I couldn’t picture the same man that soundtracked so many of my awkward collegiate sexual encounters… making it to the point where he could spend $7 million of his own money for a 14-minute Super Bowl performance. On the contrary, ‘twas the dingy quality of The Weeknd’s early trilogy that lured my post-virginal ego towards the low light, granting me the sonic courage to further fumble in the darkness. A sex playlist was merely the shit you’d see in a film, and suddenly, a shadowy figure emerged from the dashboard, making the darkest R&B I ever did hear. It wasn’t found on the radio, the Quiet Storm, or the record stuffed in my grandma’s vinyl shelf; The Weeknd was unpolished, in aesthetic and audio quality. And with Abel’s id fueling my much tamer debauchery, keeping the charade soon proved impossible: he showed himself, he took the world’s stage, and won a Kids’ Choice award for a song about doing blow. A similar Abel Tesfaye took the stage at the Superspreader Bowl a.k.a. Imperial Ball in Tampa last night. Much to general dismay (on Twitter), Daft Punk didn’t appear and the subversive powder showmanship was kept to a minimum. There were many Weeknds in many red suits à la After Hours, and even more spectators who may not taste the Floridian victory liquor by next weeknd.
But before the show, the XO general went playlist platinum via The Highlights: not quite a greatest hits, but an effective flex serving as an Abel primer of his biggest hits before the world’s biggest stage. By simply existing, the compilation (with all play counts intact) is officially Spotify’s most-streamed album in history: a testament to how Tesfaye found his way from the blogs to stadium status. A commercial entitled The Last Meal Before the Super Bowl finds him in said red suit, reeking of opulence, pigskins raining down as he reads the paper before indulging in a scrumptious buffet. It might not be that deep, but doesn’t that imply an impending death? And if so… of what?
If free-roaming clones and golden house of mirrors are any indication, perhaps it’s the death of The Weeknd as we once knew him, symbolized by achieving one of the most coveted airtime spots in the mainstream. Much like the 14 minutes in Tampa, The Weeknd spends 77 minutes on The Highlights imploring us to check the scoreboard for proof of how he’s maximized his Queen Street dreams via Billboard hits, streaming records, and a decade clawing from obscurity to ubiquity. And much like the Bowl Show, most of my favorite songs are nowhere to be found; though on the former, we got a dash of the proverbial Glass Table. There are massive oversights from this debaucherous decade: mixtape cuts, features, and otherwise. Granted, those aren’t the records we’d hear at the Bowl, but The Highlights serves many lowlights and lowlives with accessibility as highest priority. It’s like the longest trailer for one of the biggest blockbusters of our generation, granting an easy blaze of glory for early adopters and easy access for the uninitiated. (God, no pun intended at all.)
While shirking any true label other than its preamble intentions, The Highlights remains a worthy showcase of how Tesfaye pulled off such a marvelous feat. The larger he’s grown, the deeper he’s embedded himself into the fabric of pop culture, offering a chance to scrub himself clean while smiling with all his dirt. Clean, but never too clean: I mean, he just sang about coke at the Super Bowl. He’s become an everyman across time and two-step, for the films and the family and the fuckery. Of the Prestige Canadian Class, The Weeknd’s become a global entertainer by transforming himself into a ruthless, martyr-ish figure for the scars of celebrity. He’s here to be adored, even as he sings sweetly of the Hollywood nightmares that have inspired us to revile his lifestyle. It’s pure antihero on overdrive: he brought haze to our desires, named our ugly, fed us drugs for our pain, with his pain to match. Did Abel, or the King of Fall, die last Sunday? Maybe next year, we’ll check for pulse.