When The Weeknd headlined the Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on Saturday, the massive pyro that belched towering flames during his current single "The Hills" announced his embrace of his new role as one of music's biggest superstars.
Sure, his chart-topping song-of-the-summer candidate "Can't Feel My Face," with its elastic bass line and Michael Jackson-inspired harmonies, may have telegraphed his intentions. But The Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, has tried staying low-key while turning out attention-grabbing R&B before.
That era, however, seems over. "Beauty Behind the Madness" (XO/Republic) feels like the work of a superstar artist -- ambitious in both theme and execution, as The Weeknd shows how deeply positive and negative emotions are entwined.
The duality is in the groove-driven uncertainty he creates in "Can't Feel My Face" -- singing "I know she'll be the death of me, at least we'll both be numb" with joyous abandon. It's also in the dark lyrics that accompany the sweet soul of "Tell Your Friends," the Kanye West collabo about his escape from drug use in Toronto. In "Earned It," his swaggering-yet-tender trip-hop contribution to the "50 Shades of Grey" soundtrack, he worries about the results of tragic love.
The Weeknd's dark side is so strong, it even gives the super-likable Ed Sheeran some edge in the questioning "Dark Times." But his positivity is also strong, shown in the gorgeous "Angel," where he practically chants, "I hope you find somebody to love."
"Beauty Behind the Madness" takes The Weeknd's love of mysterious melodies and unusual musical twists to the next level. He drops rock elements into the lumbering "Prisoner," with help from Lana Del Rey, and adds unexpected guitar power chords to "The Hills." And he makes it all seem completely effortless, as if all these intricate complexities simply popped out of his head. That's the true mark of the album's success.