Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (born February 16, 1990), better known by his stage name The Weeknd, is a Canadian singer, songwriter, actor and record producer. In 2010, he anonymously uploaded several songs to YouTube under the name "The Weeknd" and released the mixtapes House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence in 2011 which quickly gained him a following and recognition from several mainstream publications due to his dark wave-style of R&B and the mystique surrounding his identity.
The Weeknd was born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye on February 16, 1990 in Toronto, Ontario, and was raised in the district of Scarborough, in the city's east end. He is the only child of Makkonen and Samra Tesfaye, who were Ethiopian immigrants to Canada in the late 1980s.
Tesfaye attended West Hill Collegiate Institute and Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, from which he did not graduate, leaving altogether in 2007, after which Tesfaye also left home. Tesfaye moved to the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto. Tesfaye has credited his stage name as being inspired by his high school dropout status, claiming "after [he] left one weekend and never came home", though producer Jeremy Rose claims the name was his idea. The spelling was modified in order to avoid trademark issues with the Canadian band The Weekend.
Tesfaye met Jeremy Rose in 2010, a producer who had an idea for a dark 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. 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 rapped on, which were ultimately scrapped. Rose let Tesfaye keep the tracks he had produced under the condition that he would ultimately be credited for them. In December 2010, Tesfaye uploaded "What You Need", "Loft Music" and "The Morning" to YouTube under his stage name, although his identity was initially unknown. The songs drew some attention online, and were later included in a blog post from Drake. The songs subsequently received coverage from various media outlets, including Pitchfork and The New York Times. Before adopting the stage name "The Weeknd", he worked under the aliases of "The Noise" and "Kin Kane".
Tesfaye's hairstyle has been claimed to be partly inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat and has been described as his most recognizable trait. In an interview, he detailed that he began growing it out in 2011, and remarked at the easiness in maintaining it, with "a hard shampoo every once in a while". He eventually cut his hair in 2016 prior to the release of Starboy.
On March 21, 2011, Tesfaye self-released his debut mixtape House of Balloons. The mixtape included production from Canadian 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.
Tesfaye refrained from participating in interviews, choosing to communicate via Twitter, after the album was released. This was credited as an advertising tactic for Tesfayes second mixtape Thursday, which was released on August 18, 2011. Tesfaye's third mixtape Echoes of Silence was released on December 21, 2011, a year after his debut singles.
In April 2012, Tesfaye began his first tour of the United States, with a performance at the Coachella Festival. The tour culminated in New York with back-to-back sold-out shows, which were positively reviewed by Rolling Stone. Tesfaye expanded his tour to accompany Europe, performing at various European festivals, including the Primavera Sound Festivals in Spain and Portugal, and the Wireless Festival in London. Covering "Dirty Diana" at his performance in London, he received positive responses from both Katy Perry and Florence Welch, who noted the singer's ability to successfully undertake a complex song. In June, the Balloons Trilogy was revealed to have been downloaded over 8 million times, which allowed Tesfaye to initiate formal commercial release of the projects later that year.
In September 2012, Tesfaye signed with Republic Records in a joint venture with his own imprint XO. The compilation album for the mixtapes entitled Trilogy, was released two months later, and consisted of several remastered versions of songs, as well as three additional ones. It also officially credited Rose as a producer and writer on the three songs from House of Balloons for which he did not initially receive credit. Trilogy charted at number four on the U.S. Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 86,000 copies. It also debuted at number five on the Canadian Albums Chart, with similar sales. Trilogy was later certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and double-platinum by Music Canada in May 2013. He had also gained a nomination for the Sound of 2013 poll award by the BBC a week later.
House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence were later remastered and re-released on the compilation album Trilogy (2012). In 2013, The Weeknd released his debut album Kiss Land and followed it up with Beauty Behind the Madness (2015), which became his first Billboard 200 number-one album and featured the Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles "Can't Feel My Face" and "The Hills". The Weeknd also became the first artist to simultaneously hold the top three positions on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart with "Can't Feel My Face", "Earned It", and "The Hills". At the 56th Grammy Awards, Beauty Behind the Madness won Best Urban Contemporary Album and was nominated for Album of the Year. A year after the release of the album, The Weeknd released his third album Starboy (2016) which spawned the Billboard Hot 100 number-one hit "Starboy". His debut EP My Dear Melancholy (2018) debuted at number one on the Billboard 200.
On May 16, 2013, Tesfaye premiered the title track to his debut studio album Kiss Land, and announced the album's release date as September 10. The album was later promoted by the singles "Belong to the World" and "Live For" featuring Drake, as well as with Tesfaye embarking on The Fall tour a week prior to the album's release. Upon release, Kiss Land debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling 96,000 copies. It was later confirmed to have sold over 273,000 copies in the United States, as well as receiving generally positive reviews from music critics.
