me to fix you but it's never enough
That's why you always call me cause you're scared to be loved
But I'll always be there for you, I'll always be there for you
I'll always be there for you, girl I have no shame.”

It’s as though The Weeknd’s lyrics are really love poems attempting to explain the conflict between his unwillingness to submit to love and his inherent hyper-romanticism. Between the infectious choruses are layers of spontaneous melodic dynamism that make Tesfaye one of the best R&B soul musicians of our time.

However, The Weeknd is quickly outgrowing the limitations of alternative R&B and becoming one of the pop icons of our time, surely not without help from pop heavyweight Ed Sheeran and sadcore pop/rock queen Lana Del Rey. Sheeran is featured on “Dark Times,” and Lana Del Rey collaboration “Prisoner” is literally the perfect marriage of The Weeknd and Lana’s very distinct and devastatingly beautiful styles. It’s a song that perfectly encapsulates the Millennial perspective with “I don't mean to come off selfish, but I want it all/ Love will always be a lesson, let's get out of its way.” Further evidence that The Weeknd has thoroughly immersed himself in pop culture — in an interview with Billboard, Tesfaye talks about working with veteran pop producer Max Martin who has worked with everyone from the Backstreet Boys to Taylor Swift, and writing “In The Night” in Marilyn Monroe’s bedroom.

With aptly named Beauty Behind The Madness, Abel Tesfaye has achieved one of the most seamless and triumphant transitions into pop ever, all while maintaining his identity and complexity. The Weeknd is bringing an edge back to pop — beckoning it to challenge the static and confront society in the way that icons like Michael Jackson and Prince did.

Track List:

  1. Real Life
  2. Losers (feat. Labrinth)
  3. Tell Your Friends
  4. Often
  5. The Hills
  6. Acquainted
  7. Can't Feel My Face
  8. Shameless
  9. Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)
  10. In The Night
  11. As You Are
  12. Dark Times (feat. Ed Sheeran)
  13. Prisoner (feat. Lana Del Rey)
  14. Angel
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

92 / 100
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