As the story goes, Abel Tesfaye didn’t like his name, so he went out and changed it. After learning of a Canadian rock band of the same name, he altered the spelling, becoming The Weeknd.
Now, the artist formerly known as Abel is one of the most famous artists in the world, a mixtape dropper turned bona fide hitmaker. From the Canadian live music scene to high-profile collabs, Oscar nominations, and an eventual tussle with the Recording Academy, The Weeknd seems determined to explore R&B and pop music on his terms.
With his new album Dawn FM arriving tomorrow (January 7th), we’ve rounded up ten of The Weeknd’s best songs so far.
Check out the list below, and scroll to the end for a playlist of all 10 tracks.
10. “Call Out My Name”
Before it was the source of a TikTok sound, “Call Out My Name” was better known as a melancholic exploration of a broken romance. After a few high-profile relationships, the song allowed The Weeknd to explore the demise in his own words, even sampling his own Oscar-nominated track “Earned It” for the beat. Abel broke down crying while performing the song at Coachella in 2018 — it seems like the sadness woven into these lyrics isn’t just for show. — Mary Siroky
09. “Wicked Games”
The Weeknd’s debut single was a perfect introduction to the then-anonymous singer: sultry, soaring, and undeniably wicked. “Wicked Games” was not only the blueprint for the songs that catapulted his career to stardom (see: “Earned It”), but also for the hazy, provocative R&B that dominated the 2010s. The Weeknd sounds young and hungry on “Wicked Games,” exhibiting his powerful tenor while flexing his bravado in a seductive and passionate way. Even over a decade later, “Wicked Games” shows you exactly where The Weeknd had been and exactly where he was headed. — Paolo Ragusa
08. “High For This”
The Weeknd’s early material — like his 2011 debut mixtape, House of Balloons — has been ingeniously characterized as “haunted strip club music,” and no song embodies that label better than “High for This.” Whereas most sexed-up bangers of the era fantasize about flaunting paramours in view of the entire world, The Weeknd promises the love interest in “High for This” that nobody will know what salacious activities ensue behind the track’s cavernous, titillating production — arguably a much more enticing approach. When the dubstep-lite roar of the bass kicks in, “High for This” nearly conjures secondhand intoxication. — Abby Jones
07. “Party Monster”
The words “party monster” don’t actually appear anywhere in the song, the title instead capturing the mood of a man incapable of staying sober long enough to feel better. “I just need a girl who gon’ really understand,” The Weeknd sighs in the refrain, but just a few lines later he’s lamenting the fact that he was “woke up by a girl, I don’t even know her name.”
This event was imminently preventable, but The Weeknd was so distracted by “lips like Angelina” and an “ass like Selena” that he forgot to ask his date any questions about herself. It’s hard to feel too sympathetic, but it’s also hard to stop tapping your toes to the beat. Stay tuned until the end for co-writer Lana Del Rey’s ghostly vocals, as she echoes his “Paranoid” utterances. — Wren Graves
06. “I Feel It Coming”
In contrast with The Weeknd’s typically hedonistic approach to romance, “I Feel It Coming” makes a case for being more than just lovers. While the chorus doesn’t even attempt to hide he’s referring to climaxing during sex, the R&B singer wants to give their bedroom escapades more meaning with lyrics like, “You’ve been scared of love and what it did to you/ You don’t have to run, I know what you’ve been through.” It doesn’t hurt that Abel channels his best Michael Jackson impression, either, delivering tender vocals over Daft Punk’s nostalgic ’80s pop production. — Eddie Fu