Since 2011, Canadian artist The Weeknd has been a powerhouse in the R&B genre, becoming the face of alternative R&B. With his melancholy beats and the combination of heart wrenching and somberly overly-sexual lyrics, Abel Tesfaye has taken the genre and uprooted it completely, redefining the long-time soulful image of R&B into a dark, grandiose roller coaster. With his second studio album, “Beauty Behind the Madness,” The Weeknd shows that he is ready to take the next step musically as well as personally, transforming himself from a raw, indie R&B artist to a full fledged superstar. However, such a shift does come with its consequences, as Tesfaye battles with himself through his lyrics and sound whether the journey to stardom is worth the price of his own aloof, nebulous persona.
The album begins with “Real Life,” opening with a boisterous electric riff coupled with violins. “Tell ’em this boy wasn’t meant for loving,” Tesfaye declares at the beginning of the song, allowing listeners a glimpse into his struggle with women and love. He enjoys his grand, sex-filled lifestyle and does not desire, nor believe he is worthy, of a sturdy relationship. “Heaven only lets a few in/It’s too late for me to choose it/Don’t waste precious tears on me, I’m not worth the misery/I’m better off when I’m alone,” Tesfaye muses during the bridge of the song, stating the reality of his emotions.
The album continues on to “Losers” which sees The Weeknd diss the school system completely. A high school dropout himself, The Weeknd boasts that one does not need the schools to realize their full potential. The street and life knowledge that school cannot teach you is what brings out the individual in someone and The Weeknd says only he is responsible for what he has become. Thirdly, the song “Tell Your Friends” gives listeners the full scope of what The Weeknd is evolving into. Produced by Kanye West, The Weeknd sings over a soulful and delivers the album’s thesis. With lyrics referencing drug use and sexual deviancy, The Weeknd proudly claims that he is “living life so trill” despite what most of the general public would consider extraordinarily immoral. But just as the hook states, Tesfaye wants us to tell our friends about it. The Weeknd wants to sieze the industry and this song exemplifies that desire.
The album then showcases two of Tesfaye’s most successful and recent singles in “Often” and “The Hills.” While fans are undoubtably familiar with these two, they both are about Abel’s sexual experiences in very colorful fashion. “Often” is a deeply sensual ballad about an inexperienced lover and his reassurances while “The Hills” speaks to an affair and the responsibilities that both Abel and his lover carry due to their activity. “Acquainted” is smashed between these two songs and the mega-hit “Can’t Feel My Face.” Both offer a vastly different picture of Abel’s love than the previous two. While Tesfaye claims that love to him is just lust and that he does not care to stick around long, “Acquainted” shows that perhaps Abel could realize a relationship one day and that he has found a one night stand that he has taken a liking to whereas in “Can’t Feel My Face,” The Weeknd, in a tone reminiscent of the late Michael Jackson, sings of latching onto a lover to intense drug use, knowing that it is not in his best interests but he can’t stop.
“Shameless” and “Earned It” both build upon that idea, creating a lover that The Weeknd could possibly see himself staying a little longer with, though it will definitely have to be a two way street. The real meat of the album, I believe, is the tenth song entitled “In the Night.” The Michael Jackson comparisons that one might have had a taste of earlier in the album are fully realized here, as the upbeat score and vocals are eerily similar to the King of Pop. The explosion of passion and electric vocals are an obvious homage to Jackson and where many have failed, “In the Night” passes as a ballad full of MJ tribute, from the “Way You Make Me Feel” baseline all the way to the passionate “Billie Jean”-style vocal range.
Although the album loses its steam after “In the Night,” that does not mean it is an empty epilogue. The Ed Sheeran accompanied “Dark Times” provides great vocals and deep, earthy tones, although one would be tempted to say that the piece would probably work better without Sheeran. “Prisoner” draws the listener into an intricate love story between an addict in The Weeknd and his pained lover, which is Lana Del Rey. Their beautifully morbid voices mesh well together, creating a musically seamless partnership.
After the 65 minute odyssey that is “Beauty Behind the Madness,” one feels that they can almost understand the dark and morose personality and character of The Weeknd. If you are a fan of The Weeknd prior to this album, it will come as a pleasant shift in sound from the original triumvirate of mixtapes and the enchantingly gloomy “Kiss Land.” For first time listeners, the album will grant a prophetic taste of what The Weeknd may transform into. Abel’s journey from the relatively unknown to the top of the mountain is embodied in “Beauty Behind the Madness.” The Weeknd wants supremacy not only in his own genre alone but in music overall and this album shows that. He is willing and is ready to rise up from the depths of relative obscurity and to evolve himself into a true superstar, all while maintaining the raw, dark roots that define him.
Rating: 5 out of 5