#34. The Weeknd: Beauty Behind the Madness

Few artists had a bigger 2015 than R&B crooner The Weeknd. Beauty Behind the Madness became his first number one album and was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys. It contained top-five single “Earned It,” which was nominated for multiple Grammys as well as an Oscar (the song was written for the movie Fifty Shades of Grey). The album also produced two number one singles, industrial R&B jam “The Hills” and song of the summer “Can’t Feel My Face.” Collectively, these three massive singles occupied the top three positions on the Billboard songs chart at the same time, a feat never before accomplished by a recording artist.

Even though many Americans might only know The Weeknd as the funky, Michael Jackson channeling guy from “Can’t Feel My Face,” he’s actually a lot more understated and sensitive. “Tell Your Friends” and “Shameless” are much closer to his usual style, with quivering vocals about how difficult it is to be famous and surrounded by attractive women. The hooks of his songs are also generally less funky than “Can’t Feel My Face” and more anthemic. “The Hills” encapsulates his sound much better, from its weepy verses about sex to its grandiose choruses about, well, sex.

The Weeknd doesn’t surround himself with many features on Beauty Behind the Madness, but when he does he makes them count. Fellow balladeer Lana Del Rey joins him on “Prisoner,” and Ed Sheeran turns his guitar’s reverb up so high on “Dark Times” that it might as well be a drum. The third and best collaboration of the album is “Losers,” a duet with musical renaissance man Labrinth. US fans won’t be as familiar with the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter as those from the UK, but regardless of name recognition his vocal, writing, and production contributions help make “Losers” a standout track full of interesting metric manipulation and groovy piano and horns.

The Weeknd has become the newest torchbearer in a long lineage of talented male R&B crooners who sing about copious sex like it’s the worst thing to ever happen to them. Personally I find this subject matter tiresome—which is probably why I’m most captivated by stylistic outliers like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Losers”—but despite my preferences, The Weeknd has successfully wept/slept his way into the hearts of music fans everywhere. 2015 was undoubtedly his year, and Beauty Behind the Madness is his most impactful album yet.