The Weeknd "Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)" Screen Shot (Republic)

Is The Weeknd Poised For Breakout Success?


The Weeknd "Earned it (Fifty Shades of Grey)" music video screen shot (Republic)
The Weeknd “Earned it (Fifty Shades of Grey)” music video screen shot (Republic)

As of yet, 2015 seems to be The Weeknd’s year. Honestly, the R&B industry should be praying that it is indeed the year of Abel Tesfaye, as the genre hasn’t had its finest moments this year. All indications suggests that The Weeknd may be his most relevant within the bigger picture of the music industry thanks to that little hit from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey).” Face it folks, even if you’re not familiar/into the BSDM world that is Fifty Shades of Grey, The Weeknd’s song has earned every ounce of praise that it is/has received.

The Weeknd "Earned it (Fifty Shades of Grey)" music video screen shot (Republic)
The Weeknd “Earned it (Fifty Shades of Grey)” music video screen shot (Republic)

The Weeknd smartly is reaching for the stars while his profile is elevated. It’s not as if he hasn’t had success previously – fellow R&B artists would die to have his debut numbers – but it just doesn’t feel that The Weeknd has quite sealed the deal. As good as records like “Wicked Games,” “Twenty Eight,” and “Belong To The World” are, The Weeknd hasn’t quite achieved mainstream success. That is an incredibly tall task for R&B artists these days, but The Weeknd seems to have a legit shot and he shouldn’t squander it with crap.

The Weeknd needs to deliver a “finisher.” No, his new album doesn’t necessarily have to be a masterpiece, but he needs to put all the pieces together soundly. 2013 LP Kiss Land had it moments, but it didn’t have mainstream appeal nor a breakthrough single. His mixtape compilation Trilogy had more success in the single department with the aforementioned “Wicked Games.” So his proper sophomore album needs to have ‘hits’ that are going to solidify his ranks. “Earned It” has initiated the breakthrough, now it’s the Weeknd’s job to capitalize.

The Weeknd screen shot from "The Hills" music video (Republic)
The Weeknd screen shot from “The Hills” music video (Republic)

So far, The Weeknd is off to a splendid start beyond his “Earned It” fame. “The Hills” is familiar territory for The Weeknd. That isn’t to say it isn’t ‘new’ or isn’t ‘hot’ (it is), but we’ve heard The Weeknd talk about his rebellious, sexual side and that’s exactly what he does here. That said should The Weeknd change his formula on “The Hills?” The answer is a resounding NO because “The Hills” is well produced, dramatic, and vocally, The Weeknd sounds like a boss. As good as “The Hills” is, the single with the most potential just might be “Can’t Feel My Face.”

 

The subject matter of “Can’t Feel My Face” is familiar territory for The Weeknd as well – drugs. Still, this is the single that could gain the most traction because of its pop-oriented nature. The first thought that comes in mind when you hear “Can’t Feel My Face” is Michael Jackson. That isn’t to say that The Weeknd is the reincarnation of MJ or that that’s even his artistic lane. What it is saying is that the pop sensibility of this joint has great potential to open The Weeknd to mainstream success beyond the R&B audience. Look at how well retro tracks have performed as of late – Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” (featuring Bruno Mars) being prime examples.

So, can The Weeknd breakthrough? – Hopefully this is his time. This guy’s rooting for him – he’s got a fantastic instrument on him.

Review: The Weeknd, ‘Kiss Land’


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The Weeknd Sticks With the Formula With Less Notable Results

The Weeknd⎪ Kiss Land ⎪ Republic⎪⎪ US Release Date: September 10, 2013

The Weeknd2-20130729-219Alternative R&B generally is a fine outlet to keep the cooling genre of R&B alive. In a day and age where ‘neo-soul’ has fallen by the wayside and adult contemporary R&B can’t carry the torch alone, alt-R&B seems like the present answer to preserve respiration.  Artists like Frank Ocean, Miguel, and The Weeknd have been the chief proponents of this movement.  The Weeknd’s compilation effort Trilogy, showed the possibilities and the appeal of this nu-soul.  On Kiss Land, The Weeknd continues in a similar vein, but not sans flaws.  Kiss Land feels too spacey at times, where some extra definition and less self-indulgence might’ve boded well for The Weeknd.

