“All of my music is honest. When I write, I write about my surroundings. Sometimes it’s light and sometimes it gets very dark. With this album I’ve learned to balance them out and evolve my sound.” – Abel Tesfaye
Almost two years after the release of his debut studio album Kiss Land and a huge feature on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd finally gave the public what they wanted; his sophomore album, Beauty Behind The Madness. We hear a new sound and vibe from this album, with more pop and funk beats compared to his previous projects. Grab some headphones and listen along with the track-by-track review of BBTM below!
Track 1: Real Life
Starting off the album with strong guitar riffs, The Weeknd tells his listeners about advice from his own mother on how his life was going to destroy him over time. “Mama called me destructive, said it’d ruin me one day.” He opens up about mistakes, claiming them as such, rather than in the storytelling aspect he has used during his career. This song follows a true pop song’s sequence with two verses and choruses and a bridge. Produced by the man himself, Abel shows his listeners what he is musically capable of right off the bat.
Track 2: Losers (ft. Labrinth)
The Weeknd uses the second track off the project to present the first featured artist, British singer Labrinth. The two take a shot at the “losers” who stayed in school, which makes sense since Abel is a high school dropout — the artists take turns reflecting on their wisdom as they reminisce about their ambitions and careers. We aren’t used to the use of piano at the beginning of the song, but the beat drop at the one-minute mark is what we’re more familiar with from the Canadian artist.
Track 3: Tell Your Friends
The third track off BBTM is a smooth slow jam talking about The Weeknd’s lovers bragging to their friends about the pleasure they get from the XO man himself. On the other hand, The Weeknd could also be calling on his listeners to spread the word about him—he wants us to tell our friends about the drugs, the sex, the hair and of course, the music. In the past, Abel was one to keep things on the low, but his quest to become a worldwide phenomenon means giving up some of the mystery. The eery, yet artistic, video was released on Monday prior to the album’s release date. It was revealed by G.O.O.D. music signee, Travi$ Scott, that the track is co-produced by Kanye West which is evident around the 3-minute mark of the sound. This song and it’s slow jam vibes climbed its way to a top spot on my album favorites.
Track 4: Often
You have probably heard this word and song repeated over radio waves countless times. Released way back in July 2014, this song became an instant hit with all XO fans. With hard-hitting production by Ben Billions, “Often” went platinum certified in the US and gold certified in Canada within a few weeks of its release. If that wasn’t enough, Tesfaye dropped a NSFW video for the single, adding to the craving for more music from the artist.
Track 5: The Hills
Released as a single in May, the fifth track off the project is about a sinking sexual affair in which Abel sets the record straight about what this woman means to him, and reminding her that she is an equally guilty party in this affair. According to personal interpretation and opinion after viewing the track’s video, it may symbolize his departure from the first and second chapters of his music career (Trilogy and Kiss Land) and into the beautiful beginning of chapter three, now titled Beauty Behind The Madness. This song is in my top three favorites from the project because of its hard-hitting chorus and risqué lyrics.
Track 6: Acquainted
Teaming back up with producer Illangelo (who produced the entirety of Trilogy), The Weeknd acknowledges that he’s usually more comfortable disregarding women after sex, but can’t help contemplating the possibility of love in the sixth track off BBTM. The lyrics also point towards a metaphor of Tesfaye’s new found relationship with the mainstream music industry. Originally recorded as “Girls Born in the 90’s” — “Acquainted” was re-recorded and re-titled after it was leaked with the Billboard chart-topper “Can’t Feel My Face” and “In the Night”.
Track 7: Can’t Feel My Face
Honestly, this is all you need to know since you have heard this song tons of times by now:
Track 8: Shameless
Appearing as the eighth track on Beauty Behind the Madness, “Shameless” portrays Abel’s ego. Instead of being apologetic for his personal mistakes, he blames the girl. Unlike any of his other projects, Abel is choosing to bring his own love without the shame. Throughout this project, the Toronto native artist has several consecutive songs conceding to the idea of love, compassion, and care. We see The Weeknd tap into another side of himself––a side that is supportive and understanding instead of draining and careless; as a long-time XO fan, it’s nice to see this “softer” side from the artist. The beat was produced by both The Weeknd and Wheezy, with the latter producing eight tracks on rapper Young Thug’s major label debut Barter 6.
