Armed with lush compositions, louche lyrics and a ton of talent, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, has energized R&B fans tired of the genre's usual bump-and-grind party jams. How did the 22-year-old skyrocket to fame before even officially releasing an album? In advance of the November 13 release of Trilogy, his major-label debut, here are five things you should know about The Weeknd.
He has never given a formal interview
In the age of TMZ and MTV, almost every pop star is overexposed. Not The Weeknd. A reporter is more likely to score an interview with a Yeti than with Tesfaye. Almost everything we know about his personal life comes from interviews with musicians who have collaborated with him or via the infrequent nuggets he egests on his secretive blog and Twitter account. Why the reticence? "I usually don't like to 'spoon feed' my audience," he wrote in a rare, direct message to his fans, "because I grew up idolizing story tellers who tell stories using symbolism, so it was in my nature to do the same." His mystique remains in full effect, despite major-label hype and a few tour dates with Florence + the Machine. Florence Welch even joked, "I don't want to want to burst that mysterious bubble of his, though, so I'll just say I've never actually seen him—he's a hologram!"
He's pals with Drake
One thing we know for sure about Tesfaye is that he hails from Toronto. Not coincidentally, he and fellow Toronto native Aubrey Graham, a.k.a. hip-hop megastar Drake, are fast friends. In fact, the first three tracks The Weeknd threw online went viral in late 2010 in large part because the artist also known as Drizzy posted them on his blog, and Tesfaye's career soared further when he appeared on his mentor's sophomore 2011 album, Take Care. "We're definitely a family," said Drake, in an MTV interview. "It's a Toronto thing." While the prolific countrymen have collaborated on a number of songs—most notably their tag-team groove "Crew Love"—both artists' fans have been clamoring for a joint album, a la Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne.
He's already had his first controversy
According to a scathing VICE interview with Jeremy Rose, The Weeknd was initially a collaboration between him and Tesfaye, and they called themselves The Weekend. Tesfaye dropped the final "e" shortly after the two friends-of-friends parted company in 2010—which happened just as those three tracks, which they wrote together, were blowing up online. The bad timing has to sting—two years later, Tesfaye has played the Coachella festival and can boast of sold-out shows in New York.
He's proud of his Ethiopian heritage
Tesfaye's parents were born in Ethiopia, and The Weeknd addresses this heritage in the wonderfully weird video for "The Knowing" (see below), a track off the first of the three self-released 2011 mixtapes that make up the lion's share of Trilogy. The video collage begins in Addis Ababa in the 1970s and then moves into a world that can only be described as an apocalyptic head-trip featuring humanoid giraffes.
His crew is called XO
Some fans claim that XO simply stands for hugs and kisses, while others claim the letters represent the drugs ecstasy and oxycontin. Considering the content of his songs, both seem equally likely. Regardless, he and all of his regular collaborators have the letters XO at the end of their Twitter handles, and his fans regularly quote their motto "XO 'til we overdose." We'd call for an intervention, but we're too busy listening to Trilogy.
—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him @kwagstaff.
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