Hurts So Good: The Glitter-Coated Sex Sounds of The Weeknd

2 Apr

My nighttime activities generally pose a constant problem for me: I’m horrible–HORRIBLE–at the club scene.  Here is a brief true and verbatim excerpt from my most recent night out when a guy started dancing with my friend:

Friend: No thanks
Guy: *shrugs, continues*
Me: I think you should stop! I think you should respect her boundaries as a woman!

Cool, professional club chitchat at its finest. But basically, the crux of my issue is this: I’m incapable of processing the sensory/sensuality/Redbull & vodka-soaked cave of makeup-melting grinding and dirty bathroom fights they call
“the club,” but I also enjoy a good night of debauchery, dancing, and a few choice items from the pharmaceutical takeout menu. My most recent solution to this puzzle has arrived in the form of 20-year old Abel Tesfaye AKA The Weeknd. Current speculation around the internet has him ushering in the next level of R&B and people are losing their minds over the distorted Beach House samples in his tracks. He’s good; there’s no doubting that. Plus he’s got backing from fellow Canadian R&B/rap artist Drake (whose name instantly conjures the phrase, “BRING ME SOME CREPES, AUBREY!” which is definitely something I made up and not anything that a real person has said. For the record), which says an awful lot for someone who seemingly appeared out of nowhere–although I’m skeptical of this since his social media sites are so popular the suggestion of a previous presence prior to his official debut is there.

The catalyst for so many music bloggers’ hyperbole-heavy proclamations is The Weeknd’s album House of Balloons, offered to the public para libre. With only nine tracks, the album is almost an hour’s worth of slow, sexy, terribly seductive jams that make a quickie in the bathroom seem like the most romantic six minutes of your life.  Six minutes, I assume, is the average length of those. Not that I would know. Digression is such an easy road to wind down.

House of Balloons, essentially, takes place all in one night. If it were a movie, which, let’s face it, so many albums are in our heads, I imagine the main character would be Tesfaye–very attractive, confident, and smart. Probably didn’t go to school past junior college, thought he didn’t need to, the experiences of the streets are the best teacher we can have. He has a girlfriend, or so we are led to infer on the dark, brooding “Wicked Games,” in which he confesses (to the camera, or via voiceover, if we’re speaking cinematically) that he left his girl back home because he doesn’t love her anymore. All too convenient for him considering the wealth of prostitutes and strippers that seemed to have shown up to this party. In the eerie, almost ghostly, “High For This,” Tesfaye advises his new lady friend for the night to get high because whatever’s coming next is going to be too much for either of them to handle sober.

Tesfaye’s mindset is generally that of pills, pros, and parties, with enough dollars to spread around to cover each of those things and a soundtrack as dark and edgy as his surely less-than-pious thoughts. “The Party & the After Party” is a warped, bass-heavy rework of Beach House’s “Master of None” with Victoria Legrand’s voice raised up to almost coked-out octaves while “Loft Music” is an appeal for sex set to “Gila” with Legrand’s initially innocent coos sounding nearly orgasmic as they fade into Tesfaye’s echoing, Prince-like vocal harmonies.

“Coming Down” is the album standout, and the part in the movie where I imagine the life Tesfaye’s living has finally caught up to him. Think of the many overdose panic scenes in Valley of the Dolls if they took place in the dark and involved writing around sweaty and half-naked on floor doused in glitter with a telephone cord twisted around one finger and a partially lit cigarette between the others. An ode to the perhaps destructive relational emotions in addicts and during withdrawals, the song chronicles Tesfaye’s burning desire to always have the one he loves once the party’s over and he’s coming down of the handfuls of drugs he’s done throughout the night. Tinkering pianos layered under Tesfaye’s weary drawl make the song as close to having musical sex as I’ve gotten in a very long time.

But this movie has to end, as they all do, but the verdict on what kind of ending it has is still out. Internally, we want Tesfaye to succeed. He is a protagonist of sorts, just trying to make sense of this world he’s found himself in, and we want the best for him. But he’s picked a precarious position to maintain, and whether he will be successful in doing so is hard to predict. The one thing we can say for sure though, is that he is open to letting us love him, even if only for one night.

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