Here begins the tale of a truly culminating, breathtaking (pun intended for Weeknd fans) event of finally seeing Abel Tesfaye (better known as The Weeknd) perform live at the London Olympic Stadium, after years of thinking I never would. Before that, however, I’d like to start with the man himself, and then travel to the root of why I fell in love with his; rhythm, melody and angelic voice.
“You Don’t Know What’s In Store, But You Know What You’re Here For.”- Abel’s Beginning
Where did the iconic name ‘The Weeknd’ stem from, most of his fans will probably know but for those who aren’t as familiar I will tell you. Abel is of Ethiopian descent something that is clearly a strong part of his identity, in ‘The Hills’ he is heard singing Amharic (one of the languages in Ethiopia) during the outro. He was raised by a single mother, in Scarborough close to Toronto. He dropped out of school at 17 and one weekend he decided to leave home and live with his friend Lamar, hence where the stage name originates. It wasn’t all rosy to begin with, he’s cited that he had drug abuse issues, spent moments in jail as a youth and there were even points where he was homeless. Abel’s rise to success hasn’t been easy, you can see the interviews he’s done with The Guardian, MTV, and Ladbible for more details.
One of my best friends, Marco, for the most part grew up in Kitchener, Ontario about an hour and a bit drive from Scarborough. I always remember Marco telling me that the area Abel grew up in was extremely rough. Another friend I’ve become acquainted with through Marco, Mickey, also grew up in Kitchener. he responded to a text I sent him where I told him that the crowd was 80,000 at the Olympic stadium by saying ‘that’s power[…] and he deserves it’. This alone exemplifies that he has come a long way from those dark times of his teenage days.
A few years later, at just 21 years old, the Weeknd would have his breakthrough in the industry, creating three mixtapes called ‘House Of Balloons’, ‘Thursday’, and ‘Echoes Of Silence’ (eventually compiling all these 30 songs into the album trilogy). His music was arguably inspired by that bleak period I stated above. His music transcended R&B and has since transcended other genres, but what made his first releases so special was that no one else was making music that sounded numbing, dark and this unexplainable mood that you can only feel if you listen to. Even if we hear music now about heartbreak, it is covered by the upbeat pop sing along atmosphere. What you got with the Weeknd however, was this indifference, a mask that covered his emotions, if you cheated, he didn’t care, if you said you love him, he wouldn’t play his cards early. Yet, if you listen back to some of those older songs you can also hear the pain in his voice, you can really feel it. It’s this bizarre contrasting paradigm that through the platform of his music he allowed the listener to feel vulnerable in feeling invulnerable or maybe vice versa, a paradox that really can only make sense if you listen to the music. This style has only helped his popularity blossom over the years, whether the genre was R&B, synth-wave or pop, because people really feel a connection to it; it’s real music, no lies in the story telling. He creates an honest listening (whether you like it or not) in an industry that can be ingenuine.
What made him so unique as an artist to begin with was no one knew what he looked like. There were no photos released of him, no music videos, many people didn’t even know he was a solo act and thought it was a band, all of this added to his mystery as a performer. Neither did you hear a peep from him through interviews as he rejected those. The only way to see him was to go to his concerts in person, with the first gig coming in July 2011 at the Modclub in Toronto. You must remember the social media phenomenon wasn’t as big then, so you couldn’t really share what you’d seen as widely as within todays world. Again, this added to the allure that if you wanted to see him, you had to go see him live. It wasn’t until a year later that he would start doing music videos and open himself up to the world.
Real Life- How The Weekend’s Music Has Connected With Me
When The Weeknd was thrown into the limelight after his songs; ‘I can’t feel my face’, ‘The Hills’ and even ‘Starboy’ became viral sensations between 2015 and 2016, I could appreciate the musical talent and the glaring similarities to Michael Jackson, but I did not immediately become a fan. This wasn’t because I necessarily disliked the songs, I in fact added them to my playlists, but I viewed him as nothing more than a popular singer, not loving him but not disliking him either.
My perception of him would soon change less than a year later… I was listening to Post Malone one day as I was doing schoolwork in my free period, and then after the song finished it skipped to the next one. Background vocals in line with a strong beat started off this song, before the artist came in with a silky voice asking for honesty, pleading even at the start of his relationship. I was just left mesmerised like woah who is this guy? Plot twist it was Lewis Capaldi… Of course, I’m kidding it was The Weeknd- ‘True Colours’. It didn’t leave me wanting more… It left me needing more of his genius through the ballads.
It’s distinct memories of music or something you’ve heard at a certain point that create chapters in your life. I can still remember listening to ‘Outside’ as I walked to school on a day where the pavements were full of snow, it immersed me into the captivity of Abel’s world. Those dark and gloomy songs corresponded with not only the winter but my mood and me trying to figure out my development as a young man. When he dropped After Hours, it was the start of the Coronavirus lockdown and campus was virtually a ghost town. I stayed around for a couple weeks during this, taking nightly walks around the Uni (being a first-year student living on campus), while listening to the songs on the album. It really gave the chance to step back and examine how far I’d made it at that stage of my life, and address my own insecurities that I had. And through ‘Dawn FM’, I could hear not only the growth and transparency of Abel through his music, but also uncovered how I’ve matured in this time, realising what I want from life itself.
Even now, I feel I struggle to explain just how much the music has meant to me helping me through certain times of my life. The Weeknd has been a constant in my life for the last six or seven years, from my adolescent years to my descent into adulthood, he’s made me feel emotions beyond comprehension over the years, his music has shaped who I am now but also who I thought I’d be. Through sad songs, evolutionary songs and happy songs I feel like I’ve learnt a lot, while music is not a book it certainly teaches us a lot in the form of expressive work.
