Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (The Weeknd) is a Canadian singer-songwriter and record producer. Known for his sonic versatility and dark lyricism, Tesfaye's music explores escapism, romance, and melancholia, and is often inspired by personal experiences. He has received numerous accolades, including three Grammy Awards, nineteen Billboard Music Awards, fifteen Juno Awards, six American Music Awards, two MTV Video Music Awards, and an Academy Award nomination.
Born and raised in Toronto, Tesfaye began his recording career in 2009 by anonymously releasing music on YouTube. Two years later, he co-founded the XO record label and released the critically acclaimed mixtapes House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence, quickly gaining recognition for his dark style of contemporary and alternative R&B, and for the mystique surrounding his identity. In 2012, Tesfaye signed with Republic Records and re-released the mixtapes in the compilation album Trilogy. His debut studio album Kiss Land was released in 2013, which saw him experiment with dark wave. His chamber pop and R&B single "Earned It", from the soundtrack to the film Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Tesfaye earned major critical and commercial success with his second studio album Beauty Behind the Madness (2015); it became his first number one album on the US Billboard 200, and became one of the year's best-selling albums, while the singles "Can't Feel My Face" and "The Hills" topped the US Billboard Hot 100. Beauty Behind the Madness also won the Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album and was nominated for Album of the Year. His third studio album Starboy (2016), which included the number-one single of the same name, saw similar commercial success. Like its predecessor, Starboy won the Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Tesfaye explored new wave and dream pop with his acclaimed fourth studio album After Hours (2020), which featured the number-one singles "Heartless" and "Save Your Tears", as well as the chart record-setting "Blinding Lights". His dance-pop inspired fifth studio album Dawn FM (2022) was also acclaimed, and included the US top-ten single "Take My Breath".
Among the world's best-selling music artists, with over 75 million records sold, Tesfaye holds several streaming and Billboard chart records. He is the first artist to simultaneously debut on the top three on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, while "Blinding Lights" is the longest-charting song in Billboard history. Considered an influential figure in contemporary popular music, Tesfaye was listed by Time as one of the world's most influential people in 2020.
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye was born on February 16, 1990, in Toronto, Ontario, to Ethiopian immigrants Makkonen Tesfaye and Samrawit Hailu. He is an only child, and was raised by his grandmother and mother in the district of Scarborough after his parents separated. While living with his grandmother, he learned Amharic, which he also spoke with his mother. He attended services at the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. He said of his father, "I saw him vaguely when I was six, and then again when I was 11 or 12, and he had a new family and kids. I don't even know where he lived — I'd see him for, like, a night. I'm sure he's a great guy. I never judged him. He wasn't abusive, he wasn't an alcoholic, he wasn't an asshole. He just wasn't there."
Tesfaye has described his teenage years as being like the film "Kids without the AIDS." He stated he began smoking marijuana at age eleven, and later used ecstasy, oxycodone, Xanax, cocaine, psilocybin, and ketamine. He said that he often shoplifted to supplement his drug use. He attended West Hill Collegiate Institute and Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute. In 2007, he dropped out of school and moved to Parkdale, Toronto.
2009–2011: Early beginnings
In August 2009, Tesfaye began anonymously releasing music on YouTube. The following year, he met Jeremy Rose, a producer who had an idea for a dark contemporary R&B musical project. After initially trying to pitch the idea to musician Curtis Santiago, Rose played one of his instrumentals for Tesfaye, who freestyle rapped over it, although Tesfaye's early work does not feature much rap. This led to the two collaborating on an album. Rose produced three songs – "What You Need", "Loft Music", and "The Morning" – and others that Tesfaye had sung on, which were ultimately scrapped. Rose let Tesfaye keep the tracks he had produced under the condition that Rose would be credited for them. In December 2010, Tesfaye uploaded "What You Need", "Loft Music" and "The Morning" to YouTube under the username "xoxxxoooxo". The songs drew some attention online, and were later included in a blog post from rapper Drake. The songs subsequently received coverage from various media outlets, including Pitchfork and The New York Times.
Before adopting the stage name the Weeknd, Tesfaye released music under two aliases; the Noise and Kin Kane. His current stage name was chosen in tribute to when he, along with his best friend and now creative director La Mar Taylor, dropped out of high school at seventeen years old, took his mattress, and "left one weekend and never came home". However, Rose claims the name was his idea. The letter E was excluded to avoid trademark problems with Canadian pop-rock band the Weekend. In the beginning of his career, Tesfaye worked at American Apparel. Due to his anonymity, his co-workers listened to his music without knowing it was him.
In 2011, Tesfaye met music executives Wassim "Sal" Slaiby and Amir "Cash" Esmailian, with whom, along with Taylor, he founded the XO record label. On March 21, Tesfaye released his debut mixtape House of Balloons. The mixtape included production from producers Illangelo and Doc McKinney, and included the tracks produced by Rose, although he did not receive production credits. House of Balloons was met with critical acclaim. It was named as one of ten shortlisted nominees for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. On August 18, Tesfaye released his second mixtape Thursday, which received generally positive reviews. His third mixtape, Echoes of Silence, was released on December 21. It was met with critical acclaim and was a longlisted nominee for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize.
In July 2011, Tesfaye embarked on a tour of Toronto, and held his first live performance at the Mod Club Theatre. After the performance, Drake met with Tesfaye to discuss collaborations, which led to Tesfaye being the opening act for some of Drake's concerts and an appearance at his OVO Festival. He also participated in concerts hosted by the Black Student Association at the University of Toronto. Tesfaye contributed to four songs on Drake's second studio album Take Care, which was released on November 15, as a songwriter, producer and a featured artist on the album's seventh single "Crew Love".