On February 5, 2021, two days before he took the stage to perform at the Super Bowl LV Halftime show, The Weeknd released a compilation album called The Highlights. With 18 tracks, the album serves as a greatest hits album spanning The Weeknd’s various eras from his 2011 mixtape House of Balloons to 2020’s After Hours.
I imagine this album was released intentionally right before the Super Bowl to serve as a primer for anyone who has managed to completely divorce themselves from popular culture for the past ten years, as if to say this is what The Weeknd has done with pop music since 2011, in case you completely missed it! If you’ve been in a store, if you’ve been in a ride share car, if you’ve been to a club, if you’ve listened to the radio, you’ve probably heard a song by The Weeknd or you’ve heard his influence on other artists.
“Everything sounding like The Weeknd,” is something I posted on Facebook in 2016. There was a point in 2016 and 2017 where whenever I turned on the radio I heard some cheap Weeknd imitation. It seemed like so many other artists were trying to bite his sound, his soul, his unique blend of longing and exhaustion, darkness and escapism, melancholy and partying, introspection and extroversion. Maybe I’m biased, but I do think he is one of most important artists, if not the most important artist, in recent history.
The great thing about The Weeknd resisting imitation is that he is constantly reinventing himself. Every album brings a new era. The themes in his music recur like important symbols in dreams, presented in new ways with different musical and artistic influences. His music is cinematic. He’s a director. As his audience, we have an idea of what we can expect when a new album drops and it’s always a treat to find out where we will end up this time and how we will get there.
The first time I heard The Weeknd I was in the back of an Uber. I might have heard one of his songs in passing or someone might have played me one of his songs, in fact I’m sure my first time wasn’t my actual first time, but I didn’t really hear him until one day in December 2015. Sometimes you don’t really hear things until you’re ready to hear them. I was
I was on the 580-freeway stuck in traffic on my way home from somewhere. My first reaction in that moment was “oh, this is that song” and my second reaction was “holy shit, what is this?” I remember going home and googling “when I’m fucked up it’s the real me” and feeling spellbound watching his music video for “The Hills,” the first in a three-part series in which The Weeknd meets the devil, sells his soul, then buries his former self. I was late to the game, but I became an immediate fan.
“The Hills” currently has 1.6 billion views on Youtube.
In the two weeks since it aired, The Weeknd’s Super Bowl LV Halftime Show has gained over 29 million views.