Track 9: Earned It
All right, if you don’t know which movie this song was featured in, you probably live in a cave. The release of this track received rave reviews from critics worldwide, which officially put The Weeknd on the mainstream map and introduced him to soccer moms worldwide. Set to one of his most upbeat and orchestral instrumentals yet, he dances between classy and leachous as he woos the one girl he truly loves. In regards to Fifty Shades of Grey, this mirrors Christian’s infatuation as he enjoys Ana’s innocence in the film, but I digress. However, I do still find myself humming the chorus to this amazing song in my free time…
Track 10: In The Night
With major Michael Jackson vibes peeling through my speakers with this track, “In The Night” is about a girl who is the victim of childhood sexual abuse (source: NY Times interview). In the song’s hook, “She hears him calling” is most likely a traumatic memory of her aggressor sneaking into her room to perform the act. She uses dancing/stripping as an escape which is why she’s making good money but can’t help but break down into tears. Even though the production of this song is upbeat and peppy, the true meaning behind the lyrics are quite morbid. Interesting factoid: co-producer of this track, Max Martin, is responsible for producing some of the biggest pop hits of our generation, including “Oops!… I Did It Again” and “California Gurls.” Not one of my personal favorites off the album, but definitely not a throwaway song either.
Track 11: As You Are
Winding down to the last few tracks of the project, “As You Are” focuses on a relationship with a female where both partners are unfaithful, yet neither member appears ready to break it off. This is a recurring theme of The Weeknd’s music ever since Trilogy, writing songs such as“The Knowing” and “Kiss Land” with much of the same thesis. Pay close attention to the outro of this track around the 3-minute mark; it’s beautifully executed by producer Illangelo with its smooth transition and even silkier vocals from Abel.
Track 12: Dark Times (ft. Ed Sheeran)
After a featureless majority of the album, British pop singer Ed Sheeran starts off “Dark Times” by singing of the addictions both him and Abel fall into during their respective depressions — acting as a warning sign for women to stay away. The chorus speaks on the times when Abel falls back into the void of old habits, only to seek aid in the nightlife. In a recent NY Times interview, The Weeknd revealed the conception of the song with Sheeran:
“I wrote a song with Ed Sheeran that was kind of spontaneous, he was hosting the Much Music Awards in Toronto and I invited him, and pretty much the entire awards show, to my condo to party. It went on until about 5 in the morning but we didn’t write the song until that next day, so you can imagine how that night went. Ed also did a freestyle battle with Waka Flocka in my kitchen. That was pretty dope.”
Track 13: Prisoner (ft. Lana Del Rey)
With an odd pairing between American artist Lana Del Rey and The Weeknd, “Prisoner” closes out the features on BBTM. On this lust-filled R&B track, the addict (Abel) and the tortured lover (Lana), respectively croon about their pains; Abel comes to grips with falling in love while Lana contemplates her relationship with Hollywood. I think everyone can agree with me when I say I got chills the first time I heard the beat drop around the one-minute mark of this track. To all listeners’ surprise, The Weeknd produced this track. Yes, The Weeknd. This man is an all-rounded musical genius who will only get greater with time. #1 song of the project in my books!
Track 14: Angel
All good things must come to an end. Alas, the final track of Beauty Behind The Madness has arrived. In the end, the Weeknd decides to let go an “angelic” girl so she can find a lover who actually cares about her, unfortunately unlike The Weeknd. During the song’s second half, uncredited feature Maty Noyes pops in as “the angel”. A great way to end the album, Abel gives hope to the girl even though he may not be able to help.
Even though the album is a little plagued with the same misogynistic lyrics about sex and drugs, The Weeknd manages to find a great balance between this and new pop-ish sounds. With the comeback of producer Illangelo, BBTM soars through the roof in regards of music production. Abel is slowly on his way to becoming the greatest pop/R&B artist of our time and he has no intention of slowing down.
Speaking of which, the Canadian artist announced a massive North American tour with Travi$ Scott and Halsey earlier this week. The trio will be performing in Houston on December 13 at Toyota Center. Purchase your tickets, here.
By Rupal Mehta