If you think about it, nothing about The Weeknd should make sense. He’s the most NSFW household name in the pop game. We absolutely love that he is kind of sad and mostly sings about drugs, money, sex and late nights. He appeals to the devil in all of us, and it feels so good.
People often compare the Canadian anti-crooner to Michael Jackson, and that’s never been more fair than on his latest LP Starboy, but his genius goes way farther back. Ever since those early, super-dark Trilogy days when Drake plucked him from the Toronto tundra and helped usher in a new era of nihilistic synthwave dance pop, The Weeknd has been destined for major wins. Impressively, he’s done it with hardly any features. The Weeknd is proof that, no matter what you mom tells you, there is something glamorous in being young and reckless. Billboard Dance‘s list of the 20 best Weeknd songs is the proof.
20. The Weeknd – “Angel”
Here we see a soft, vulnerable, guilty side of The Weeknd not often displayed. He knows he’s too dirty for the beautiful woman who’s stolen his heart, and he knows it probably won’t work out, because he’s bound to muck it up, but he still wishes her the best. He wants her to be happy. He’s getting his Guns’n’Roses on with this epic metal ballad music, too. Someone bust out the lighter, and please, don’t dance on the hood of the car. This isn’t the right moment.
19. The Weeknd – “Live For” feat. Drake
One upon a time, The Weeknd was Drake’s protege. Today, the two Canadians are both superstars in their own right, but this joint collab from The Weeknd’s debut studio album Kiss Land may have only landed on radio because of Drake’s feature. It deserved to be there no matter what, of course. The chorus is an A-plus sing-along when you find yourself up in the club with your besties.
18. The Weeknd – “Tears in the Rain”
Did you know Kiss Land is thematically based on the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford, and in turn based on Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s true, and this final track references the climactic speech made by the film’s “replicant” antagonist. “Tears in the Rain” is dark, beautiful, and sorrowful, just like that scene. Just as the robot enemy accepts his death, so too does The Weeknd lyrically accept the death of his pre-fame romance. “Tears in the Rain” is rather cinematic, as well, and we could argue there are sonic echoes between its composition and the film’s soundtrack what with the raindrop key notes and heavy background synth, but there’s no direct sampling we know of.
17. The Weeknd – “High For This”
As far as musical introductions go, “High For This” might be one of the greatest of all time. It’s the first track on The Weeknd’s debut mixtape House of Balloons, also known as the first EP in the Trilogy series. So effectively, it’s like The Weeknd sits you down and warns you that you probably wanna be high for the musical greatness that is to follow, i.e. his whole career. That drug use is the running theme of his catalogue only makes it that much more perfect. There isn’t much going on in this song. It’s mostly moody noise, throbbing percussion, and The Weeknd’s mystifying voice. This is how you get the industry’s attention.
16. The Weeknd – “Reminder”
As much as drugs are a theme, so too is The Weeknd’s struggle with fame. Like, he named his latest album Starboy. “Reminder” is an announcement of self in an strange world where, quite literally, The Weeknd wins awards from children’s networks for songs about doing cocaine. That’s a weird place to be, and The Weeknd rocks it well. If his jams weren’t so silky smooth and hard-edged, like this funky Starboy track, he’d never get away with it.
15. The Weeknd – “Acquainted”
Millennials are rather famously afraid of commitment, and “Acquainted” is the generational love-song we’ve been waiting for. Dedicate this slow jam to the special person in your life that you text before you go to sleep and when you wake up but is totally not your girlfriend/boyfriend, because labels are stupid and we are above them, for sure for sure.
14. The Weeknd – “Party Monster”
This Weeknd song is so hard, you have to sing along to it with a sneer. It’s got mad replay potential, too. It might be The Weeknd’s swaggiest dark dance tune so far. It feels like putting on a really expensive black, leather, motorcycle jacket with a bunch of zippers. Here, the sinister crooner describes his perfect woman, a bad b—h who is as self-destructive and beautiful as he is.
13. The Weeknd ft. Kendrick Lamar, Daniel Wilson – “Sidewalks”
“If they really made me, then replace me.” Damn, fighting words from a smooth crooner on this Starboy chiller. People think he’s talking about his old producer Jeremy “Zodiac” Rose, but the two haven’t worked together since Trilogy, and The Weeknd has done nothing but ascend since. The sidewalks must be escalators. Kendrick Lamar comes around to drop speedy bars, and Daniel Wilson rocks the post-hook. No y’all, it’s not Sam Smith.
12. The Weeknd – “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls”
If there was any doubt The Weeknd was kind of goth, this Siouxsie and the Banshees sample clears it up. The Weeknd is totally goth, and this title track from the singer’s debut mixtape solidified his darkwave synth style as danceable. Like most of his early work, it’s as dark as dance can get, but this is The Weeknd before the platinum plaques, the Grammys, the love of mainstream radio. He’s still got that hunger, but on tracks like this, the pain is real, and the chorus drips with beautiful irony.
