Abel Makkonen Tesfaye
February 16, 1990
|Residence||Hidden Hills, California, U.S.|
|Net worth||US$92 million (2017)|
He has won three Grammy Awards, eight Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards, nine Juno Awards, and has been nominated for one Academy Award. He has sold over 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the world's best-selling artists.
In 2010, he anonymously uploaded several songs to YouTube under the name "The Weeknd" and released the critically acclaimed mixtapes House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence in 2011. His mixtapes were later remastered and rereleased on the compilation album Trilogy (2012).
He has had three No. 1 releases (Beauty Behind the Madness in 2015, Starboy in 2016, and My Dear Melancholy in 2018) and a No. 2 release (Kiss Land in 2013) on the US Billboard 200. He has earned eight top-ten entries on the Billboard Hot 100: "Love Me Harder" with Ariana Grande; "Earned It"; "I Feel It Coming"; "Pray for Me" with Kendrick Lamar; "Call Out My Name"; and the number one singles "The Hills", "Can't Feel My Face", and "Starboy". In 2015, He became the first artist to simultaneously hold the top three positions on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart with "Can't Feel My Face", "Earned It", and "The Hills".
His work has been categorized as alternative R&B.
The Weeknd was born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye on February 16, 1990 in Toronto, Ontario, and was raised in the district of Scarborough, in the city's east end. He is the only child of Makkonen and Samra Tesfaye, who were Ethiopian immigrants to Canada in the late 1980s.
Tesfaye was raised by his grandmother and mother after his parents split up. While living with his grandmother Tesfaye learned Amharic, which he also spoke with his mother, and attended Ethiopian Orthodox church services. Tesfaye stated this in an interview regarding his father, “I saw him vaguely when I was six, and then again when I was 11 or 12, and he had a new family and kids. I don’t even know where he lived — I’d see him for, like, a night. I’m sure he’s a great guy. I never judged him. He wasn’t abusive, he wasn’t an alcoholic, he wasn’t an asshole. He just wasn’t there.”
Tesfaye describes his teenage years as the film "Kids without the AIDS". Tesfaye states he began smoking marijuana at age 11, and later moved on to harder drugs. Tesfaye claims he often shoplifted to supplement his use of ecstasy, oxycodone, xanax, cocaine, psilocybin, and ketamine.
Tesfaye attended West Hill Collegiate Institute and Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Toronto, from which he did not graduate, leaving altogether in 2007, after which Tesfaye also left home. Tesfaye moved to the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto. Tesfaye has credited his stage name as being inspired by his high school dropout status, claiming "after [he] left one weekend and never came home", though producer Jeremy Rose claims the name was his idea. The spelling was modified in order to avoid trademark issues with the Canadian band The Weekend.
Tesfaye met Jeremy Rose in 2010, a producer who had an idea for a dark R&B musical project. After initially trying to pitch the idea to musician Curtis Santiago, Rose played one of his instrumentals for Tesfaye, who freestyle rapped over it. This led to the two collaborating on an album. Rose produced three songs – "What You Need", "Loft Music", and "The Morning" – and others that Tesfaye had rapped on, which were ultimately scrapped. Rose let Tesfaye keep the tracks he had produced under the condition that he would ultimately be credited for them. In December 2010, Tesfaye uploaded "What You Need", "Loft Music" and "The Morning" to YouTube under his stage name, although his identity was initially unknown. The songs drew some attention online, and were later included in a blog post from Drake. The songs subsequently received coverage from various media outlets, including Pitchfork and The New York Times. Before adopting the stage name "The Weeknd", he worked under the aliasses of "The Noise" and "Kin Kane".
Tesfaye took to his Twitter to mention that his extended play, Noise, were "a bunch of songs leaked by salty producers and found AFTER HOB dropped." He says that they were demo's that he had written as a teenager to try and get recognition. The EP consist of 10 tracks, some of which influenced his debut mixtape, House of Balloons.
On March 21, 2011, Tesfaye self-released his debut mixtape House of Balloons. The mixtape included production from Canadian producers Illangelo and Doc McKinney, and included the tracks produced by Rose, although, he did not receive production credits. House of Balloons was met with critical acclaim. It was named as one of ten shortlisted nominees for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize.
