The Weeknd: From YouTube To Billboard Top 10

The Weeknd, iHeart Music Festival, Abel Tesfay

Abel Tesfaye, an artist who goes by the stage name of The Weeknd, showed up on the music scene in 2011. By dropping songs and mixtapes on YouTube, he was able to grow an eclectic fan base. Dark, soul-searching lyrics drove fans wild and left them clamoring for more. Every album is charged with sharply honed songs, written throughout the young artist’s tumultuous and adventurous life. They outline his shadowy times in Toronto, insecurities, a mysterious nature, and an obvious love of music.

According to Aceshowbiz, after The House of Balloons, he dropped two more street albums, Thursday and Echoes of Silence for free in the same year. Both received glowing reviews from critics. With his three mixtapes, he developed an enigmatic shadowy persona that set him apart from his competitors. Unwilling to grant interviews and recording songs without a label, his air of mystery no doubt intensified his appeal.

Movies, music, life. Those are Tesfaye’s inspirations, and his albums reflect what is going on in his head. There are reasons behind the type of music The Weeknd writes and for dropping music without a label. Camera shy by nature, it was all about the songs.

In an interview on Genius.com he tells the story of Kiss Land.

“Kiss Land symbolizes the tour life, but it’s a world that I created in my head. Just like House of Balloons symbolizes Toronto and my experiences there, but it’s a world that I created. When I think about Kiss Land, I think about a terrifying place. It’s a place I’ve never been to before that I’m very unfamiliar with. I don’t know who I am right now and I’m doing all these outlandish things in these settings that I’m not familiar with. So when you hear the screams in the record and you hear all these horror references and you feel scared, listen to the music because I want you to feel what I’m feeling. Kiss Land is like a horror movie.”

While some fans wonder about the transformation of his music, others are enthralled by anything and everything The Weeknd drops. As with any artist, there is a progression to his creations. The first songs and mixtapes from his YouTube days highlight the plights and struggles of a young man trying to find himself. Now, the world has opened up to him, and his music has no choice but to go through the evolution process with him.

His recent album, Beauty Behind the Madness, rose to No. 2 on Billboard 200 and gives Tesfaye 12 concurrent Top 50 songs.

Billboard sums up the transformation, writing, “The Weeknd is the first solo male artist since T.I. in 2008 to boast two songs in the top three in the same week (‘Face’ and ‘Hills,’ at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively). He makes even more news on the chart: With 10 titles, The Weeknd is just the sixth artist in the Hot 100’s 57-year history with 10 or more tracks on the list at the same time. He joins Drake and the Beatles, who share the mark with 14 concurrent entries, as well as Lil Wayne, Taylor Swift and American Idol winner David Cook.”

That’s one giant leap for a young Canadian, who dropped out of school at 17 to find out what life is all about. With an aversion to interviews, a hatred of his image on camera, and an inherent shyness, this 25 year-old might just be more comfortable with YouTube than on the stage at Coachella.

In his own words, “I’m the most boring person to talk to. I’m going to let the music speak for itself.”

Now, the world sits on the edge of its seat, wondering what The Weeknd has in store for us next.

Abel Tesfaye, The Weeknd, 2015 Coachella, Can't Feel My Face

[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]