This week’s Classical in Conversation blog features an artist that has broken record after record in 2020. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, began his musical career by anonymously releasing music to YouTube, and the rest is history.

Emerging from the Shadows

His username back in the day was simply “xoxxxoooxo” - Tesfaye’s music was gaining traction and nobody even knew the face behind it all. He worked at American Apparrel, and even his colleagues would listen to his music without knowing that he created it all! However, one day there was a pretty big voice in the music industry who took an interest – Drake included the “xoxxxoooxo” tracks in a blog post which then sparked intrigue in the media. This YouTube figure was about to start emerging from the shadows!

After creating his own record label, XO, in 2011, The Weeknd embarked on a tour of his hometown, Toronto. Drake attended one of these gigs, and quickly pulled him backstage to discuss potential collaborations. This led to The Weeknd opening shows for Drake and contributing to his album. This would be the beginning of a string of hugely successful collaborations throughout his career, including enormous industry names like Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, Lana Del Rey, Kanye West, Travis Scott and Daft Punk!

2013 saw the release of The Weeknd’s debut studio album, Kiss Land, and a couple of years later, the second album, Beauty Behind the Madness. Both did well, but the second album in particular was huge success, producing Billboard Hot 100 number 1 tracks “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills”. Next came a third album, garnering another Hot 100 top spot, and then a fourth – the one which would change everything (no, really, it broke every record…).

World Domination

After Hours featured some incredible number 1 singles, “Heartless” and “Save Your Tears” were both a huge success, but nothing compares to the world-domination that was achieved with “Blinding Lights”. This song, which most of you will no doubt have heard before (we believe TikTok to be partially responsible!), spent the most weeks in the Billboard top 5, top 10, top 20, top 40 and top 100 of any song, ever. It also became the first song to ever hold a top 10 spot for an entire year, as well as becoming the longest charting song on the Hot 100 of ALL TIME. Yep, a whole 90 weeks. As you might expect, it is Spotify’s second most streamed song of all time, second only to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You”, and was the fastest song in history to reach 2 billion streams.

You probably get the idea now. “Blinding Lights” was absolutely ground-breaking. For this reason, we’re really pleased to announce that the song features on the Grade 4 syllabus of the new RSL Classical Violin syllabus. That’s right, you can now perform that record-breaking riff in your violin exam!

That’s all for today’s blog. We’ve loved digging a little deeper into the career of a man who helped us all through 2020 (we know you’ve seen the TikTok dance), and the man who has now become one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 75 million records sold. Wowza!

The Weeknd sits alongside some other incredible artists on the syllabus, including Taylor Swift, Nikki Iles, Florence Price and Vivaldi! Check them out!