I Feel It Coming- The Concert Itself
The build-up to seeing him live had been long awaited for me (not just through my pure fandom, but due to a tiny event called Covid-19 slightly getting in the way). Originally, I bought a ticket for a show in November 2020, but this would ultimately be pushed back by a whole year. Would it be a long wait? Absolutely: but I was prepared to stick it out, to have the golden opportunity of seeing the undisputed greatest artist of our generation (in my humble opinion). However, this rescheduling ended up getting cancelled and I had to get a refund. I honestly thought at that point he may never tour the UK again and that I would never see him. Over the next year it wasn’t looking any more promising that he would tour the UK, but I kept my faith that he would and after an arduous long three-year wait, he finally announced his tour, and I would have the chance to see a singer that I admire so much.
Culminate was the key word at the beginning of this article and this is a journey I’ve tried to take you on through my experience of the Weeknd so far, it was just a full circle moment for me like a completion of a life goal. I can now say I’ve seen my favourite singer of all time. Pre-concert I didn’t know how to feel, I’ve only ever been to small concerts, one of them being with friend, Elliot, when we went to see Griff last year. But to have 80,000 people in the same stadium for one person blew my mind, so it was a huge step up for me in terms of the sheer magnitude. Also, while there is no disrespect intended to the greatness of Griff, Holly Humberstone and Ipanema band (the only artists I’ve seen live) all artists who I love by the way, I think even they’d admit The Weeknd is in a different stratosphere of stardom.
Just living through it I was all over the place; I was so happy, screaming out the lyrics from the top of my lungs to every song I knew by heart, capturing the moment, appreciating his perfect voice, dancing madly with my friend Adam (see his account of the event below). Being so close to someone who has inspired me it felt surreal, genuinely I still feel as if it didn’t happen and that it was all simulation that I’m still waiting to wake up. The memory will last a lifetime; I rarely get goosebumps, but the moment ‘After Hours’ started to play and being there in the crowd for ‘Less Than Zero’ singing along with everyone else in harmony was unexplainable. He played old songs that I did not see him singing like; ‘Kissland’,’Tears In The Rain’, ‘Montreal’, and ‘High For This’ which made the set that much more sentimental. There were of course his sadder songs which cut deep like ‘I was never There’ and ‘Wicked Games’, but equally feel-good ones like ‘Out Of Time’ and ‘I Feel It Coming’ that made the set a perfect blend. My favourite three from the performance had to be ‘After Hours’, ‘I Was Never There’ and ‘Out of Time’.
Backtracking a little of how The Weeknd has impacted my life personally; I was able to grow closer with one of my best friends Adam because of the bond we shared over the Weeknd. It’s little trivial moments like that in this life, something as small as having in common a love of a singer can forge a great friendship. I can still remember how we got chatting more, after someone who also did politics telling me Adam had suggested the After-Hours album to them. I sent Adam a message saying how great of a friend he was to suggest such good music. From there on the bond grew over the next four years of our university experience and we’ve seen each other grow. Next thing you know we’re seeing The Weeknd together and I wouldn’t have rather gone with anyone else.
Adam’s Experience Of The Magical Event
As an avid concert attendee with a vast repertoire of over 300 live performances under my belt, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness an array of musical talents. This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of attending back-to-back shows featuring Two Door Cinema Club, The Weeknd, and Blur. This remarkable experience came hot on the heels of a four-day festival in Belgium, where the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Mumford & Sons graced the stage. However, the Weeknd still provided an outstanding performance. From the very first notes of his electrifying opener, ‘Take My Breath’, to the infectious energy of his disco-infused finale, ‘Moth to a Flame’, Abel delivered an unparalleled performance. The stage design was nothing short of spectacular, stretching across the venue floor with a mesmerising metal city engulfed in flames and a towering inflatable moon. This grand spectacle, coupled with The Weeknd’s commanding stage presence and unwavering connection with the audience, transformed the massive stadium into an intimate gathering of 88,000 fans. Sharing this extraordinary experience with fellow enthusiast Tariq only intensified the collective euphoria. It was a moment of sheer magnificence, destined to become a core memory for all fortunate enough to be in attendance, including myself.
Till Dawn (Here Comes The Sun)- Conclusions
How do I go to another concert after this, there was no one else I’ve wanted to see more than the Weeknd, there are artists I’ve liked but not to this level. I really love music, and I do like going to gigs, I’ll be honest it’s a short list of people I’ve seen, and I’ve already hit a peak. I really do believe I’ve just seen one of the best singers of all time, it’s the body of work he’s produced over ten years which is what has made him so consistently great, and I really feel like I experienced that greatness on the 8th of July. To end I just want to thank Adam for going with me and us sharing that experience together. It was a privilege to see one of the most self-proclaimed artists in the industry, he’s come a long way since those ice-cold winter days of growing up in Scarborough and I look forward to the continuation of his incredible journey.
P.S. Here are 10 other amazing songs that weren’t on the set that I recommend (because 5 was too small a list for me to recommend)
1) Love In The Sky
3) Same Old Song
4) True Colours
6) Loft Music
7) The Knowing
8) As You Are
9) Nothing Without You
10) Alone Again
The Weeknd’s setlist:
- Take My Breath
- How Do I Make You Love Me
- Can’t Feel My Face
- Lost In The Fire
- The Hills
- Crew Love
- House Of Balloons
- Low Life
- Party Monster
- After Hours
- Out Of Time
- I feel It Coming
- I Was Never There
- Wicked Games
- Call Out My Name
- High For This
- The Morning
- Save Your Tears
- Less Than Zero
- Blinding Lights
- Tears In The Rain
- In Your Eyes
- Moth To The Flame