Sex, Drugs, and R&B: The Weeknd re-introduces his Trilogy
Originally written in 2012
In this day in age of digital media and technology anyone can be an artist. All you need is basic knowledge of beat-making software, maybe some auto-tune and you can assure yourself at least a “Like” on Youtube if not fifteen minutes of viral fame. Only a few though, can capitalize on breaking through the net’s gatekeepers and establish a career.
Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name, The Weeknd, made his musical debut in 2011 with his mixtape House of Balloons, and immediately solidified a spot on the “Next Big Thing” radar.
Part of The Weeknd’s appeal comes from his mystery. He keeps a tight circle of affiliates (they call themselves XO) and has yet to do interviews. His laid back demeanor, scruffy beard and Sideshow Bob-esque hair is a middle finger to what most R&B record execs would deem marketable, and his methodical, drugged-induced songs aren’t going to be on any Top 40 radio stations any time soon.
But that’s the way The Weeknd, and his fans want it.
Taking advantage of the social-media, music blog era, The Weeknd released his three mixtapes through his twitter account, and collaborations with fellow Canadian Drake, and pothead rapper Wiz Khalifa have given him more exposure.
And even though The Weeknd is the featured artist to sing the hook on Drake and Wiz’s songs, they allow him to flex his stylistic muscle, because the acclaim of his three mixtapes have validated the use of his haunting musical motif.
On November 13th The Weeknd re-leased his three mixtapes as the Trilogy, digitally re-mastered for iTunes in one sonically melancholy two-hour bundle. The excitement is bittersweet however, because unless you’ve been under rock you’ve already been able to download 27 of these songs for free.
Despite this, many believe having the three mixtapes on their iPods won’t stop loyal fans of the 22 year-old Toronto native from supporting what many believed to be (along with Frank Ocean) the most refreshing new act in the realm of R&B.
The R&B genre has been filled with clichés of club life, love and infidelity, with recent departures by the main culprits to cash in on the techno/dub-step, EDM craze (Usher, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown) and for bubble-gum radio bait (Jason Derulo, Jay Sean). However, with the help of hypnotic production from Doc McKinney & Illangelo, The Weeknd has put his own mellow dramatic spin on things.
Trilogy begins with “High for This,” a slow-paced introduction equipped with kicking drums and synths. The Weeknd tells his conquest of the night to come alone and assures her (and us) that we want to be intoxicated for the ride we’re about to take with him.
On the even slower “What You Need” (lacking the clearance for Aaliyah’s Rock the Boat sample on the mixtape), the Weeknd slyly persuades a female to ditch her other man and come back with him, “He’s what you want, he’s what you want, I’m what you need, what you need.”
Somewhat on a fun side, with stripper anthem “The Morning” and chanting-to-bumping “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls,” things get darker as the House of Balloons portion goes on and that’s where The Weeknd is at his best.
On “Wicked Games” he confesses his sins to a stripper while hypnotized by her dance “I left my girl bad home, I don’t love her no more, and she’ll never f*****g know that, these f*****g eyes that I’m staring at” and on the moan heavy “The Party & After Party” spending nights with girls who snort coke can’t erase the fact that they’re using him as well, “They don’t want my love, they just want my potential.”
The House of Balloons portion closes with the vocally crushing “The Knowing” an emotional ballad about how he and his girlfriend continue to masquerade love for each other when they’re both cheating, “Now we're lying about the nights hiding it all behind the smiles.” House of Balloons is easily the best part of the three, and the next two fail to reach its measuring stick.
Thursday (where the weekend begins in the college campus world) is the middle section of Trilogy, and on “Life of the Party” The Weeknd seductively coaxes a female to take part in some group activities with his friends and two other women; under the influence, of course, “Show me how you go, down-town, with the drugs in your body, take-that-step, you're the life of the party.”
The only other artist with a verse on the entire compilation is Drake, whom appears on “The Zone” worrying about how his girl will adjust to the limelight, “She don’t really like attention, I don’t know if she ’gone manage out here” while The Weeknd is brutally honest about how he’s with his particular woman because he can’t be with someone else, “I’ll be making love to her through you, so let me keep my eyes closed.” The simple slow bass line and piano keys allow The Weeknd’s vocals to carry more weight.
On “The Birds Pt. 1” The Weeknd warns the same woman from “The Zone” not to fall in love with him. Surprise! She does anyway, and on “The Birds Pt. 2” she reaps the repercussions because he’s already moving on to his next sexual endeavor. The standout track on Thursday is “Rolling Stone,” where minimalist guitar strings allow The Weeknd’s voice to shine as he assures his initial fan base that he won’t forget his roots as he ascends from the shadows of the internet underground into the mainstream, “Baby I got you, until your used to my face and my mystery fades… I hope I’m not different, and I hope you’ll still listen.”
The third and final installment of Trilogy is Echoes of Silence. The Weeknd does his best Michael Jackson impression on his remake of Dirty Diana, and on “Outside” he boasts that after he’s had a girl for one night she won’t ever want to leave, “Forget what you know, make yourself at home, ’cause baby when I’m finished with you, you won’t wanna go outside.” On “Same Old Song” and “Next” however, The Weeknd depicts his vulnerability to women who initially didn’t believe in him, or just want him now to capitalize on his success.
This album is three separate mixtapes put together, so it’s pretty damn long, and the themes of love; unfaithfulness and sober-less nights circle throughout like a carousel. The lyrics aren’t the most profound or thought provoking, and for long periods of Trilogy The Weeknd gets too lost in his own falsettos (the “ooohs” and “woooahs” tend to drag on some songs) to sing any lyrics at all, leaving you waiting for a track to end.
The three bonus tracks, “Twenty-Eight,” “Valerie,” and “Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)” are sort of the constellation prizes for listening to 27 old songs again, but they bring nothing new in terms of content or approach.
In comparison to the cloudy and fluctuating sounding mix tapes, on this re-mastered version the guitar riffs are sharper and the drums hit a lot clearer. So if you enjoyed the 27 free songs in 2011 and can reimburse The Weeknd $9.99 compensation, or if you’re sort of late to the weed and codeine fueled party, pick up Trilogy, because it will go down as a game changer in the R&B world.
Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)