He chose his stage name in tribute to when he was 17 years old, when, along with a friend, he dropped out of high school, took his mattress, and "left one weekend and never came home". However, his estranged former producer Jeremy Rose claims the name was his idea. The letter E was excluded to avoid trademark problems with Canadian band the Weekend.
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye was born on February 16, 1990, in Toronto, Ontario, to Ethiopian immigrants Makkonen and Samra Tesfaye and grew up in Scarborough, Toronto. He is an only child and was raised by his grandmother and mother after his parents separated. While living with his grandmother, he learned Amharic, which he also spoke with his mother. He attended services at the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. He said of his father, "I saw him vaguely when I was six, and then again when I was 11 or 12, and he had a new family and kids. I don't even know where he lived — I'd see him for, like, a night. I'm sure he's a great guy. I never judged him. He wasn't abusive, he wasn't an alcoholic, he wasn't an asshole. He just wasn't there."
In August 2009, Tesfaye uploaded the song "Do It" to YouTube under the pseudonym AbelOfficial. The following year, Tesfaye met Jeremy Rose, a producer who had an idea for a dark contemporary R&B musical project. After initially trying to pitch the idea to musician Curtis Santiago, Rose played one of his instrumentals for Tesfaye, who freestyle rapped over it, although Tesfaye's early work does not feature much rap. This led to the two collaborating on an album. Rose produced three songs – "What You Need", "Loft Music", and "The Morning" – and others that Tesfaye had sang on, which were ultimately scrapped. Rose let Tesfaye keep the tracks he had produced under the condition that he would be credited for them. In December 2010, Tesfaye uploaded "What You Need", "Loft Music" and "The Morning" to YouTube under pseudonym "xoxxxoooxo", which was later changed to "the Weeknd". His identity was initially unknown. The songs drew some attention online, and were later included in a blog post from Drake. The songs subsequently received coverage from various media outlets, including Pitchfork and The New York Times. Before adopting the stage name the Weeknd, he worked under the aliases of the Noise and Kin Kane. When he was first making music, Tesfaye worked at American Apparel. Due to his anonymity, his co-workers listened to his music without knowing it was his.
In July 2011, Tesfaye began a tour of Toronto, with his first live performance at the Mod Club Theatre. Drake was in attendance to view the performance, which ran for ninety minutes. At the show, Drake discussed collaborating with Tesfaye. Tesfaye performed as the opening act for Drake's shows scheduled at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, and appeared at the second annual OVO Fest in July 2011. In the summer of 2011, Tesfaye contributed to four songs on Drake's Take Care, both as a writer and a featured artist.
Tesfaye refrained from participating in interviews, choosing to communicate via Twitter, which he attributed to shyness and insecurities.
Tesfaye's third mixtape Echoes of Silence was released on December 21, 2011, a year after his debut singles.
In December 2011, Noise EP, consisting of 10 tracks that were created before his first album, was posted online. On October 31, 2012, Tesfaye posted via Twitter that: "noise ep was bunch of songs leaked by salty producers and found AFTER HOB dropped. demo's written as a teen to get recognition. xo."
On May 16, 2013, Tesfaye premiered the title track to his debut studio album Kiss Land, and announced the album's release date as September 10. The album was later promoted by the singles "Belong to the World" and "Live For" featuring Drake. Tesfaye embarked on a Fall tour from September 6 to November 25, 2013. Upon release, Kiss Land debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling 96,000 copies. It sold over 273,000 copies in the United States and received generally positive reviews from music critics.
In June 2015, after winning the Centric Award at the BET Awards 2015, Tesfaye performed "Earned It" with Alicia Keys, and debuted the song "The Hills". "The Hills" was later released for digital download, and debuted at number twenty on the Billboard Hot 100. The single went on to top the Billboard chart, marking Tesfaye's first number-one single. In June 2019, the single was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), making it Tesfaye's first diamond-certified record.
On June 8, 2015, "Can't Feel My Face", a previously Internet leaked track, was released as the album's third single, following its performance at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. The song debuted at number twenty-four on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached number-one on the Hot 100, making it his third top 10 hit, and his second number-one hit in the United States. He occupied all three slots on Billboard'sHot R&B Songs chart simultaneously with the aforementioned singles, becoming the first artist in history to accomplish this. He headlined FVDED in the Park 2015, a festival in Surrey, British Columbia. Tesfaye was unveiled as one of the musical faces of the streaming service Apple Music, a position he harboured with frequent collaborator Drake.
