The Weeknd Has Become Burlesque

The singer's latest offerings show a grown man trapped inside the monster he created.

The Weeknd performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in Tampa, FlaChiefs Buccaneers Super Bowl Football, Tampa, United States - 07 Feb 2021

Photo by Ashley Landis/AP/Shutterstock

Abel Tesfaye and The Weeknd are two different people.

It was a prospect laid out quite literally in the "Starboy" music video. Tesfaye, bound to a chair in his own dining room, thrashed violently while a masked intruder–later revealed to be Tesfaye himself but with a new, stylized buzzcut rather than a tangle of dreads–suffocated his doppelganger with a plastic bag. The "new and improved" Tesfaye–draped in jet black gloves, a glistening diamond cross, and a fitted leather jacket–then dove into "Starboy," the definitive track that would forever redefine the trajectory of his entire career.

The Weeknd - Blinding Lights (Audio)

The whole spectacle worked magnificently, but in hindsight it was painfully melodramatic. Starboy was a magnificent pop record and a cultural phenomenon that spawned millions of rabid fans (and many tacky and unwarranted "XO" tattoos), but it forever separated Tesfaye from the entity he created. While that was no doubt his intention (he often professes his love for implementing theater, and dramatic films into his work), Tesfaye's artistic and personal choices began directly contrasting with the expectations fans would have for his alter ego:

Tesfaye is relatively sober, dates supermodels and pop stars, and drives a McLaren P1.

The Weeknd is still disturbed and melancholy, still a heartless womanizer, and still convinced that no one understands him.

"I'm back to my ways," he rap sings over his latest single, "Heartless," one of the two highly anticipated offerings released on Friday. "Maybe you can show me how to love?" he sings over the 80s-inspired pop track "Blinding Lights." Both singles tread familiar thematic territory for the singer. Please love me, but don't expect me to change. But Abel Tesfaye has changed, and The Weeknd's antics are beginning to feel like a caricature, as a result.

His latest look, which he debuted on a refreshed Instagram feed, borders on burlesque. He wants to show you he's a kingpin, an 80s kingpin for some reason, you know, like Cadillac from The Get Down, but none of it feels authentic to Tesfaye, the man. The art, as a result, is beginning to feel uninspired. His inanely repetitive flow on "Heartless" can't be saved by Metro Boomin's impeccable production skills. The stylized 80s backdrop to "Blinding Lights" feels like a set piece. It all seems inevitable in hindsight, considering how well the image of "The Weeknd" has worked for Tesfaye. Why should he ever change? Look at what he's accomplished. Trilogy and Kissland bared Tesfaye's brooding soul, but it all feels so flashy now. Glamorizing a life of depression and excess is different from actively writing about your experiences from it. It's a ride that Tesfaye will never have to get off of if he doesn't want to, but where will that leave the man behind the monster?


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