The Weeknd sure did throw the gauntlet to his peers in 2022.
The Weeknd’s ascension to pop music stratosphere has been relatively gradual. The five albums he's released in nine years shows a singer steadily finding his voice and confidence.
Here we take a look at all the releases and where they rank within a formidable body of work.
1. ‘Dawn FM’ (2022)
The Weeknd released one of the first albums of 2022 this month.
The dreamy and scintillating Dawn FM is not only a career-best, but also shows how big pop music albums can be bold, experimental and daring.
The Weeknd’s fifth album has him riding the cinematic and retro synth-pop sounds first explored in Starboy (2016) to its zenith.
While the production is impressive overall, it is the overarching lyrical narrative fans will really soak up.
Where predecessor After Hours had the singer applying the blowtorch to himself, and admitting to faults and hurts caused by his “King of Toxic Romance” status, Dawn FM is about the wisdom that came with that acceptance.
The album is as exuberant as it is melancholy, and proves The Weeknd continues to carry his heart on his sleeve while keeping his feet on the dance floor.
2. ‘After Hours’ (2020)
It’s a brooding collection of slinky downers talking about the doubts and insecurities one feels when alone.
However, it is detailed with the glitz of a disco ball and boasts the startling clarity of neon lights in a deserted street.
Highlights include the chart-busting Blinding Lights and Heartless, both of which are carried by intoxicating stuttering trap beats and ocean black waves of synths. Save Your Tears is also the kind of propulsive new wave pop The Killers would have, well, killed for.
The press hailed After Hours as The Weeknd’s best album, but little did we know he was already cooking up his masterpiece.
3. ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’ (2015)
Where previous albums and mixtapes had his vocals low and vague in the mix, resulting in that initial mysterious appeal, Beauty Behind the Madness is when The Weeknd announced himself to the world.
And what better way to do that than with some of pop music's best producers backing you?
Confidence permeates the album and reaches sizzling levels in the heaving club banger Can't Feel My Face and the silky RnB of Earned It.
With Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd began taking his sound in a mainstream direction. It is a trajectory that came with great success, in addition to a dud album.
4. ‘Starboy’ (2016)
Yes, we loved the album's self-titled lead single, but other than the brilliant collaboration with Daft Punk, does anyone really remember anything from Starboy?
The album joins a long tradition of missteps coming when a former independent artist suddenly finds themselves in the big leagues.
After the commercial success of the slick Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd was a bona fide pop star, but he didn't seem to know how to creatively harness that clout.
The confusion reigns all over Starboy, a brash and bloated offering saved by hit singles, including the admittedly lovely I Feel It Coming.
While Starboy didn’t send The Weeknd crashing to earth, it served as a warning that a course correction was needed.
The follow-up releases prove the message was received loud and clear.
5. ‘Kiss Land’ (2013)
This was an intriguing yet ultimately unsatisfying debut. The former is down to the lyrical subject matter that came to define The Weeknd's career.
While a singer moaning about fame often sounds trite, The Weeknd explores relatively fresh terrain such as gnawing alienation and constant dislocation felt from a life of non-stop touring.
The push and pull between The Weeknd's self-doubt and nihilistic desires are also first explored in the album's title track and The Town.
Bogging the release down, however, is some sluggish production. While Kiss Land does a solid job in conjuring up a brooding atmosphere, it lacks focus and pep, and certainly didn’t foreshadow the singer's stratospheric rise to come.