Despite all of the turbulence that 2020 brought with it, many music lovers found major reprieve in The Weeknd. The Canadian crooner (aka Abel Tesfaye) released his fourth studio album, After Hours, in March, which garnered a slew of critical acclaim. Consequence of Sound gave it high marks and placed it on our year-end albums list while other publications heaped similar praise. However, no one could have anticipated how the artist would go on to provide so many of the best — and most entertaining — moments of the year.
From breaking Billboard records to taking on the Grammys, here are 10 times The Weeknd blew us away in 2020.
“Blinding Lights” Breaks All the Records
Although it was released at the end of 2019 as the second single from After Hours, “Blinding Lights” was one of the most monumental moments of 2020. It became the longest-running Top 5 and Top 10 record on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, was the most streamed song of the year on Spotify, and accumulated 4.5 billion streams worldwide. The nostalgic ’80s throwback feel of “Blinding Lights”, combined with The Weeknd’s dulcet and hypnotizing vocals, makes it irresistible ear candy. Despite its airy and lighthearted nature, in a September cover story for Esquire, the singer confessed the song has a slightly sinister undertone. “’Blinding Lights’ [is about] how you want to see someone at night, and you’re intoxicated, and you’re driving to this person and you’re driving to this person and you’re just blinded by streetlights.”
The Weeknd Opens Up to Variety (And Inadvertently Starts the #ClimaxChallenge with Usher)
Of course media blows things out of proportion and takes things out of context. Usher is a King and always an inspiration so it was flattering to hear what him and Diplo did on climax. XO https://t.co/GdLX4xD58a
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) April 9, 2020
It’s no secret that The Weeknd has transformed the genre of R&B with his macabre lyricism and chilling melodies. The singer opened up to Variety in April that when he heard Usher’s 2012 hit single “Climax”, he felt that it was a ‘Weeknd song.’ “I knew I was doing something right, but I also got angry,” he told the publication. “But the older I got, I realized it’s a good thing.” Diplo, the co-producer of “Climax”, chimed in to share that The Weeknd’s debut mixtape, House of Balloons, inspired its production — but not before Usher took to Instagram to film himself singing the song. He never directly addressed The Weeknd in his post, but that didn’t stop the star from clarifying his previous statements. “Of course media blows things out of proportion,” he said on Twitter. “Usher is a King.”
American Dad Welcomes The Weeknd
The Weeknd has always been a fan of the television show American Dad, so when he had the chance to be a guest star on the series, he seized the opportunity. His catalogue is known for describing his sexual escapades with explicit detail. However, The Weeknd used this particular opportunity to poke fun at his persona in the episode “A Starboy is Born”. Not only did he voice his character, but he co-wrote the episode and the song featured in it revealing the secret that he is, in fact, a virgin. “Never once been touched,” The Weeknd sang. “The power of God in my loins.”
The Weeknd Declares Black Lives Matter (And Puts His Money Where His Mouth Is)
Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer in May, the cultural discourse zeroed in on the prevalence of racism, police brutality, and the subsequent protests shortly after his death. While celebrities and brands immediately took to social media to post faux statements of solidarity, The Weeknd went on Instagram to share his receipts from donating half a million dollars to Black Lives Matter Global Network, the Colin Kaepernick Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defense Initiative, and National Bail Out. His statement didn’t stop there. At August’s MTV Video Music Awards, he used his acceptance speech for Best R&B to speak out on social issues with a brief yet potent statement: “It’s really hard for me to celebrate right now and enjoy this moment, so I’m just gonna say justice for Jacob Blake and justice for Breonna Taylor. Thank you.”
TIME Names The Weeknd One of Its 100 Most Influential People
Elton John has influenced the careers of countless musicians, and The Weeknd is no exception. He sampled John’s classic track “Your Song” on “Scared to Live”, which is featured on After Hours. Not only did John declare his love for the singer, but he also penned an essay for TIME gushing about how “Blinding Lights” is 2020’s best pop single, The Weeknd has an infinite imagination, and how he’s following in the footsteps of one of the greats. “Like Prince, he marches to his own beat,” John wrote. “That’s an exemplary way for an artist to be.”
Click ahead for more ways The Weeknd blew our minds in 2020…
AMC Makes FearFest a Weeknd to Remember
The singer has always had an affinity for injecting horror into his visual treatments. From the catastrophic crash featured in “The Hills” to going headless for “In Your Eyes”, The Weeknd likes to bring a certain amount of fright into his videos. However, he took things to a different level with “Too Late”. At the very beginning of the NSFW video, two surgically enhanced women find the star’s head in the middle of the road and decide to take it with them. By the end, they manage to place it on someone else’s body and opt to have their way with the corpse. It was spooky enough to leave fans bewildered and prompted AMC to use the song — and images from it — in the commercial to promote their annual horror movie marathon FearFest.
The Weeknd Wins Halloween with Tribute to The Nutty Professor
For After Hours, The Weeknd transformed himself into that infamous red-suit character. Whether his face is bloodied and bruised or fully draped in bandages, he loves to bring eccentric personalities to life. Of course, Halloween was no different. In the past, The Weeknd has dressed up as Beetlejuice and The Joker, but this year he upped the ante with his take on another cinematic character: Sherman Klump (aka The Nutty Professor). This extreme transformation took a lot of thought and time; from the bodysuit to the prosthetic makeup, the singer made sure he nailed every part of the look. This isn’t the first time the star has paid homage to Eddie Murphy. The line in “Heartless” where he declares he has “so much pussy it be falling out the pocket” was taken directly from the comic’s classic 1983 standup special, Delirious.
“El Fin de Semana” Dazzles on Tracks with Maluma and Rosalía
In November, The Weeknd posted a photo of him alongside Colombian singer Maluma looking flawless in black. Fans suspected the two would team up on a single together and they were correct. On the remix of Maluma’s hit song, “Hawái”, The Weeknd sang in Spanish for the first time. In a press release for the song, Maluma expressed admiration for his collaborator and called working with him “nothing short of a dream come true.” A month later, The Weeknd released a remix of “Blinding Lights” featuring Barcelona pop star Rosalía in honor of the song’s one-year anniversary. She sings the first verse in Spanish and symphonizes with him throughout the track. It was also accompanied by a slick lyric video.
Super Bowl LV Recruits The Weeknd as the Halftime Show Headliner
Over the years, musical legends such as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Prince, and Beyoncé have all graced the Super Bowl stage. When it was announced that The Weeknd would be headlining the halftime show in Tampa next year, the singer could not contain his excitement. “I’m humbled, honored and ecstatic to be the center of that infamous stage,” he said in a statement. It will be the second Super Bowl halftime show produced by Jay-Z and Roc Nation. Even the illustrious emcee couldn’t deny The Weeknd’s cultural impact. “The Weeknd has introduced a sound all his own,” Jay-Z remarked. “His soulful uniqueness has defined a new generation of greatness in music and artistry.”
The Weeknd Calls Out the Grammys
The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) November 25, 2020
Despite the massive commercial and record-breaking success of After Hours, when the 2021 Grammy nominees were announced last month, The Weeknd was completely shut out. While some weren’t entirely shocked by the occurrence (the award show has notoriously been criticized for historically snubbing Black artists), that didn’t stop the singer from publicly critiquing the institution. “The Grammys remain corrupt,” The Weeknd said on social media. “You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency.” Artists like Drake, Elton John and Kid Cudi also shared their disappointment with the Recording Academy. This is the third time this century so far that Billboard’s number one song of the year wasn’t nominated in any Grammy category.