The Weeknd pushes limits of R&B with Beauty Behind the Madness
With an aggressively electronic intro, Abel Tesfaye’s voice has an incomparable style that has changed the definition of rhythm and blues. As the world contemplates his place in music, Tesfaye, known professionally as The Weeknd, uses his soothing voice to discuss the dark side of the world most tend to avoid. “Real Life” combines the synthesizing sound of a soundboard and a full orchestra to tell a story of unfortunate love that is familiar to most. His ability to love, or lack thereof, is clear as he opens the song discussing his absence of heart. Unlike many of his drug-filled lyrics, “Real Life” gives listeners more of a look into his thoughts on a subject that is often overly discussed in our society.
Beauty Behind the Madness serves as a catalogue of a man’s mental struggle with his female counterpart. His opinion of women seems one-dimensional as he compares them to toys, often taunting them with his sexual experiences. In songs, like “Often,” he glorifies his first encounters with women, as they seem too eager to sexually please him. “Often” is the word he uses to explain his sexual experiences as well as drug use.
The members of his posse are also seen as beneficiaries of the sexual favors, as they seem to always be there for these encounters. However, this eagerness does not mean he is turned off. On the contrary, he talks about taking advantage of the women by letting his friends have their way.
Starting out with a classic 1990s beat, one is reminded of the hip-hop roots of The Weeknd. His harsh lyrics and smooth voice make it difficult for one to stay aware of the realness between the lines. Serving as a boastful track, “Tell Your Friends” is a glorification of this lifestyle. The Weeknd is seen as one of hip-hop and R&B’s biggest artists. “And everybody around is so basic, I’m never rocking white I’m like a racist / Cruise through the west-end in my new Benz / I’m just tryna live life through a new lens.“ He also talks about the dark side of what his life was before music. Lamar, who has been a friend of The Weeknd since the beginning, serves as a permanent fixture within his life and throughout the album.
As he reminisces about a moment when Lamar robbed someone for their Jordans just so they could give girls cocaine to “numb their faces,” he also reminds listeners of the effects it has on his family. “My cousin said I made it big and it’s unusual / She tried to take a selfie at my grandma’s funeral,” he sings, with such a disconnected calmness that it is hard to believe the memory is true. This very calmness, which is reminiscent of old-school R&B, is what makes The Weeknd so intriguing.
His struggle to deal with love is expressed more in Beauty Behind the Madness than his last two albums, Trilogy and Kiss Land. Beauty Behind the Madness serves as a catalogue of an unhealthy love and lust. Unlike Trilogy, he expressed his own struggle with the four-letter word, reflecting the internal conflict most of us experience within relationships.
In “Prisoner,” he places himself at the mercy of his lover. His addiction, to both love and the drugs he glorifies in his lyrics, will always be a part of him. “You bring good to my lonely life, honestly / It’s hard for me to look into your eyes when I say I will be noting without your love,” he sings, as the song opens up with a melancholy humming. With the bass of a hip-hop track, “Prisoner” stands as a love story for the obsessive. Lana Del Rey provides the sensual softness of a woman with her distinctive purr, giving the track a haunting hum with her outro.
Her own verse serves a parallel to The Weeknd’s, making Hollywood the subject of discussion. Her clear obsession with the fantasy world everyone hopes to experience gives listeners another look into the celebrity lifestyle. “I do know / I get so wrapped up in a world where nothing is as it seems / and real life is stranger than my dreams,” she croons.
Often compared to a Michael Jackson song, “Losers” starts with The Weeknd’s voice talking through the speakers. With the piano playing over his signature distant screams in the background, he sets the tone for the rest of the album, discussing his thoughts on sins and someone’s ability to prove to him that they are qualified. As a high school dropout and a self-taught artist, his belief on education is that it is for the losers. Through the lyrics, he makes it clear that he believes that he has already formed opinions on the world through his own experiences that cannot be challenged by others.
Contrary to his first album, Trilogy—which gave listeners into a sick and twisted world of users, rebels and misfits—”Angel” serves as the encouraging track of Beauty Behind the Madness. As he talks to his angel, he explains to her that he knows that they may not be meant to be together but he hopes “she finds somebody to love.” With such clarity, he understands that she will not take him back. His hyper-awareness of his emotional desensitizing is haunting.
Much like his label mate, Drake, he is not afraid to share his experiences and issues. This transparency creates an intimacy within his music that can be difficult to find.
An unnamed female provides assistance on the chorus, mirroring his lyricsm and thus resulting in the unified sound of two people struggling to find their place in the world. A choir soon joins their voices. Creating an anthem for the masses, The Weeknd gives his listeners hope to finally find that one person. One hopes that he, too, finds somebody to love.