What does it mean for an artist to succeed on his/her own terms in 2013? The Weeknd -- the 23-year-old, famously elusive R&B singer born Abel Tesfaye -- sold 95,000 copies of his major label debut album "Kiss Land" last week, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- enough for a debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in a neck-and-neck race with country music star Keith Urban. "Kiss Land" trailed Urban’s "Fuse" for the number one spot by less than 3,000 albums. But unlike Urban, Tesfaye had no charting singles, or penetration at radio, and conceded to only one press interview -- with Complex magazine in July -- in support of the project.
Having risen to prominence in a flurry of Internet buzz and curiosity two-and-a-half years ago, The Weeknd, perhaps more than any other artist of his generation, has built his profile in the negative space left by the old pop star model. As "House of Balloons," his first album posted for free on his website in March of 2011, rose to the center of a storm of hype and cast him as the poster boy for a new wave of R&B, Tesfaye remained doggedly private, avoiding the press and social media and obscuring basic details about himself -- including, for a time, his face and birth name. Though major labels came knocking, he put off signing a recording contract until he had released two more albums of free material in the months following "Balloons" ("Thursday" and "Echoes of Silence"). "Kiss Land," released Sept. 10 by Republic Records and Tesfaye’s own XO label, is the first Weeknd album to debut in stores and not for free download on the singer’s own website.
“The music industry seems to run a lot on hype,” Tesfaye’s co-managers Cash and Sal say in an email. “Abel wanted to see where things would go with his songs living on their own merits.”