Tesfaye began a tour of Toronto, with his first live performance at the city's Mod Club venue. Drake was in attendance to view the performance, which ran for a total of ninety minutes. Drake approached Tesfaye and described a potential musical collaboration between the pair. Tesfaye accompanied Drake at his various shows, often performing as the opening act for shows scheduled at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, as well as appearing at the second annual OVO Fest in July. Over the summer of 2011, Tesfaye contributed to four songs on Drake's Take Care, both as a writer and a featured artist.
Tesfaye refrained from participating in interviews, choosing to communicate via Twitter, after the album was released. This was credited[by whom?] as an advertising tactic for Tesfayes second mixtape Thursday, which was released on August 18, 2011. Tesfaye's third mixtape Echoes of Silence was released on December 21, 2011, a year after his debut singles.
Following this release, the three mixtapes were collectively known as the Balloons Trilogy, and saw Tesfaye receiving offers from various record labels.[which?]
In April 2012, Tesfaye began his first tour of the United States, with a performance at the Coachella Festival. The tour culminated in New York with back-to-back sold-out shows, which were positively reviewed by Rolling Stone. Tesfaye expanded his tour to accompany Europe, performing at various European festivals, including the Primavera Sound Festivals in Spain and Portugal, and the Wireless Festival in London. Covering "Dirty Diana" at his performance in London, he received positive responses from both Katy Perry and Florence Welch, who noted the singer's ability to successfully undertake a complex song. In June, the Balloons Trilogy was revealed to have been downloaded over 8 million times, which allowed Tesfaye to initiate formal commercial release of the projects later that year.
In September 2012, Tesfaye signed with Republic Records in a joint venture with his own imprint XO. The compilation album for the mixtapes entitled Trilogy, was released two months later, and consisted of several remastered versions of songs, as well as three additional ones. It also officially credited Rose as a producer and writer on the three songs from House of Balloons for which he did not initially receive credit. Trilogy charted at number four on the U.S. Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 86,000 copies. It also debuted at number five on the Canadian Albums Chart, with similar sales. Trilogy was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and double-platinum by Music Canada in May 2013. He had also gained a nomination for the Sound of 2013 poll award by the BBC a week later.
On May 16, 2013, Tesfaye premiered the title track to his debut studio album Kiss Land, and announced the album's release date as September 10. The album was later promoted by the singles "Belong to the World" and "Live For" featuring Drake, as well as with Tesfaye embarking on The Fall tour a week prior to the album's release. Upon release, Kiss Land debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling 96,000 copies. It was later confirmed to have sold over 273,000 copies in the United States, as well as receiving generally positive reviews from music critics.
Tesfaye appeared on the 20/20 Experience World Tour, joining headline act Justin Timberlake for six shows. This was three weeks prior to his contributions to the soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), contributing "Devil May Cry", as well as featuring on Sia's "Elastic Heart". The latter proved to be the second lead single from the soundtrack.
In 2014, Tesfaye remixed "Drunk in Love", a single by Beyoncé from her eponymous studio album. Retaining the theme and concept of the song, he detailed the synopsis through the perspective of a male. The remix was well-received, and came days prior to the announcement of Tesfaye's first headlining tour, entitled the King of the Fall tour. The tour was held across the United States in September and October, and saw Schoolboy Q and Jhené Aiko as supporting acts. This oversaw his release of the single "Often", leading to speculation it was the first single from his second studio album. He later collaborated with Ariana Grande on a duet titled "Love Me Harder", which peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. Days later, he released "Earned It", a single from Fifty Shades of Grey (2015). This marked his second contribution to a movie, and peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.
After Tesfaye won the Centric Award at the 2015 BET Awards, he performed "Earned It" with Alicia Keys, as well as debuting the song "The Hills". "The Hills" was later released for digital download, and debuted at number twenty on the Billboard Hot 100. The single later went on to top the chart, marking Tesfaye's first number-one single. The single was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
On June 8, "Can't Feel My Face", a previously leaked track, was released as the album's third single, following its performance at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. The song debuted at number twenty-four on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached number-one on the Hot 100, making it his third top 10 hit, and his second number-one hit in the United States. He occupied all three slots on Billboard's Hot R&B Songs chart simultaneously with the aforementioned singles, becoming the first artist in history to accomplish this. He headlined FVDED in the Park, a festival in Surrey, British Columbia. Tesfaye was unveiled as one of the musical faces of the streaming service Apple Music, a position he harbored with frequent collaborator Drake. During the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards, Apple debuted a two-part promotional commercial featuring Tesfaye, which had a guest appearance from John Travolta. It was revealed that his second studio album would be titled Beauty Behind the Madness.
