Abu Dhabi GP concerts: The Weeknd brings his star power to UAE capital

On stage, the Starboy hitmaker finds the perfect balance between his most popular tracks and the lesser known ones

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'You’re seeing which artists over the weekend? 'No no, I’m seeing the artist, The Weeknd at du Arena on Friday'. That has been my response to many of my friends and family over the course of the last few days when we talk about this year’s Abu Dhabi GP After-Race Concerts line-up.

It’s rather surprising to me that so many people aren’t aware of the star. He’s toured the globe, has the accolade of owning some of the biggest tracks in music in recent years. Gosh, he even landed on 2017’s highest-paid celebrities list, banking an estimated $92 million last year.

When people hear the songs though, that's when the penny drops, and that says a lot.

In an industry that is rampant with flashy, and outspoken artists who often perform less and talk more, for someone like The Weeknd, it's all about the music, and that's what makes him one of the best in the game right now.

Hundreds of fans negotiated bumper-to-bumper traffic and long queues to see the Canadian superstar make his UAE debut on Friday night at the  Abu Dhabi Grand Prix After-Race concerts.

The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, took to the stage just after 21:30, kicking off the set off with the smash hit Pray For Me; a song he collaborated on with hip-hop giant Kendrick Lamar for the Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther.

In the 80-minute set, the Starboy hitmaker managed to find the right balance between his most popular tracks and the lesser known ones, with die-hard fans (judging by screens around the du Arena venue there were plenty) taking the opportunity to sing his songs back to him, word for word.

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., November 23, 2018.  
The second evening of after-race entertainment by The Weeknd at the DU Arena.
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Jason Von Berg
The second evening of after-race entertainment by The Weeknd at the du Arena. Victor Besa / The National 

The 28-year-old doesn’t speak much on stage, but that's okay. Again, balance is key in that his more energised songs are supported by solid production, fast sequence-cuts of the star and his band from different angles, and the accompanying somewhat futuristic display of graphics on screen keeps the momentum moving too.

For slower, more emotionally-charged songs, the lighting is softer, giving him the opportunity to really show off his vocal range and the high notes.

Some thirty minutes in, the lights dimmed, and the Grammy winner disappeared briefly. When he returned, the softly spoken star playfully asked, "Y'all trying to go home?" And with that, he launched into a trio of classics including, Secrets, I Can't Feel My Face and I Feel It Coming.


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After watching an incredible performance of Call My Name at Coachella Music Festival earlier this year, and having followed his career for a few years now, I was really looking forward to seeing The Weeknd live. Truth be told, while he did impress, I wasn't completely wowed, which is what I expected.

Maybe it has to do with the hassle of getting into the actual venue and rushing to secure a spot close enough to see him perform? I was possibly hoping for a bit more personality too. Musically and vocally though, he cannot be faulted.

The after-race concerts continue with UK soul singer Sam Smith making his UAE debut, followed by the legendary rockers Guns N' Roses on Sunday.