Tesfaye often used drugs to help get over writer's block on earlier albums and also abused illegal substances such as "... Ketamine, cocaine, MDMA, mushrooms and cough syrup". Speaking in December 2013, Tesfaye said that drugs were a "crutch" for him when it came to writing music. On social media he typically suffixed his first name with "xo". According to writer Hermione Hoby, it is meant as an emoticon for "a kiss and a hug", while VH1's Zara Golden's stated that it is a reference to his recreational use of ecstasy and oxycodone. He later altered the handles on his social media to reflect his stage name in preparation for the release of Starboy.
In 2014, Tesfaye remixed "Drunk in Love", a single by Beyoncé from her eponymous studio album. Retaining the theme and concept of the song, he detailed the synopsis through the perspective of a male. The remix was well-received, and came days prior to the announcement of Tesfaye's first headlining tour, entitled the King of the Fall tour. The tour was held across the United States in September and October, and saw Schoolboy Q and Jhené Aiko as supporting acts. This oversaw his release of the single "Often", leading to speculation it was the first single from his second studio album. He later collaborated with Ariana Grande on a duet titled "Love Me Harder", which peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. Days later, he released "Earned It", a single from Fifty Shades of Grey (2015). This marked his second contribution to a movie, and peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.
Prior to being presented a Bikila Award for Professional Excellence in 2014, Tesfaye donated $50,000 towards a class at the University of Toronto on Ge'ez, the classic language of Ethiopia. In August 2016 he continued donations to the University of Toronto, in the creation of a new Ethiopic Studies program.
In January 2015, Tesfaye was arrested for punching a Las Vegas police officer. Tesfaye pleaded no contest, and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service. In December 2015, Tesfaye was sued by Cutting Edge Music, who alleged that the bass line for "The Hills" had been taken from a composition featured in the score for The Machine.
Beauty Behind the Madness was released on August 28, 2015, and debuted atop the Billboard 200, earning 412,000 album equivalent units in its first week. It reached the top 10 in over ten countries, as well as reaching number one in Canada, Australia, Norway, and the United Kingdom. The album was promoted by Tesfaye headlining various summer music festivals, including Lollapalooza, the Hard Summer Music Festival, and the Bumbershoot Festival. He announced his first large-scale tour across the United States, which began in November, and concluded in December. The album went double platinum in the US, and sold 1.5 million copies worldwide. It was reported to be the most-streamed album throughout 2015, with over 60 million, as well as being ranked on multiple lists concerned with detailing albums of the year.
In November 2015, to further promote Beauty Behind the Madness, Tesfaye collaborated with Pax Labs to release a limited edition version of the PAX 2 vaporizer, an electronic cigarette that could be used in shows during The Madness Fall Tour. The e-cigarette featured the "xo" branding on the front, as well as having the ability to play "The Hills" when turned on. With the original PAX 2 priced at $279.99, the limited edition e-cigarette cost $324.99. PAX also acted as an official sponsor for the tour, presenting special backstage VIP activations for fans who bought packages that included the e-cigarette. PAX Labs chief marketing officer Richard Mumby stated "Music and fashion have always been a natural fit for Pax...This was the perfect opportunity to bring together The Weeknd's style with our technology."
In May 2016 Tesfaye has also donated $50,000 for the St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Toronto, Canada. In August 2016, Tesfaye also donated $250,000 to Black Lives Matter. In December 2015, he worked with Ryan Seacrest's foundation to visit Children's Hospital in Atlanta.
Also involved in business ventures, The Weeknd announced a partnership with Puma, as a Global Brand ambassador in 2016. He has his own XO branded merchandise, which was furthered by a collaboration with H&M to present its Spring 2017 campaign. In October 2017, he began marketing and promotion on a partnership with Marvel on Instagram. A week later, he attended New York Comic-Con and it was revealed that a Starboy comic book would be released on June 13, 2018, with the title character being a superhero modelled after himself.
In 2016, Tesfaye announced a partnership with Puma, as a Global Brand ambassador, for the company's "Run the Streets" campaign. It was launched in early November, with the final collection made available to coincide with the release of his album Starboy. He also hosted several pop-up retail stores for the "Starboy: Limited Capsule" collection, which were available across North America, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Toronto. With this partnership, Tesfaye also released three capsule collections named PUMA X XO including T-shirts, caps, sweatpants, bomber jackets and a pair of shoes called the Parallels.
In his leisure time, he enjoys watching television and is an avid video game fan. In the context of media outlets reporting cases of police brutality, in 2016, he expressed disdain, tweeting "blue lives murder". In May 2016, Tesfaye and Belly cancelled an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! due to Donald Trump being present.
Tesfaye began dating model Bella Hadid at the beginning of 2015; the couple were first seen together in May at Coachella. Hadid later starred in his music video "In the Night" in December. They also made a red carpet appearance as a couple at the 2016 Grammy Awards. On November 11, 2016, it was reported that the couple had split; citing their conflicting schedules as the rationale for the relationship's termination. Tesfaye reportedly started dating Selena Gomez in January 2017 and they moved in together temporarily in September 2017 in Greenwich Village, New York. They broke up in October 2017. By May 2018, Tesfaye and Hadid began dating again, before splitting again in 2019.