Beauty Behind the Madness was released on August 28, 2015, and debuted atop the Billboard 200, earning 412,000 album equivalent units in its first week. It reached the top 10 in over ten countries, as well as reaching number one in Canada, Australia, Norway, and the United Kingdom. The album was promoted by Tesfaye headlining various summer music festivals, including Lollapalooza, the Hard Summer Music Festival, and the Bumbershoot Festival. He announced his first large-scale tour across the United States, which began in November, and concluded in December. The album went double platinum in the US, and sold 1.5 million copies worldwide. It was reported to be the most-streamed album throughout 2015, with over 60 million, as well as being ranked on multiple lists concerned with detailing albums of the year.
On September 8, Tesfaye became the first male artist to have simultaneously held the top three spots on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart, with the three singles that preceded the release of his album. They all went platinum in the United States. After engaging in multiple musical collaborations with Belly, Meek Mill, and Travis Scott, Tesfaye was featured on "Low Life", the triple platinum single from Future's fourth studio album. Tesfaye appeared on Saturday Night Live alongside actress Amy Schumer, performing as the show's musical guest on October 10. This was his first performance on the show as a solo artist, after appearing with Ariana Grande to perform "Love Me Harder".
Tesfaye was featured on "FML", a track on Kanye West's The Life of Pablo. It marked the second collaboration between the pair, with West providing production and writing on "Tell Your Friends" from Beauty Behind the Madness. Tesfaye appeared on "6 Inch", the fifth song on Beyoncé's Lemonade. He was announced by Spotify as being among the top five most streamed artists in their first year partnering with Sony to provide the streaming service on the PlayStation 4.
On August 24, in preparation for his third studio album, Republic Records executive vice-president Wendy Goldstein confirmed Tesfaye began collaborations with French electronic music duo Daft Punk. On the same day, Tesfaye also announced a collaboration with Norwegian record producer Cashmere Cat, titled "Wild Love". A month later, the previously mentioned album's title was announced as Starboy, and had a release date of November 25. He released the album's title track, which features Daft Punk on September 21. The song received platinum certification and went to number one in the United States, as well as in various other countries. A second collaboration with Daft Punk, entitled "I Feel It Coming", was released a week proceeding the album's release, alongside the solo efforts "Party Monster" and "False Alarm". Tesfaye returned to Saturday Night Live on October 10, performing "Starboy" and "False Alarm". He released a 12-minute short film, titled M A N I A, on November 23. Directed by Grant Singer, it featured excerpts from the album, including snippets from "All I Know" featuring Future, "Sidewalks" featuring Kendrick Lamar, "Secrets" and "Die for You".
In 2017, Tesfaye appeared on Future's sixth studio album, as well as on the debut single from Nav, who was signed by XO in January. He became the first feature utilized by Lana Del Rey, appearing on "Lust for Life", the title track and second single from her fifth studio album. He was featured on French Montana's "A Lie", the third single from his second album Jungle Rules and on Cashmere Cat's debut single "Wild Love" from his album 9. He appeared on the Virgil Abloh-directed music video for Lil Uzi Vert's "XO Tour Llif3" alongside XO signee Nav. He was later featured on Lil Uzi Vert's debut album and Gucci Mane's eleventh studio album Mr. Davis. He gained a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards for Starboy and ended up winning the award.
On January 31, 2018, Top Dawg Entertainment revealed the full tracklist of the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack album with Tesfaye featured on one of the tracks, "Pray for Me". On February 2, 2018, it was released as the soundtrack's third single. This marks the second collaboration between Tesfaye and Lamar, after the song "Sidewalks" on the Starboy album.
On March 27, 2018, Tesfaye began publicity for a new official release in an Instagram post. On March 29, 2018, a billboard appeared in London, England promoting a possible album titled My Dear Melancholy, and on the same day the project was officially announced. On March 30, 2018, the extended play My Dear Melancholy, was released.
In January 2019, Gesaffelstein (who previously worked with Tesfaye on My Dear Melancholy,) began teasing a new collaboration. On January 11, 2019, Tesfaye and Gesaffelstein released "Lost in the Fire", the second single off the latter's second studio album, Hyperion.
