Despite what appears to be the kind of supreme self-confidence that has taken him to the top of the charts, as well as the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show and, soon, his acting debut in the HBO series The Idol, The Weeknd (who now goes by his birth name, Abel Tesfaye), still assumes his next project could be a total failure.
“I thought ‘Blinding Lights’ was gonna be a flop,” he told Vanity Fair in a new profile that chronicles both the stratospheric highs — such as his the $69 million L.A. mansion he barely lived in — and his ever-present lows, like when he was sure the propulsive Max Martin/Oscar Holter single from his diamond-selling 2020 After Hours album would tank.
Instead, a combination of the song’s grabby hook and a silly TikTok dance challenge pushed the song into Billboard chart history after it spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and then logged the most weeks in the top five and top 10 on its way to being the charts No. 1 song of all-time.
At best, Abel figured the song would be a good way for younger fans to dive deeper into his turbulent earlier catalog. “It’s a new generation of angsty teens discovering all the dark music like when I was 14. Kurt Cobain, Wu-Tang, and all these songs that as a kid I probably shouldn’t be listening to, and 50 Cent,” he said. “This f–king dark and amazing escape.”
Even as The Weeknd’s songs have trafficked in endless tales of an easily bruised heart and what sounds like a sure-footedness on stage and in the studio, the singer told the magazine that when it comes to believing in his talents he learned a crucial lesson early on.
“I’ve always had to bet on myself. Even before I was The Weeknd, just in life,” he said. “As soon as I got out of my mother’s womb, it’s been, ‘Bet on yourself. It’s not gonna be easy, you know?’ And I’m fine with that.” That said, this new phase of his career, which he just announced will be conducted under his birth name, is definitely “nerve-racking.”
And, despite his many successes, his firm spot in the pop universe as an instantly recognizable one-named superstar and the Dawn FM album’s narrative arc that bloodily sent up the very notion of global superstardom, Tesfaye seems still not totally ready to fully embrace his spot in the pop firmament. “I don’t blame people,” he said when talk turned to comparisons to other icons. “Because if I was them, I’d be betting on Beyoncé too. I’m not gonna bet on me.”
Check out the VF cover below.