Professional” is an interesting way to start, sampling EMIKA’s “Professional Loving”.  At first, The Weeknd’s reference to professionalism seems to be his newfound stardom, as highlighted lyrically throughout the intro (“…So you’re somebody now / but that’s a somebody in a nobody town / you made enough to quit a couple of years ago / but it consumes you / everywhere you go”).  On the switch-up, the idea of professionalism seems to transform sexually, which isn’t unpredictable given The Weeknd’s dedication to such subject. All in all, it works, but “Professional” feels as if it could use one extra lift to truly propel it to another level.

The Town” seems a bit more undercooked than “Professional”.  Sure it’s druggy sounding and The Weeknd continues his mission (“I remember on the bathroom floor / before I went on tour / when you said we couldn’t do it again / cause you had a thing with another man…”), but even given the richness of his falsetto, he lacks the strength to deliver a truly captivating performance.   He does better for himself on “Adaptation”, though it’s not without its rubs. “I lay my head on a thousand beds / it’s been a test to see how far a man / can go without himself…”, he sings reflectively on verse one.  The chorus is more telling though:  “But I chose the lie / I chose the life / then I realized / she might have been the one / I let it go / for a little fun / I made a trade / gave away our days / for a little fame / Now I’ll never see your face / but it’s okay I adapted anyway”.  The Weeknd gets added swag points with his ad libs toward the end.

The Weeknd-20130729-218By “Love in The Sky”, The Weeknd seems to have his stuff together, delivering one of the album’s best.  He’s in top-notch form when he delivers widely interpretable lines such as “There’s no one inside / but you’re free to relax / if you commit to this ride / there’s no turning back…” Sure, he could be going for high level thinking, but it seems he definitely wants you to catch his innuendo.  If it’s not clear on “Love in The Sky”, it definitely is on the follow-up cut, “Belong To The World”.  “I’m not a fool / I just love that you’re dead inside… I’m not a fool, I’m just lifeless too…” Okay.  Most interesting is when it’s obvious The Weeknd is referring to a stripper (“Oh girl, I know I should leave you / and learn to mistreat you / cause you belong to the world / and ooh girl, I want to embrace you / domesticate you / but you belong to the world…”).

Personally, “Live For” seems like something of a wasted opportunity.  The hook is simple as is the overall theme: “This the sh*t that I live for, this the sh*t that I live for / this the sh*t that I live for, with the people I’d die for…” Yeah, yeah, yeah.  We’ve heard this about a bajillion times. Still, The Weeknd asserts his ‘swag’ (“I’m in my city in the summer / Camo’d out, leather booted / kissing b**ches in the club…”) while Drake steals the show (“Roll up in that thing, got h**s like Prince, but they know I’m King.” “Wanderlust” is stronger, sampling Fox the Fox (“Precious Little Diamond”).  Again, it’s not perfect, but you can’t deny the humor and truth in a line like “Good girls go to heaven / and bad girls go everywhere / and tonight I will love you / and tomorrow you won’t care…” If nothing else, “Wanderlust” is the closest cut to dance to.

The Weeknd3-20130729-216“Kiss Land” stands out, with The Weeknd being bold with lyrics like  “You can meet me in the room where the kisses ain’t free / you gotta pay with your body” or the more overt “I can’t stand talkin’ to brand new girls / only b**ches down to f**k when you shower them ones…” Maybe most irresponsible is his references to drugs.  Despite this, “Kiss Land” is a winner.  “Pretty” shines as well.  While it literally opens with a ‘bang’ (“Somebody telling you it was pointless for me to come back into your arms / said you f**ked another man…”), The Weeknd reins himself in with some more thoughtful lyrics.  Closer “Tears in the The Weeknd4-20130729-217Rain” sports solid ideas, but as with many of the cuts here, it lasts too long and feels a bit too indulgent.

How does Kiss Land stack up? Honestly, it is a bit disappointing.  It’s not terrible by any means, but to say an of the cuts stand up against “Wicked Games” or “Twenty Eight” would be a stretch from my perspective.  Additionally, even though The Weeknd built his career around sex, drugs, and emo R&B, a broadening wouldn’t hurt next album.

Favorites: “Love in The Sky”; “Belong To The World”; “Kiss Land”

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Verdict: ✰✰✰