?Five years ago, the idea of Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd, scoring a Grammy nomination for album of the year would’ve seemed preposterous. Here was the ultimate outsider — a shadowy Canadian alt-R&B auteur who sampled Siouxsie and the Banshees and sang creepy songs about hard drugs and deviant sex on a trio of EPs he gave away for free in 2011. Those releases earned him a deal with Republic, which led to 2013’s Kiss Land, the disappointing major-label debut that in no way predicted the success of Beauty Behind the Madness.
The turning point for Tesfaye may have come when he collaborated with Swedish hitmaker Max Martin on Ariana Grande’s 2014 hit “Love Me Harder.” Martin wound up producing three Beauty Behind the Madness tracks, including “In the Night” and “Can’t Feel My Face,” an homage to Michael Jackson that soundtracked the summer of 2015. “Can’t Feel My Face” topped the Hot 100 on three nonconsecutive weeks, and the last time around, replaced earlier single “The Hills” at No. 1.
As “The Hills” reminded fans, The Weeknd hadn’t gone totally pop. Named for a 1977 Wes Craven horror flick and featuring lyrics like “always tryna send me off to rehab / drugs started feeling like it’s decaf,” the tune has a chilling mood that permeates even semi-sweet songs like “As You Are” and “Angel.” Tesfaye even makes Ed Sheeran sound pretty badass on “Dark Times.” Such is the power of The Weeknd: He pulls you into his twisted world and makes it awfully hard to leave.