The Weeknd’s exclusion from 2021 Grammys will forever be a contentious issue on the credibility of music’s supposedly ‘biggest night’. Though it does sting to see After Hours completely snubbed, the Canadian singer has long proven that his career far eclipses the relevance of any award show.
Coming off his soon-to-be iconic Super Bowl performance, I decided to rank each of his albums and mixtapes – recounting an already legendary career of one of the best artists working today.
8. Kiss Land
Before you hurt me, I know Kiss Land is well loved by a lot of Weeknd fans but this album really doesn’t do anything for me. My biggest gripe with it being the length of every song here. With an average runtime of 4 and a half minutes, all of them overstay their welcome and run each concept into the ground.
Though I love tracks like “Belong To The World” and “Tears In The Rain”, they completely lose my interest just over the halfway point. It doesn’t help that the drone-y electronic production isn’t able to carry its own weight without Weeknd’s admittedly great performances whenever an extended instrumental break comes on. It’s an album that’s filled to the brim with unfulfilled potential.
Technically this an EP but it’s still a full body of work that marks a significant moment in The Weeknd’s career. Coming off a breakup with Selena Gomez, lead single “Call Out My Name” is a heart-wrenching ballad that also marked one of the first times he’d chose to be transparent about his often undisclosed and high-profile dating life.
It stands out as one of the most notable songs of his career but sadly, I can’t say the same about the rest of the project. Though it feels like a return to the moody and hazy sound of his Trilogy mixtape, MDM lacks the same rawness that made that era so captivating. Every song here is polished to perfection. It’s crisp, slick and…boring. It’s just The Weeknd on cruise control over dark synth music.
I remember hearing “D.D.” for the first time being absolutely floored at Weeknd’s singing ability. 14 year old me was convinced that he was the 2nd coming of Michael Jackson…even if the rest of the mixtape never lived up to this song’s high.
It was the 3rd go-around in the Canadian singer’s groundbreaking 2011 discography. However, ‘third time’s the charm’ doesn’t really apply as it’s easily the weakest of the three. If HOB was the blueprint, Thursday an ambitious follow-up execution, then EOS is a retreading of familiar ground. It feels like a continuation and merging of the sounds of both, resulting in an end product that compromises on each of their strengths and delivers a decent, though predictable, end to the trilogy.
On Starboy, The Weeknd attempts a two-peat after the runaway success of Beauty Behind The Madness. Enlisting the help of Daft Punk for two of his best ever pop tunes, it felt like he was able to recapture the acclaim of his sophomore record…well, numbers-wise at least.
The album itself is his most bloated. “Starboy” to “Sidewalks” is a 9-track run that, in my opinion, would have made one of the best pop albums of 2016. Unfortunately, the directionless nature of the second half just sucks out the energy and buildup that came before. It manages to redeem itself with “I Feel It Coming” but it was too little, too late by then.
Thursday to House of Balloons is like what Taylor Swift’s Evermore is to Folklore. The latter being a critical triumph that carved out a new lane for the respective artists, while the former expanded on and experimented with their newfound sound…for better or for worse.
It doesn’t reach the same heights as its predecessor, but Thursday does feel a lot more ambitious. It keeps HOB’s ‘late night drive’ ambience while weaving in more eccentric production qualities handcrafted for a seedy underground club. It was our first proof that Weeknd’s sound could be reworked for the masses, that he wouldn’t just let himself be relegated to the never-ending depths of lo-fi music.
Here it is. The album that locked in The Weeknd’s status as a mainstream mainstay and marked his complete departure from the dark R&B sound that he blew up with.
Sure there were also the broody tracks like “Real Life”, “Often” or “Angel” but the distinction between them and his older material is the polish. They just ooze high budget – like when you watched Blade Runner 2049 right after the original. Both passion projects but one definitely had the large-scale backing needed to guarantee its success.
And that success was achieved through sheer pop brilliance.
The mixtape that put him on the map – House of Balloons is quintessential Weeknd. It’s impossible to deny the impact that “Wicked Games” and the project as a whole’s influence on the R&B landscape since its release.
To this day the only Weeknd project who’s sound wholly reflects the themes he’s dabbled in his whole career – desperation, drug-use and sexual acts that come across as more hollow than sexy. It’s a haunting project that details a life of debauchery that is wallowing in self-hatred, yet paired besides the gorgeous synth-heavy tunes, House of Balloons becomes a project that’s disarmingly enjoyable.
1. After Hours
Is it too early to call After Hours his best album? Not neccesarily.
It’s a record that carries with it then state-of-the-art R&B sound of his Trilogy mixtape, the pop maximalism of BBTM and Starboy, and surprisingly enough, the synth-heavy influence of Kiss Land. After Hours feels like his career come full circle after a decade as one of the biggest stars on the planet.
Wrapping the album under a glitzy 80s aesthetic, the visual elements of its rollout held just as much weight as the music. The Weeknd’s now signature red suit and shades were representative of a character that “hit heightened levels of danger and absurdity as his tale goes on,” as he put it himself. A narrative that was meant to enchant the world also solidified his status as one of pop music’s most significant auteurs.
By improving on nearly everything he had once done in his career, After Hours is an album made by an artist who is firing on all cylinders.