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
05. “The Hills”
As The Weeknd began to create a more maximalist, pop-centered sound for his 2015 album The Beauty Behind the Madness, he couldn’t leave his dark, drugged-out persona from his early work completely out of the picture. “The Hills” serves as an excellent hybrid of his past and his future, combining an irresistible hook with a true sense of danger and darkness. There’s a bit of genius in his lyrics, too; he goes out of his way to let us know the true extent of his apathy, to the point where he can’t even perform well sexually and he doesn’t feel like himself without being completely fucked up.
He even gets borderline defensive in the bridge, asking, “Who are you to judge?” — almost like a shallow opportunity to absolve himself from his destructive behavior. It’s the furthest iteration of his bad boy persona, juxtaposing a slurred, depressive state with a manic cry for help. As The Weeknd began to deal with and dismantle this fraught persona in 2020’s After Hours, “The Hills” feels like a memory of relapse that’s as riveting as it is horrifying. — P.R.
04. “Starboy” ft. Daft Punk
The misery in the lyrics is just the way that Abel Tesfaye likes to have fun, but those robotic, irresistible “Hahs,” are classic Daft Punk. The story goes that The Weeknd flew to France to work on “I Feel It Coming,” but when he heard a dark, propulsive beat coming from another room, he felt inspired to write “Starboy” on the spot.
The French duo went all but silent following their The Weeknd collaboration, before finally breaking up in 2021. This song — a massive, career-altering hit for the lead artist — stands as an odd bookend to one of the great musical careers of the last fifty years. The Weeknd may be the “Starboy,” but here, Daft Punk are the stars. – W.G.
03. “Save Your Tears”
The Weeknd is now an expert at conjuring an ’80s-inspired soundscape, as exemplified on “Save Your Tears,” the second-best track on 2020’s After Hours. (The Ariana Grande version is also stellar, though we’re opting to highlight the original here.) While “Save Your Tears” doesn’t break new ground for The Weeknd lyrically, it’s simultaneously wistful, nostalgic and unbelievably catchy — a heady combination that reinforces the fact that he is one of the biggest acts in the pop landscape right now. — M.S.
02. “Blinding Lights”
Setting a record for most weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning the distinction of Consequence‘s Top Song of 2020, “Blinding Lights” is The Weeknd’s biggest hit to date — the Recording Academy be damned. It’s the Toronto native on his A game, belting out his falsetto vocals over throwback synth-pop production and a monster hook that unfortunately only got to be a club staple for a few months before a worldwide pandemic took over our lives. By then, the song had taken enough hold of our collective minds that it served as a soothing balm for getting through lockdown. — E.F.
01. “Can’t Feel My Face”
The first time The Weeknd hooked up with pop superproducer Max Martin, this hit was born. Like many other great Top 40 songs throughout history, the song shouldn’t be taken at face value, pun absolutely intended. A clever exploration of the struggles of drug addiction under the guise of a groovy bop, “Can’t Feel My Face” was a true breakout moment for The Weekend. The track earned him his first real solo hit following successes with Ariana Grande and as part of the soundtrack to Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s easy to see why this song sent him to the top in retrospect — appropriately, the song is simply addicting. — M.S.
The Weeknd’s Best Songs Playlist: