This is the theme running throughout The Weeknd’s entire catalogue, and he continues the wild ride on Beauty Behind The Madness, his latest release exploring the complicated mind state of perhaps the trillest high tenor we’ve heard in a while.
The Canadian crooner dropped three exceptional mixtapes that ultimately became the near-perfect body of work, The Trilogy. His official debut, Kiss Land, was a slight disappointment, but Abel Tesfaye’s raw talent is undeniable, garnering comparisons to legends like Prince and Michael Jackson. Bouncing back with a strong sophomore release was by no means a stretch, and ya boy definitely delivered.
Lyrically, The Weeknd continues to personify the sex, drugs and R&B motif we’ve come to expect. His obsession with using women and drugs to mask his pain is fully evident on BBTM. While the surface reveals a proud misogynist on the brink of an overdose, his most intimate, introspective moments come when he reveals the reasons behind the disrespect, essentially “acting out” as a result of past heartbreak (see “The Knowing” for details) and guilt. It’s always easier to numb the pain than to conquer it and move forward, but for now, he’s content living in the fog. It’s uncomfortably honest and incredibly sad, two things that have always made for incredible artistry.
While he stays in familiar territory as far as songwriting, Tesfaye’s vocals and his ear for selecting tracks that fit his sound has grown immensely. Unlike his previous releases, this album actually feels good, and not just in an “I’m about to get some” way. With the exception of “The Hills,” a dark, go-to for day 1 fans, this album is musically quite hopeful, bordering on joyful but not quite there. Kanye West lent his genius to three standouts in “Real Life,” “Losers,” and “Tell Your Friends.” The album is mixed and engineered to perfection, so incredibly crisp that every bass line and uttered breath has its own, individual moment.
He also takes a huge leap into the mainstream this time around, as evidenced by surprise summer smash “I Can’t Feel My Face,” as well as “In The Night,” and closing track, “Angel,” which brings The Weeknd as close to a power ballad as we’ve ever heard from him over the last 4 years. It has just enough pop appeal to broaden his audience without alienating his core fan base or coming off contrived, a mistake many artists who want to cross over into the big leagues make on their way up the industry ladder.
Love isn’t his thing, which immediately separates him from most of his R&B peers, and while many young singers have chosen raw and real over romantic (PartyNextDoor, Ty Dolla $ign, etc.), The Weeknd’s hope for the real thing on the album’s most vulnerable track, “As You Are,” is a somewhat promising ode to the idea that he just may get it right one day, if he can just find the right girl to deal with the darkness. There is indeed beauty behind the madness, and this album is Abel’s way of opening up more than he’s ever done before. Bravo.
—Jessica “Compton” Bennett