Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye has paved his way towards creating a unique genre of music through his complex combination of dark melodies, blending alternative R&B with ‘80’s beats.
In The Weeknd’s concept album After Hours, he combines decades of music from ‘80s synth grooves to modern pop, jazz, and R&B. His central sound since his first mixtape House of Balloons has been complicated, best described as a moody blend of alternative R&B with old-school dream pop.
Let’s delve deeper into how Abel’s intricate sound evolved through the years.
The Launch of A New Era
The Weeknd first gained recognition in the underground R&B community after his 2011 debut mixtape House of Balloons.
Here, he set the foundation for his signature dark, intoxicating sound by fusing genres of music.
The album was released for free download online, and received online attention for its almost ghostly presence and nonconformity to traditional genres.
Abel revealed that the House of Balloons is a real place in Toronto that inspired his music, embodying the enigma and fear of nightlife.
He surprises listeners in every song, sampling British post-punk group Siouxsie and the Banshees’ audios in an unanticipated move on his title track. Just when you are beginning to get used to the murky soul falsettos, Abel launches into an upbeat pop chorus.
He builds his unique spectral atmosphere in The Morning, beginning with an eerie calm presence before launching into a hauntingly soulful chorus.
By using sonic synth beats in combination with the dark thematic drug-related content, The Weeknd stretches the traditional barriers of genre-mixing by producing an album that perfectly captures the essence of shadows and somberity.
Blending Dark Themes in Music
Abel achieves the complicated task of merging nihilistic themes of drugs and despair with synth-pop, his music a shadow reminiscent of a party you shouldn’t be at.
He creates a tragic, lost cinematic flair through songs such as Save Your Tears by putting the 80’s pop in the back seat with a strong, almost menacing R&B beat taking the lead. Abel evokes a sense of film noir when combining visuals and noise.
Through this, he creates a nostalgic journey of a slowly degenerating nightmare. Yet, the audience is drawn to the hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs and partying illustrated through the gloomy battle in the character’s mind in Trilogy.
The strong synth influence in hit single Blinding Lights leans more towards mainstream pop with its upbeat vibe, but Abel once again strikes with a swift soulful chorus, separating himself from conventional pop music.
Abel said Michael Jackson, “The King of Pop” was an early inspiration for his music along with R.Kelly, Prince and the Ethiopian music he grew up listening to.
In Abel’s 2020 album After Hours, the final manifestation of the hedonistic persona he started building since his first mixtape was revealed.
The character on his album cover features blood flowing down the front of his face while he maniacally laughs.
He finally combines the spectral, underground sound of techno, dream-pop and R&B in a way that fits the mainstream music scene.
The self-aware, wicked character he creates in After Hours is evocative of the villain in a film that the audience is secretly rooting for.
He shows growth from his dysfunctional, villainous persona in Trilogy to a complicated man torn between his past as a remorseless sinner to his present efforts to improve himself, and this is heard in the quietly clashing songcraft.
The harmony he creates between his signature dark, synthetic sound and his more fast-paced, mainstream melodies creates a perfect blur of traditional and contemporary genres, perhaps best categorized as alternative R&B.