Beauty Behind the Madness, his second studio album, was released on August 28, 2015, and debuted atop the Billboard 200, earning 412,000 album equivalent units in its first week. It reached the top 10 in over ten countries and reached number one in Canada, Australia, Norway, and the United Kingdom. The album was promoted by Tesfaye headlining various summer music festivals, including Lollapalooza, the Hard Summer Music Festival, and the Bumbershoot Festival. He announced The Madness Fall Tour, his first large-scale tour across the United States, which began in November 2015, and concluded in December 2015. The album was certified double platinum in the U.S., and sold 1.5 million copies worldwide. It was the most-streamed album in 2015, with over 60 million, and was ranked on multiple lists of albums of the year.
On September 8, 2015, Tesfaye became the first male artist to simultaneously hold the top three spots on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart, with the three singles that preceded the release of his album. They all went platinum in the United States. After engaging in multiple musical collaborations with Belly,Meek Mill, and Travis Scott, Tesfaye was featured on "Low Life", the triple platinum single from Future'sfourth studio album.
In September 2016, Tesfaye announced a new album, Starboy, with a release date of November 2016 and including collaborations with French electronic music duo Daft Punk. He released the album's title track, which features Daft Punk on September 21. The song received platinum certification and went to number one in the United States, as well as in various other countries. A second collaboration with Daft Punk, entitled "I Feel It Coming", was released a week proceeding the album's release, alongside the solo efforts "Party Monster" and "False Alarm".
In promotion of the upcoming album, episode seven of the Weeknd's manager Amir Esmailian's Memento Mori Beats 1 radio show was released on November 27, 2019. The single "Heartless" debuted at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and later became his fourth number one single on the chart, the following week. The second single "Blinding Lights" debuted at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 the same week "Heartless" topped it, fell to number 52 in its second week, and reached number one on the chart on April 4, 2020. Tesfaye revealed the album's title, After Hours, and release date, March 20, 2020, on February 19, 2020, and released the album's title track as a promotional single simultaneously.
On March 7, 2020, Tesfaye appeared on Saturday Night Live, performing "Blinding Lights" and the previously unreleased "Scared to Live". The album was released on March 20, 2020, containing the singles "Heartless", "Blinding Lights" and "In Your Eyes". The record debuted atop the US Billboard 200, earning 444,000 album-equivalent units of which 275,000 were in pure sales. On March 29, 2020, Tesfaye announced the release of three more previously unreleased songs: "Nothing Compares", "Missed You" and "Final Lullaby". In the album's first charting week, Tesfaye became the first artist to lead the Billboard 200, Billboard Hot 100, Billboard Artist 100, Hot 100 Songwriters and Hot 100 Producers charts simultaneously.After Hours had a second consecutive week at number one on the Hot 100 Songwriters chart in April 2020, due to five entries on the latest Billboard Hot 100 (singles), all of which he co-wrote and co-produced. In April 2020, Tesfaye announced he would be co-writing and starring in an upcoming episode of American Dad!, which premiered on May 4, 2020.
Widely expected to receive multiple nominations for After Hours, Tesfaye was shut out of any nominations for the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards in March 2021. Tesfaye criticized The Recording Academy via social media, claiming corruption. Speculation arose that the announcement of his then-upcoming performance at the Super Bowl LV halftime show as well as the discrepancy of being nominated as pop music versus R&B contributed to the snubs. In response to the controversy, Academy chairman Harvey Mason Jr. issued a statement:
We understand that the Weeknd is disappointed at not being nominated. I was surprised and can empathize with what he's feeling. His music this year was excellent, and his contributions to the music community and broader world are worthy of everyone's admiration. We were thrilled when we found out he would be performing at the upcoming Super Bowl and we would have loved to have him also perform on the Grammy stage the weekend before. Unfortunately, every year, there are fewer nominations than the number of deserving artists. But as the only peer-voted music award, we will continue to recognize and celebrate excellence in music while shining a light on the many amazing artists that make up our global community. To be clear, voting in all categories ended well before the Weeknd's performance at the Super Bowl was announced, so in no way could it have affected the nomination process. All Grammy nominees are recognized by the voting body for their excellence, and we congratulate them all.
