The Weeknd uses Internet to boost popularity

By By Josh Samson, Arts Editor

In this era of Internet sensations and instant gratification, only a few musicians have been able to break through the masses and create both a new sound and a new way to market themselves. In March, rapper Drake created an Internet frenzy when he began promoting a new artist called The Weeknd by tweeting his song lyrics and posting YouTube links on his blog.

More than the quality of the music itself, bloggers and fans were curious as to what The Weeknd was and whether it was even a band or a solo singer. News websites ranging from Pitchfork Media to even the Washington Post wrongly called The Weeknd a group of some kind. In a May 15 Washington Post article, journalist Allison Stewart even admitted that little was known about the artist by writing “at least, we think they’re a duo.”

In reality, The Weeknd is a Toronto R&B singer whose real name is Abel Tesfaye. His free mixtape House of Balloons was released in March, and he has been gaining buzz across the underground music scene ever since. The mixtape, which blends R&B, alternative rock and electro-synth, helps reinvent the parameters of R&B music and create a refreshing sound in the process.

House of Balloons, which has nine tracks, starts off with “High for This,” a spacey ballad with electro-tinged bass lines and minimalistic production, reminiscent of Drake’s producer, Noah “40” Shebib. While The Weeknd has repeated that 40 had no involvement in the mixtape, it is clear that The Weeknd has been largely influenced by the sound that 40 and Drake have created, merging electro overtones with strong bass lines to create dark and graceful instrumentals.

This dark sound continues with tracks like “What You Need,” which begins with a distorted sample of the late singer Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat.” The Weeknd’s distant vocals sound as if they were recorded in a bathroom, surprisingly adding to the effect of the instrumental as the singer attempts to convince a woman who loves a different man to be with him instead.

“Wicked Games,” the stand-out track on House of Balloons, uses stunning production and contains heartfelt lyrics about desperate infidelity with a prostitute. The Weeknd sings “Bring your love, baby I can bring my shame/Bring the drugs, baby I can bring my pain/I got my heart right here, I got my scars right here” in a way that makes every listener feel that he can relate to the song regardless of its true subject matter.

From the pains of love to the pains of life, The Weeknd has created a new sound that embodies the soul that modern music has been losing in recent years. House of Balloons’ production and The Weeknd’s vocals fully capture the dark and often cynical inner-workings of his mind, causing the listener to repeat these songs over and over.

Through hard work and a little push from a fellow Canadian musician, The Weeknd has been able to successfully turn heads in the music industry. Drake has since started combining the artists’ respective music groups, Drake’s October’s Very Own and The Weeknd’s XO group, writing OVOXO following recent tweets to show the rapper’s alliance with his countryman and protégé. While it could have possibly been considered the magnum opus of any of today’s mainstream R&B singers, House of Balloons is only the beginning for The Weeknd, and surely it is a sign of more innovative music to come.