Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, is not the typical R&B artist. His music explores the dark side of fame, excessive drug use and themes of sex and its destructive nature. The 23-year-old singer lived in the Toronto, Ontario area for the first 21 years of his life. He released three critically acclaimed mixtapes in 2011 (House of Balloons, Thursday, Echoes of Silence) and, after being featured on Drake’s extremely popular “October’s Very Own” blog, he signed a record deal with Universal Republic and created his own imprint label, XO. The Weeknd has finally prepared his major label debut album entitled Kiss Land.
In an interview with Complex Magazine, he said that when he thinks about Kiss Land, he thinks about a terrifying place, one with which he is very unfamiliar. As it pertains to The Weeknd’s life, it makes sense. For a young man who has lived nearly his entire life in the confines of his hometown establishing a comfort zone, suddenly being thrust into the international spotlight and touring all over the world can bring about some interesting experiences, to say the least — and Kiss Land delves deeper into those moments and relationships.
Kiss Land begins with a song called “Professional,” a spacey track with echoing background vocals detailing why love has lost meaning to him because the women he meets while on tour are only using sex and fake love as part of their profession of prostitution. These women treat this way of making money as an actual profession. Even though this particular woman has “made enough to quit a couple years ago,” her line of work consumes and traps her, forcing him to ask her, “What’s a somebody in a nobody town?”
The Weeknd, contrarily, sees through this and suggests the way out as being with him. This might also be part of his own lying game, however, because the women never stay with him, and his “ideal” relationship never comes to fruition. Kiss Land successfully explores the conflict that arises when fame and money create an abundance of insincere feelings from those outside of one’s closest circle, particularly women. The Weeknd seems to have come to terms with the fact that finding actual love with any of the women he meets now might never happen. In a strange turn, however, his realization becomes an even stronger obsession. He doesn’t care for love anymore, but the idea of falling in love is a fantasy that he likes to recreate time and time again with the women he meets on the road.
This creates an interesting dynamic on the song “Belong To The World,” where he relates so much to a woman who is immune to love that he actually begins to fall in love with her during their one-night stand. Singing to the synths, drums and frightening strings, The Weeknd relates so much to her emotionless actions that it also assures him that they could never be together. This woman’s desire to continuously move to new love experiences is further detailed in the most up-tempo song on the album, “Wanderlust.” The Weeknd’s singing style often evokes favorable comparisons with Michael Jackson because of an extremely similar vibrato in his voice, as well as his ability to hit powerful falsetto notes. This song gives the best example of this resemblance, in part because of the dance-style beat and his nearly identical “Whoo!” adlibs throughout this song.
The only feature on the album is with fellow Toronto-native Drake, who adds yet another great verse to his repertoire in the crew anthem, “Live For.” The Weeknd’s role is limited on the song, singing a short intro verse and a catchy hook of, “This the sh-t that I live for / with the people I’d die for.” Drake stands out on this track with perfectly timed flow on the beat, dropping rhymes referencing everything from Demi Moore to Prince.
The Weeknd isn’t an artist that many fans will feel an intimate connection with. For some who hear his music, they might not be able to relate to the subject matter he sings about at all. The dark focus of his music is not exactly inviting to an audience, and it can be downright depressing at times.
But he doesn’t necessarily want listeners to feel his pain. The Weeknd acknowledges this directly on the title track, “Kiss Land,” a song about his interactions with female fans after his shows. He repeatedly sings the phrase, “This ain’t nothin’ to relate to” during the last minutes of the song. But though he gets listeners to feel the way he feels, it would be interesting in the next album if The Weeknd could entice listeners to understand the way he feels.