2021: Super Bowl LV Halftime Show and new music
In January 2021, Tesfaye responded by saying that his previous Grammy awards mean nothing to him. Despite the Recording Academy announcing the elimination of private nominating committees, Tesfaye said that moving forward with his career, he will prevent his record label from submitting his work to The Recording Academy.
In May 2021, Tesfaye began teasing a new era of music with "The Dawn". On May 4, during an interview with Variety, he said "If the last record is the after hours of the night, then the dawn is coming". On May 13, he continued to hint at "The Dawn" with an Instagram caption, "The Dawn is Coming..."
On May 24, 2021, Tesfaye performed "Save Your Tears" at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards. He was nominated for a record 16 awards, and won 10, including Top Artist and Top Hot 100 Song. When accepting his awards, Tesfaye said "the after hours are done, and the dawn is coming", quoting his album After Hours. On May 28, 2021, Tesfaye performed the same song at the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards with Ariana Grande. He continued to hint that the dawn is coming when he accepted the awards he won.
Tesfaye's songs are "built around a fogged, crepuscular production", and feature slow tempos, rumbling bass, and forlorn echoes. Tesfaye often sings in a falsetto register, exhibiting an enticing tone. J. D. Considine finds his singing's "tremulous quality" similar to Michael Jackson, but writes that he eschews Jackson's "strong basis in the blues" for a more Arabic-influenced melisma. Tesfaye possesses a wide light-lyric tenor vocal range, which spans over three octaves. His vocal range reaches its extreme low at the bass F (F2), and its peak high at the tenor G♯ (G♯5), with a natural tessitura within the upper fourth octave. Tesfaye often makes use of his head voice to build resonance to belt out strong high notes within the fifth octave. His music incorporates samples that are unconventional in R&B production, including punk and alternative rock.Marc Hogan of Spin says that Tesfaye's samples tend "to draw from rock critic-approved sources, though generally ones that already share elements of his sexual menace", with samples of artists such as Beach House, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Aaliyah. Tesfaye worked mostly with producers Illangelo and Doc McKinney, whom Ian Cohen of Pitchfork credits with developing "a state-of-the-art R&B template" with the artist. In concert, Tesfaye reappropriates his digitized productions with a suite-like arena rock aesthetic.
His emotional, plaintive lyrics often express feelings of hurt and deal with subject matter such as sex, drugs, and partying, especially in After Hours. Hermione Hoby of The Guardian characterizes Tesfaye's songs as "narcotised-slow jams" and delineates their message as "partying is an existential experience, sex is fraught with alienation, and everything registers as unreal and unsettling". Paul MacInnes of The Guardian stated that he views Tesfaye's three mixtapes as "a rough trajectory of party, after-party and hangover". Anupa Mistry of the Toronto Standard observes throughout his mixtapes a "cast of supine, stoned zombie-women ... whose legs willingly part after being plied with substances and who morph into threats only when [he is] coming down and feeling vulnerable". Tesfaye has viewed that, by singing vulgar, ignorant lyrics in an elegant, sexy way, he is paying homage to R. Kelly and Prince.
During the Legend of the Fall Tour promoting Kiss Land, Tesfaye collaborated with condom-producing company ONE to give away limited-edition condoms at his shows. They featured the visual identity of the new album with Oxcy – the album's mascot – printed on one side.
In November 2015, to further promote Beauty Behind the Madness, Tesfaye collaborated with Pax Labs to release a limited edition version of the PAX 2 vaporizer, an electronic cigarette that could be used in shows during The Madness Fall Tour. The e-cigarette featured the "xo" branding on the front, as well as having the ability to play "The Hills" when turned on. The original PAX 2 cost $279.99; the limited edition e-cigarette cost $324.99. PAX also acted as an official sponsor for the tour, presenting special backstage VIP activations for fans who bought packages that included the e-cigarette. PAX Labs chief marketing officer Richard Mumby stated "Music and fashion have always been a natural fit for Pax...This was the perfect opportunity to bring together the Weeknd's style with our technology."
In 2016, Tesfaye announced a partnership with Puma, as a global brand ambassador, for the company's "Run the Streets" campaign. It was launched in early November, with the final collection made available to coincide with the release of his album Starboy. He also hosted several pop-up retail stores for the "Starboy: Limited Capsule" collection, which were available across North America, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. With this partnership, Tesfaye also released three capsule collections named PUMA X XO including T-shirts, caps, sweatpants, bomber jackets and a pair of shoes called the Parallels.
