Critic's Take: The Weeknd's Charting Singles Ranked From Worst to Best
With The Weeknd's "False Alarm" making its Billboard Hot 100 debut this week (and his new album Starboy on the horizon, dropping Nov. 25), we decided it's time to look back on the various singles Abel Tesfaye has put on the Billboard charts over the years.
From Hot 100 chart-toppers to hits on charts such as Pop Songs, Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop or Rhythmic Songs, these are the 10 official singles The Weeknd has placed on various Billboard charts, ranked from worst to best based solely on critical preference.
Note: We're just looking at official singles where The Weeknd is the main credited artist, so non-single album tracks that charted -- or songs that include Tesfaye as a featured artist -- are not on this list.
10. "In the Night"
While "In the Night" isn't a bad song, it's last on our list just because it's so lightweight. Sure, it's catchy enough, but it reads like a song crafted to be a hit. The best pop songs simply exist as perfection ("Can't Feel My Face"), but this one sounds like it's trying too hard to be accessible.
Not exactly his most memorable or melodic song, "Acquainted" is a serviceable, PG-13 love letter written in the haze of a drunken hour. It's not bad by any stretch -- but there's also no danger of this song ever getting stuck in your head.
8. "Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)"
While The Weeknd's vocal performance here is top-notch, the repetitive, bombastic string section keeps this Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack song from getting any higher on the list. Yes, it was his breakthrough hit, but 10 years from now, this over-the-top number is going to sound dated as hell. We'll keep this off our Weeknd playlists and be happier for it, thanks.
With a production soundscape that brings to mind early Kanye West, The Weeknd managed to get some of his more X-rated lyrics on the charts with "Often." With a solid beat and a commanding, sensual vocal performance, this finds Tesfaye striking a compelling, uneasy balance between alluring lover and creepy lothario.
6. "False Alarm"
Following "Starboy" much in the same way "The Hills" followed "Can't Feel My Face," "False Alarm" is a daring stylistic diversion from The Weeknd. With its shifting tempos and nearly anti-melodic chorus, Tesfaye sounds like he's challenging radio with this song, as if to say, "Are you cool enough to f--- with this?" It doesn't matter either way -- "Starboy" is strong enough that he can afford to follow it up with a song as wonderfully weird as "False Alarm."
5. "Love Me Harder"
While we're not including songs featuring The Weeknd, this one is credited to Ariana Grande and The Weeknd, so it makes our list, even though it cropped up on her album and not his. While Tesfaye sticks to his unique sonic palette most of the time, this duet is excellent evidence that his voice is well-suited to all variety of radio-friendly fodder.
4. "Wicked Games"
The only charting single from his early mixtape period, "Wicked Games" is a prime slice of Tesfaye's minimalist, lonely, late-night PBR&B.
It may not have seemed like one of his all-time best songs when it debuted, but after three or four listens, "Starboy" reveals itself as one of his most durable singles yet. Unlike Beauty Behind the Madness' singles, this one calls back to his earlier, darker mixtape material, but tosses in a syncopated beat that keeps the nearly four-minute song radio-friendly. And obviously, the presence of Daft Punk on this song doesn't hurt.
2. "Can't Feel My Face"
If ever a song deserved to go No. 1, it was this one. While plenty of songs mimic Michael Jackson's slinky disco R&B grooves (hey there, "Can't Stop the Feeling"), few artists can channel MJ without losing their own sonic identity in the process. Here, Tesfaye pulls off that unlikely trick with one of the most irresistible pop/R&B songs of the 21st century.
1. "The Hills"
Has there even been a weirder No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit? OK, maybe "Disco Duck" was weirder. But there certainly hasn't been a more stylistically adventurous and lyrically dark No. 1 hit in decades. It's a testament to his formidable songcraft and his singular vision that The Weeknd got "The Hills" atop the Hot 100. It could be years before we see something this strange and left-field topping the Hot 100 again.