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"I was everything an R&B singer wasn't," he says. Early Weeknd songs were atmospheric and chilly, their thick narcotic haze sliced by his broken-glass falsetto.
The lyrics were an addiction counselor's worst nightmare: pills, pain, shame, serotonin, danger.
After rehearsal, Tesfaye is in the greenroom with his two managers, 31-year-old Amir "Cash" Esmailian and 35-year-old Tony Sal.
Cash is a first-generation Iranian-Canadian sweetheart who occasionally yells things into the phone like, "You may as well bend me over a table, bro!
" In a darkened soundstage on the outskirts of London, Abel Tesfaye is wondering if he can say "fuck" or not.
Tesfaye, better known as breakout pop sensation the Weeknd, is at a rehearsal for , the BBC music show, about to soundcheck his smash hit "The Hills," a four-minute horror-movie booty call featuring more than a dozen f-bombs.
There are Tumblrs and website listicles devoted to it; when I told the immigration agent at Heathrow what I was doing in the U.
"People tell me I'm changing the culture," he says. I think I'm gonna drop one more album, one more powerful body of work, then take a little break — go to Tokyo or Ethiopia or some shit." Hearing him boast about talking shop with Bono, or name-dropping "Naomi Campbell, who's a good friend of mine now," you may be tempted to see a diva in the making; or you may see a 25-year-old guy who's stoked and incredulous to be in the position he's in.
I was like, ' Dude, take anything.'" Today, he says he has nothing but gratitude for Drake, whom he calls "my closest friend in the industry at that time." Still, he says, "I gave up almost half of my album. I will always be thankful — if it wasn't for the light he shined on me, who knows where I'd be.
And everything happens for a reason." That said: "You never know what I would say if this success wasn't in front of me now."It wasn't long before the major labels came calling.
"Sorry, I'm sick," he says, as his handshake becomes a fist bump in midair. ")This scene would not have seemed possible in 2011, when the Weeknd appeared with a trio of cult-favorite mixtapes that established both his sonic template — drug-drenched, indie-rock-sampling, sex-dungeon R&B — and his mysterious, brooding persona.
Since starting this promo tour a week ago, he's been to Las Vegas, Paris, Berlin and now London. A press-shy Ethiopian kid from Toronto who has given only a handful of interviews, he has cultivated a near-mythical image as a bed-hopping, pill-popping, chart-topping cipher."; Sal is a courtly charmer who grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war and now dates a former Miss USA.