Tesfaye has also begun his own XO branded merchandise, which was furthered by a collaboration with H&M to present its Spring 2017 campaign. The campaign featured new collaborative pieces developed with the singer's brand, and was released on March 2, 2017. Tesfaye collaborated with H&M again for a fall collection, however, after an incident which he described as "deeply offensive" in 2018, he cut ties with the company. In May 2017, Tesfaye had a limited edition pop up sale for the "Starboy 2017 Limited Capsule Collection". The collections were available in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami Beach, Houston, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Tesfaye has collaborated with artists and designers such as Kidult, Alexander Wang and Futura.
On August 31, 2020, Tesfaye partnered with TD Bank to launch Black Hxouse, an entrepreneurial initiative. On September 9, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $221 million joint venture with Hxouse for Black Canadian entrepreneurs.
Tesfaye began dating model Bella Hadid in early 2015. The couple were first seen together in April at Coachella, and Hadid starred in his music video for "In the Night" a few months later. They made their red carpet debut as a couple at the 2016 Grammy Awards. In November 2016, the couple broke up due to their conflicting schedules. Tesfaye started dating actress and singer Selena Gomez in January 2017. They moved in together temporarily later on in September, but broke up a month later. Tesfaye and Hadid got back together in May 2018, and split once again in August 2019.
Tesfaye's hairstyle, which has been described as his most recognizable trait, has been claimed to be partly inspired by Brooklyngraffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He began growing it out in 2011 and remarked at how easy it was to maintain with "a hard shampoo every once in a while". He cut his hair in 2016, prior to the release of Starboy.
Tesfaye was raised as an Ethiopian Orthodox. When asked about his religious beliefs in 2020, Tesfaye said "I dunno...everything is a test, and if you are religious or spiritual, you have to go through things."
In June 2017, Tesfaye donated $100,000 to the Suubi Health Center, a maternity and children's medical facility in Budondo, Uganda. Tesfaye was inspired to support the center after learning of French Montana's work with Global Citizen and Mama Hope to help raise awareness for Suubi and the people of Uganda.
On November 2, 2020, the University of Toronto announced that it was able to reach and surpass its fundraising goal of $500,000 for its Ethiopic program, which included a $30,000 donation from Tesfaye.
In December 2015, Tesfaye was sued by Cutting Edge Music, which alleged that the bassline for "The Hills" had been taken from a composition featured in the score for the 2013 science fiction film The Machine. One of the producers of the song was alleged to have sent a private Twitter message to Tom Raybould, the composer of the film's score, to tell him about the sample.
In September 2018, Tesfaye and Daft Punk were sued for allegedly stealing the rhythm for "Starboy" from Yasminah, an Ethiopian poet, singer, and songwriter. Tesfaye denied the allegations.
In April 2019, Tesfaye was sued by British trio William Smith, Brian Clover, and Scott McCulloch, who accused Tesfaye of copyright infringement from plagiarising their song "I Need to Love" in order to create his song "A Lonely Night". They sought $150,000 from Tesfaye and Belly. In August 2019, the lawsuit was dismissed via summary judgment with the option to amend, with the court ruling that they had failed to show that Tesfaye or anyone else involved in making "A Lonely Night" had access to their song or that the works were substantially similar. In September 2019, the plaintiffs filed an amended claim based on secondary infringement, which is still in litigation.
^ abKameir, Rawiya; Hockley-Smith, Sam; Mistry, Anupa (March 21, 2016). "How House of Balloons Changed R&B". The Fader. Archived from the original on January 7, 2021. Five years since its veiled release, a conversation about The Weeknd’s debut and its influence on contemporary pop music...The album was documenting a nascent scene that has gone on to shift the cultural paradigm of Toronto, and it did so through a sound that has had a lasting effect on contemporary pop music.
^Wimmer, Micah (March 21, 2018). "On the Weeknd, House of Balloons, and Its Massive Influence". Medium. Archived from the original on January 7, 2021. Listening to House of Balloons now, years after its initial release, its influence stands out as much as its quality. It might not be fully accurate to name it as the first so-called alternative R&B album, the one that set the stage for Frank Ocean, FKA Twigs, Rhye, Tinashe, and Miguel’s more experimental work, but regardless, it still seems like a dividing line in the progression of R&B in the 2010s.