The Weeknd's Sudden Rise to Pop God Kind of Makes Sense Now

The Weeknd live at the AAA.
The Weeknd live at the AAA.
Photo by George Martinez/gmartnx.com

The last time Abel Tesfaye visited Florida, he was adjusting to stardom and attempting to establish his onstage identity. Touring for his second studio LP, Kiss Land, under his drugs- and sex-obsessed alter ego, the Weeknd, Tesfaye was, at that time, a little stiff. Most of the movement came from the sexually explicit videos that looped behind him. However, Saturday night at American Airlines Arena, accompanied by a massive stage production and leading-man bravado, the Weeknd showed how he's broken free from his shell.

He's gone from doing pills alone in a bathroom to making bedroom pop and inviting everyone over.

For this, the final night of the tour, Tesfaye had his friend Travis Scott got the crowd pumped. The Houston native not only did his job, and well, but he also brought out a few friends and damned near caused a riot.

Within the first few songs, Scott brought out both DJ Khaled and T.I. Khaled, who is currently the most omnipresent voice on social media (especially on Snapchat, where he recently recorded himself getting lost at sea on a Jet Ski), to plenty of fanfare and incredulous cheers. T.I. stealthily made his way up through the smoke, rapping alongside Scott for a few minutes before Scott announced his second surprise guest. Half an hour into the show and fans were already getting their money's worth to what was, if we're honest, a rather pricey event (the week of the concert, tickets for a nosebleed seat were upward of $140). 

This was great news for Miami, because there was one notable absence from the Madness Tour. One of 2015's breakout stars, Halsey, had to miss the Tampa and Miami stops of the tour due to a medical condition. She took to Twitter a few days earlier to update fans and to express her own frustrations, saying, “I have a condition that affects my heart rate and blood pressure and makes me lose consciousness, and then I get really ill for a few days after I faint.”

While it was a bummer that Halsey couldn't make it, Miami was by no means disappointed with the first portion of the evening's entertainment. In addition to his star-studded show, Scott also had a number of fans rush the stage, telling the men in yellow shirts, “Security, let them through” and later, “Leave the kids alone; we ain't worried about assigned seats right now.” The stage could not contain him as he regularly leaped off and at one point jumped into the crowd to take selfies with fans while still singing. 

Travis Scott opened the show.
Travis Scott opened the show.
Photo by George Martinez/gmartnx.com

After a pause in the action to switch out set pieces, it was time for the man of the hour. We went from an artist who is essentially all Auto-Tune to an artist who never has and never will need it.

Beginning with “Real Life,” Tesfaye appeared behind a fence that wrapped around him and his three-piece band. It simulated a cage, playing into the narrative created by his latest album, Beauty Behind the Madness. Pretty soon, though, this pop beast was unleashed, and Tesfaye prowled confidently, chewing up the scenery around him. He almost seemed restless, trying to cover as much ground as possible in an effort to give each set of fans equal facetime, bringing a little thrill to the ladies with each hip thrust.

During “Often,” the platform underneath Tesfaye rose high into the air, lifting him above the cage and indeed above his competition. Behind him, the band was going off. The normally druggy and claustrophobic “High for This” was converted into an even more powerful rock ’n’ roll affair. In fact, while Tesfaye and his crooning were the undoubted stars of the night, his band wasn't far behind (especially his guitarist, who destroyed when given the opportunity to solo).

For the Weeknd, sex sells.
For the Weeknd, sex sells.
Photo by George Martinez/gmartnx.com

Is their another singer who can regularly, wantonly, refer to women in a sexual sense and not sound vulgar? Sometimes he drops F-bombs like there's no other word in the English language but makes them sound downright elegant. It isn't startling or offensive when certain NSFW words roll off the Weeknd's tongue as smoothly as a woman's freshly shaved leg. That breathy, saccharine-sweet voice could sing a medical textbook and it would sound sultry.

The digital stars above Tesfaye's head aligned much like the ones guiding his career trajectory to this point. It's been a long time since an R&B star with arena-rock ambitions pulled it off so effortlessly. Between the ever-shifting lights and visuals and Tesfaye's teleporting back and forth between the ground floor and his pedestal high above, it would've surprised no one had he swooped over the crowd, dangling from invisible cables.

He cleverly delivered his homage to the King of Pop by doing a few lines from “Dirty Diana” before segueing into his two most Michael Jackson-like songs, “In the Night” and the ubiquitous hit single “Can't Feel My Face.” The disco-funk of the track invaded the building and got everyone moving while Tesfaye re-created a few of the spins and dance moves he showed off in the song's music video (sans the fire, thankfully.)

Though it's his first arena tour, the Weeknd acted like a pro.
Though it's his first arena tour, the Weeknd acted like a pro.
Photo by George Martinez/gmartnx.com

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“Dirty Diana” appeared on the third of Tesfaye's 2011 misxtape trilogy, Echoes of Silence, and it wasn't the only track from his early days to make an appearance. “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls,” “The Morning,” and “Wicked Games” all made the set list and all were reworked, bulked up, and sounded deeper and richer than their original incarnations.

The room also erupted when Travis Scott returned, this time a guest himself, to perform two songs with Tesfaye, including “Pray 4 Love.” Tesfaye clearly had a blast with his hype man/tour partner, allowing Scott to take the room over and pitch in every so often. Tesfaye followed that up with “Tell Your Friends,” probably his cockiest song to date.

But as evidenced by the sold-out crowd, he has plenty of reason to be cocksure. 

Tickets were expensive but worth it.
Tickets were expensive but worth it.
Photo by George Martinez/gmartnx.com

“Earned It” began with a tender piano intro that got the lovers squeezing each other a little tighter than normal. It was as grand and majestic in person as on record. Tesfaye closed the evening with another hit single from Beauty Behind the Madness, “The Hills,” and his encore showstopper, “Wicked Games.”

“The Hills” began with a simple a cappella that didn't prepare the audience for what came next. Columns of fire emerged from underground, exploding at the emotional apexes of the song.

They seemingly came out of nowhere but had actually been hiding just beneath the surface the whole time, waiting for the right moment to unleash all that power. 

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American Airlines Arena

601 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33131

786-777-1000

www.aaarena.com


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