In 2017, Tesfaye appeared on Future's sixth studio album, as well as on the debut single from Nav, who was signed by XO in January. He became the first feature utilized by Lana Del Rey, appearing on "Lust for Life", the title track and second single from her fifth studio album. He was featured on French Montana's "A Lie", the third single from his second album Jungle Rules and on Cashmere Cat's debut single "Wild Love" from his album 9. He appeared on the Virgil Abloh-directed music video for Lil Uzi Vert's "XO Tour Llif3" alongside XO signee Nav. He was later featured on Lil Uzi Vert's debut album and Gucci Mane's eleventh studio album Mr. Davis. He gained a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards for Starboy and ended up winning the award.
Tesfaye has also begun his own XO branded merchandise, which was furthered by a collaboration with H&M to present its Spring 2017 campaign. The campaign would feature new collaborative pieces developed with the singer's brand, and was released on March 2, 2017. Tesfaye collaborated with H&M again for a fall collection, however, after an incident which he described as "deeply offensive" in 2018, he cut ties with the company.
In May 2017, Tesfaye had a limited edition pop up sale for the "Starboy 2017 Limited Capsule Collection". The collections were available in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami Beach, Houston, Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.
In June 2017, Tesfaye donated $100,000 to the Suubi Health Center, a maternity and children's medical facility in Budondo, Uganda. Tesfaye was inspired to support the center after learning of his friend French Montana's work with Global Citizen and Mama Hope to help raise awareness for Suubi and the people of Uganda.
In October 2017, Tesfaye began marketing and promotion on a partnership with Marvel on Instagram. A week later, he attended New York Comic-Con and it was revealed that a Starboy comic book would be released on June 13, 2018, with the title character being a superhero modelled after himself.
On January 31, 2018, Top Dawg Entertainment revealed the full tracklist of the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther soundtrack album with Tesfaye featured on one of the tracks, "Pray for Me". On February 2, 2018, it was released as the soundtrack's third single. This marks the second collaboration between Tesfaye and Lamar, after the song "Sidewalks" on the Starboy album.
On March 27, 2018, Tesfaye began publicity for a new official release in an Instagram post. On March 29, 2018, a billboard appeared in London, England promoting a possible album titled My Dear Melancholy, and on the same day the project was officially announced. On March 30, 2018, the extended play My Dear Melancholy, was released. On June 6, 2018, The Weeknd announced his new Beats 1 radio show Memento Mori, which's first episode was released two days later. Later in the year, on November 21, 2018, the compilation album The Weeknd in Japan was released and served as his first greatest hits album.
In September 2018, Tesfaye and Daft Punk were sued for allegedly stealing the rhythm from a self-described poet, singer and songwriter named Yasminah. Tesfaye has denied these allegations.
In January 2019, Gesaffelstein (who previously worked with Tesfaye on My Dear Melancholy,) began teasing a new collaboration. On January 11, 2019, Tesfaye and Gesaffelstein released "Lost in the Fire", the second single off the latter's second studio album, Hyperion. On April 18, 2019, Tesfaye released "Power Is Power" alongside SZA and Travis Scott, a song part of a series of music inspired by the television show Game of Thrones, of which Tesfaye himself is a fan. On May 5, Tesfaye, SZA and Travis Scott released the music video for their Game of Thrones-inspired track. On August 30, 2019, during the Telluride Film Festival, Tesfaye made his debut cinematic appearance on the world premiere of the film Uncut Gems.
In April 2019, Tesfaye bought ownership in esports company OverActive Media Group, the owners of Splyce and Overwatch League team Toronto Defiant, and will serve as the company's global ambassador.
On November 24, 2019, "Blinding Lights", the expected lead single of his fourth album, was announced via a Mercedes-Benz commercial on German television. The next day, footage of its music video being shot in Fremont Street, Las Vegas surfaced. News outlets then began reporting that Tesfaye would follow up "Blinding Lights" with another single titled "Heartless". After having covered the aforementioned singles on November 25, 2019, the following day, news outlets reported that Tesfaye had registered a song titled "Like Selena", which was reported to have been possibly named after the singer's ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez. In promotion of the upcoming album, episode seven of The Weeknd's Memento Mori Beats 1 radio show was released on November 27, 2019. The single "Heartless" went on to debut at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and later became his fourth number one single on the chart, the following week. With "Blinding Lights" debuting at number 11 on the chart when the aforementioned single topped the chart, and then reaching the top ten on the issue dated February 29, 2020. Tesfaye revealed the album's title, After Hours, and release date, March 20, 2020, on February 19, 2020, and released the album's title track as a single simultaneously.