11. The Weeknd – “What You Need”
This song should come with a NSFW warning. It’s slow and sinful, black as your bedroom at 1 in the morning. Dirty things happen when you put this track on. It’s best listened to with headphones, or with a certain kind of late-night friend. Sure, this isn’t Barry White‘s flavor of romance. This is that dangerous, probably ends in heartache kind of itch scratching. That’s The Weeknd’s specialty, and this is one of his most deliciously evil anti-live anthems ever.
10. The Weeknd – “In the Night”
How many songs written in minor chords are as infectiously catchy and dance floor favoring as this? Max Martin co-produced this one, and he wrote “…Baby One More Time.” It’s got a lot of Michael Jackson influence, as do a lot of tracks from Beauty Behind the Madness. Again, The Weeknd dedicates an amazing song to the lonely strippers of the world. Is she empowered by her sexuality? Is she tortured by it? Maybe a little bit of both.
9. The Weeknd – “Tell Your Friends”
How many times do you think The Weeknd slept with a girl and then that girl went and bragged about it? There’s something undeniably creepy about this song, but it’s still super fresh, sexy, cool. Classic Weeknd vibes. Yeah, he’s that dude with the hair poppin’ pills, having meaningless sex, and singing about it, but it’s the singing about it that matters the most. This song came out as a bit of a teaser for Beauty Behind the Madness, the video dropped just four days before the LP’s release. In that sense, it’s like, here’s a bunch of new music from The Weeknd. Go tell your friends about it. Mad swag.
8. The Weeknd – “Earned It”
Everyone and their mom knows this Weeknd song thanks to the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack. Sonically, it sounds really happy, really lovey-dovey with all these orchestral strings and its smitten chorus, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll find all that masochism fans have come to appreciate. Fitting for a movie about a super dysfunctional but overwhelmingly hot relationship.
7. The Weeknd – “Often”
The Weeknd is feeling himself on this song. You’ve never had so many women in your life as The Weeknd has accidentally forgotten. He doesn’t care about them, though. He probably engages in sexual activity with cold-glossy eyes, like it’s some mechanical action he’s only half awake for. His bedroom has a revolving door. Not one girl makes two appearances in the music video, and never once does he crack a smile. The track samples vocals from 1978’s “Ben Gene Sana Vurgunum” by Turkish singer Nukhet Duru, a song all about the pain of unrequited love.
6. The Weeknd – “The Morning”
The first notes of this track sound the way a sunrise looks. They’re full of hope and light, there’s a rising action. The Weeknd sings about the grind and the partying that comes along with it. Whether it’s him flying coast to coast or the women-for-hire twerkin at his parties, it’s all about the paper chase. There’s so much love to go around, but everyone in The Weeknd’s life is married to the game.
5. The Weeknd – “Wicked Games”
Holy well-placed F-bombs, Batman. This Weeknd song is so nihilistic and so fun to sing along to. “Wicked Games” was The Weeknd’s big debut single, and it let the world know right away what they had to look forward to. Granted, no one could have seen him becoming a pop superstar at this moment in 2012. It doesn’t foreshadow properly just how glossy and danceable his production would become, but it boils his schtick down to one wonderful, hollow, marvelous experience.
4. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – “Starboy”
We live in a world where “motherfuckin’” is edited but the lyrics “cut that ivory into skinny pieces, then she clean it with her face, man I love my baby” is totally radio and television friendly. That’s why The Weeknd is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. You can sit here and say you thought his Daft Punk collaboration was disappointing because it doesn’t sound like “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” or something, but you’re just being a hater. This song is the dopeness, and the music video is one of the best things we’ve ever seen. Everyone is jelly of that poster, don’t act like you ain’t.
3. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – “I Feel it Coming”
This Daft Punk-assisted plays like the last Michael Jackson song anyone will ever have the chance to hear. Never has The Weeknd sounded more like his idol than on this disco groove (the secret is to shake your long-held notes at their end). Daft Punk concocted the perfect Off The Wall vibe, and their robot voices drive the funk home at the after-hook. It’s also the happiest and healthiest The Weeknd’s lyrics have ever been. It’s an amazing track to close out Starboy, worth its own repeat listening party any time, any day, anywhere.
2. The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”
So, you think this is a love song, eh? Psyche! It’s totally about cocaine! Oh, The Weeknd. You so crazy. No matter how NSFW this song may be, it was destined for pop radio domination. No one can fight the urge to dance and clap along to a hook this clean. This jam was hands down one of the best, if not the best, songs of 2015. It catapulted The Weeknd into a household name, flaws and all.
1. The Weeknd – “The Hills”
That jarring intro. The dirty lyrics. The blatant references to drug abuse. This Weeknd song is everything a pop smash is not supposed to be, and yet, it got played every five minutes on every station it could possibly inhabit. “The Hills” is the ultimate fuckboi anthem. Listen, girl. He really loves you, he does. It doesn’t matter that he only texts you at 3 a.m. like “u up?” and asks you to get rid of everyone in your house before he comes through. Not that it matters. The Hollywood Hills have eyes, and everyone sees what’s happening, but who are any of us to judge? We’ve been there, too.