Abel Berihun Tesfaye first released a couple tracks on YouTube under his stage name The Weeknd in late 2010. Although the singer remained anonymous for several months, Twitter endorsements from fellow Toronto R&B singer Drake helped the mysterious fantasy swell to frenzied levels across the Internet. There’s nothing sexier than what you can only partially see, after all. The Weeknd’s hype grew up on shadowy B&W viral videos in the last two years. After a ménage a’ tois of free mixtape releases, the Ethiopian-Canadian crooner’s official debut, Trilogy, is finally set for release on November 13 via Universal Republic Records and the artist’s own label, XO.
I went to his sold-out Terminal 5 show on Thursday by myself. I’ve never felt so alone at a concert. I must admit, this is not exactly my thing, per se. I usually go for the head bopping of a hard-rocking punk act or cry-yourself-to-sleep indie rock with heavy twinges of old, acoustic instrumentation—something with twang. Which isn’t to say I don’t appreciate shows where I’m moved to shake my hips rather than simply nod my head, but neo-soul is just not the type of concert I normally find myself at. I’m not happy with a record purchase unless I’m crying or breaking furniture by the third track.
By The Weeknd’s fourth song, however, I felt like crying because I didn’t have a partner to go home and bust the bed frame with. At times, Abel’s vocals are reminiscent of MJ, but The Weeknd trades the King of Pop’s hookiness with the low-to-the-rug speak-rhythm melodies of Barry White, say. Every lyric sounds like a sweet-nothing promise before you get down. The backup band’s slow-sexing pulses were bass heavy and spare. Their almost-hidden sound was echoed by their almost-unseen stage presence: Most members swooned behind one of a dozen or so white projection screens that often played the same videos that made The Weeknd a sensation in the first place.
The sex symbol at the center swooned and crooned, not dancing so much as simply swaying along with the audience. He didn’t undress—didn’t even take off his winter coat—or say much. He just sang and looked good. That’s what sex symbols do, right? The less seen, the bigger the fantasy. Abel was all insinuation up there, like the best fuck you barely never had; the person you wanted so bad it hurt and even though that feeling was reciprocated, it somehow passed you both by.
It’s a great performer who can sell sex as much as the fondest and most painful prepubescent fantasies. The Weeknd does a pretty damn good job at that. I couldn’t help shake my hips, even though I was alone.