On April 18, 2019, Tesfaye released "Power Is Power" alongside SZA and Travis Scott, a song part of a series of music inspired by the television show Game of Thrones, of which Tesfaye himself is a fan. On May 5, Tesfaye, SZA and Travis Scott released the music video for their Game of Thrones-inspired track.
Tesfaye cites Michael Jackson, Prince, and R. Kelly as his main musical inspirations. He has attributed Jackson's music as key in spurring him to be a singer, referencing the lyrics to "Dirty Diana" as an example. He also said his high-flying vocal style was influenced by habesha singers like Aster Aweke. He grew up listening to a variety of music genres, including soul, hip hop, funk, indie rock, and post-punk.
Tesfaye's songs are "built around a fogged, crepuscular production", and feature slow tempos, rumbling bass, and forlorn echoes. Tesfaye often sings in a falsetto register, exhibiting an enticing tone. J. D. Considine finds his singing's "tremulous quality" similar to Michael Jackson, but writes that he eschews Jackson's "strong basis in the blues" for a more Arabic-influenced melisma. Tesfaye possesses a wide light-lyric tenor vocal range, which spans over three octaves. His vocal range reaches its extreme low at the bass F (F2), and its peak high at the tenor G♯ (G♯5), with a natural tessitura within the upper fourth octave. Tesfaye often makes use of his head voice in order to build resonance to belt out strong high notes within the fifth octave. His music incorporates samples that are unconventional in R&B production, including punk and alternative rock. Marc Hogan of Spin says that Tesfaye's samples tend "to draw from rock critic-approved sources, though generally ones that already share elements of his sexual menace", with samples of artists such as Beach House, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Aaliyah. Tesfaye worked mostly with producers Illangelo and Doc McKinney, whom Pitchfork's Ian Cohen credits with developing "a state-of-the-art R&B template" with the artist. In concert, Tesfaye reappropriates his digitized productions with a suite-like arena rock aesthetic.
His emotional, plaintive lyrics often express feelings of hurt and deal with subject matter such as sex, drugs, and partying. Hermione Hoby of The Guardian characterizes Tesfaye's songs as "narcotised-slow jams" and delineates their message as "partying is an existential experience, sex is fraught with alienation, and everything registers as unreal and unsettling". The Guardian's Paul MacInnes has stated that he views Tesfaye's three mixtapes as "a rough trajectory of party, after-party and hangover". Anupa Mistry of the Toronto Standard observes throughout his mixtapes a "cast of supine, stoned zombie-women ... whose legs willingly part after being plied with substances and who morph into threats only when [he is] coming down and feeling vulnerable". Tesfaye has viewed that, by singing vulgar, ignorant lyrics in an elegant, sexy way, he is paying homage to R. Kelly and Prince.
Tesfaye has helped broadened R&B's musical palette to incorporate indie and electronic styles; his work has been categorized with the alternative R&B tag. Mistry writes that he "will be obsequiously praised as the future of R&B music—because [he] is a black singer, not because he's making quantifiable, canonical R&B". AllMusic's Andy Kellman categorizes him as an "alternative R&B act". While promoting his third album Starboy, Tesfaye also revealed Lana Del Rey, David Bowie, The Smiths, Bad Brains, Talking Heads, DeBarge, 50 Cent, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Eminem as influences.
During the American leg of his Fall tour promoting Kiss Land, Tesfaye collaborated with condom-producing company ONE to give away limited-edition condoms at his shows. They featured the visual identity of the new album with Oxcy — the album's mascot — printed on one side.
In November 2015, to further promote Beauty Behind the Madness, Tesfaye collaborated with Pax Labs to release a limited edition version of the PAX 2 vaporizer, an electronic cigarette that could be used in shows during The Madness Fall Tour. The e-cigarette featured the "xo" branding on the front, as well as having the ability to play "The Hills" when turned on. With the original PAX 2 priced at $279.99, the limited edition e-cigarette cost $324.99. PAX also acted as an official sponsor for the tour, presenting special backstage VIP activations for fans who bought packages that included the e-cigarette. PAX Labs chief marketing officer Richard Mumby stated "Music and fashion have always been a natural fit for Pax...This was the perfect opportunity to bring together The Weeknd's style with our technology."
In 2016, Tesfaye announced a partnership with Puma, as a Global Brand ambassador, for the company's "Run the Streets" campaign. It was launched in early November, with the final collection made available to coincide with the release of his album Starboy. He also hosted several pop-up retail stores for the "Starboy: Limited Capsule" collection, which were available across North America, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. With this partnership, Tesfaye also released three capsule collections named PUMA X XO including T-shirts, caps, sweatpants, bomber jackets and a pair of shoes called the Parallels.
Tesfaye has also began his own XO branded merchandise, which was furthered by a collaboration with H&M to present its Spring 2017 campaign. The campaign would feature new collaborative pieces developed with the singer's brand, and was released on March 2, 2017. Tesfaye collaborated with H&M again for a fall collection, however, after an incident which he described as “deeply offensive” in 2018, he cut ties with the company.
In May 2017, Tesfaye had a limited edition pop up sale for the "Starboy 2017 Limited Capsule Collection". The collections were available in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami Beach, Houston, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
In October 2017, Tesfaye began marketing and promotion on a partnership with Marvel on Instagram. A week later, he attended New York Comic-Con and it was revealed that a Starboy comic book would be released on June 13, 2018, with the title character being a superhero modelled after himself.
Tesfaye began dating Victoria's Secret supermodel Bella Hadid at the beginning of 2015; the couple were first seen together in May at Coachella. Hadid later starred in his music video "In the Night" in December. They also made a red carpet appearance as a couple at the 2016 Grammy Awards. On November 11, 2016, it was reported that the couple had split; citing their conflicting schedules as the rationale for the relationship's termination. Tesfaye reportedly started dating Selena Gomez in January 2017 and they moved in together temporarily in September 2017 in Greenwich Village, New York. They broke up in October 2017. By May 2018, Tesfaye and Hadid began dating again, before splitting again in 2019.
Tesfaye often used drugs to help get over writer's block on earlier albums and also abused illegal substances such as "... Ketamine, cocaine, MDMA, mushrooms and cough syrup". Speaking in December 2013, Tesfaye said that drugs were a "crutch" for him when it came to writing music. On social media he typically suffixed his first name with "xo". According to writer Hermione Hoby, it is meant as an emoticon for "a kiss and a hug", while VH1's Zara Golden's stated that it is a reference to his recreational use of ecstasy and oxycodone. He later altered the handles on his social media to reflect his stage name in preparation for the release of Starboy.
Tesfaye's hairstyle has been claimed to be partly inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat and has been described as his most recognizable trait. In an interview, he detailed that he began growing it out in 2011, and remarked at the easiness in maintaining it, with "a hard shampoo every once in a while". He eventually cut his hair in 2016 prior to the release of Starboy.
In his leisure time, he enjoys watching television and is an avid video game fan. In the context of media outlets reporting cases of police brutality, in 2016, he expressed disdain, tweeting "blue lives murder". In May 2016, Tesfaye and Belly cancelled an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! due to Donald Trump being present.
In January 2015, Tesfaye was arrested for punching a Las Vegas police officer. Tesfaye pleaded no contest, and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service. In December 2015, Tesfaye was sued by Cutting Edge Music, who alleged that the bass line for "The Hills" had been taken from a composition featured in the score for The Machine.
In September 2018, Tesfaye and Daft Punk were sued for allegedly stealing the rhythm from a self-described poet, singer and songwriter named Yasminah. Tesfaye has denied these allegations.
Prior to being presented a Bikila Award for Professional Excellence in 2014, Tesfaye donated $50,000 towards a class at the University of Toronto on Ge'ez, the classic language of Ethiopia. In August 2016 he continued donations to the University of Toronto, in the creation of a new Ethiopic Studies program.
In May 2016 Tesfaye has also donated $50,000 for the St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Toronto, Canada. In August 2016, Tesfaye also donated $250,000 to Black Lives Matter. In December 2015, he worked with Ryan Seacrest's foundation to visit Children's Hospital in Atlanta.
In June 2017, Tesfaye donated $100,000 to the Suubi Health Center, a maternity and children's medical facility in Budondo, Uganda. Tesfaye was inspired to support the center after learning of his friend French Montana's work with Global Citizen and Mama Hope to help raise awareness for Suubi and the people of Uganda.