Like his ambiguous alias, The Weeknd’s music revels in vivid tales of late-night debauchery before facing up to their sobering aftermaths. In the past decade, the man born Abel Tesfaye has risen from underground R&B artist to pop outsider. After dropping a string of mixtapes and joining a new class of R&B renegades, he entered the pop fray, teaming up with its main architect, Swedish super producer Max Martin, and becoming the global superstar we know today. With every incarnation, however, The Weeknd’s lyrical themes have never strayed: he remains a keen chronicler of sex, drugs and emotional extremes. His innate ability to not only stay ahead if the curve but actually be the curve has made him one of pop’s greatest disruptors, shaping the genre-less landscape that unfolded in the 2010s. The best Weeknd songs reveal how that happened.
Best Weeknd Songs: 20 Career-Defining Tracks From The Starboy
20: ‘House Of Balloons’/‘Glass Table Girls’
Essentially two songs in one, ‘House Of Balloons’/‘Glass Table Girls’ opens with a spacey synth intro before building into an electrifying second half, giving us two contrasting sides to the party scene. The Weeknd is no stranger using two-part structures, or even songs that serve as a call-and-response for one another, and ‘House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls’ is the perfect example of his innate narrative skills, as he chronicles a party that turns dark over a Siouxsie And The Banshees sample.
19: ‘The Fall’
The Weeknd steps into fearlessness on this track from Echoes Of Silence, letting us know he “ain’t scared of the fall”. The artist’s brave assertion of being unafraid of failure makes his verses about stardom and blowing through money hit harder. He’s insistent on living in the moment – one of the best qualities of a singer who deals in the ephemerality of the present moment.
18: ‘Drunk In Love (Remix)’
Remember when every artist was churning out remixes of Beyoncé’s ‘Drunk In Love’? Tesfaye threw his hat in the ring in 2014, and his voice fit the track like a glove. The R&B crooner makes the song uniquely his own by leaning more into the drunk aspect than the “love” part, showing that he can spin a web, even on a song that wasn’t originally his.
17: ‘High For This’
‘High For This’ ushered listeners into Tesfaye’s world as the opening track on House Of Balloons, a perfectly brooding, thunderous intro that readies you for a rollercoaster of emotions. On this song, he’s comforting a woman while she parties – something The Weeknd is no stranger to.
16: ‘Wasted Times’
‘Wasted Times’ is frequently referred to as one of The Weeknd’s best songs. Featured on his 2018 EP, My Dear Melancholy, the song shows a different side to the R&B artist’s romantic life, in which he laments his actions in a more mature way. The production is heavily reminiscent of House Of Balloons, but with an added layer of depth and insight into The Weeknd’s personal life.
15: ‘Wicked Games’
Many Weeknd fans credit ‘Wicked Games’ as their first exposure to the artist. The song’s sentiments play into a palpable loneliness and offer up sexual gratification as a very temporary fix. The black-and-white music video lends narrative to the loneliness as well, with The Weeknd singing to the camera with a mostly barren background. Needless to say, many could relate to his emotions, and we’ve been coming back for more ever since.
Sexual rendezvous and drug use are a recurring theme in The Weeknd’s songs, and on ‘Often’ he exudes a cavalier attitude about both. The moments between night and morning seem to be a blur, marked by ambiguous lyrics and braggadocious references. The lifestyle may be out of our element but, for him, this is just another day. One of the breakout hits of his sophomore studio album, Beauty Behind The Madness, ‘Often’ went triple-platinum in the US and gold in his native Canada.
13: ‘Can’t Feel My Face’
The Weeknd has always cited Michael Jackson as a musical influence, and that fully comes through in ‘Can’t Feel My Face’. Perhaps his most recognisable tune, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ shot straight to No.1 thanks to its disco-funk-fuelled sound and infectious chorus. In the music video, The Weeknd is on stage doing his best Jackson moves and getting booed during karaoke – a funny side you don’t often see in the singer’s moody visuals.
12: ‘The Hills’
‘The Hills’ is yet another chart-topping hit from Beauty In The Madness. The song hit No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and held a Top 10 slot in five other countries. The hypnotising lyrics, “When I’m f__ked up/That’s the real me,” were on the tips of everyone’s tongues in 2015, and the bass-boosted track went on to earn diamond certification, making it one of the most successful Weeknd songs of his career.
11: ‘Earned It’
This Grammy-winning single took the radio by storm in 2015. Another Beauty Behind The Madness cut, the song also featured in the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack, thrusting Tesfaye into the mainstream. The singer’s seductive voice took centre stage on the film’s soundtrack, and ‘Earned It’ became the Canadian singer’s first Top 5 single, peaking at No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The accompanying NSFW visual both matched the provocative film and intensely carnal nature of the song.
10: ‘The Zone’ (featuring Drake)
The Weeknd and Drake have worked on and off with each other since 2011, when Drake put the emerging singer on the map with a guest spot on Drake’s Take Care album. Drizzy returned the favour and jumped on ‘The Zone’, off The Weeknd’s 2011 mixtape Trilogy. The downtempo single lays bare a narrative in which Tesfaye intends to sleep with a girl, but is thinking of someone else. The message isn’t necessarily new, but the singer has a way of expressing vulnerability in a startling way, keeping his fans coming back for more.
9: ‘Loft Music’
Nearly every party in 2011 was soundtracked by House Of Balloons, and the lyrics to ‘Loft Music’ had everyone in a chokehold. The song samples ‘Gila’ by Beach House, and flips into a racy fantasy world in which waking life and drug use seem like a lucid dream. No one knows how to sing about reckless moments of youth like The Weeknd, and this bold track put everyone on high alert for more to come from the talented singer.
8: ‘Tell Your Friends’
This Kanye-produced addition to Beauty Behind The Madness is a beautiful piano-driven track detailing Tesfaye’s experiences with fame. The lyrics are particularly vulnerable in a new way, an element that helped the album become The Weeknd’s best-selling record to date. Instead of the usual moody synths, Tesfaye applies his silky falsetto over a classic soul sample, courtesy of ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’ by Soul Dog. The single achieved platinum certification and spent a considerable amount of time on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts.
7: ‘The Morning’
‘The Morning’ still ranks as one of the best Weeknd songs, and its impact on his career is unparalleled. The subject matter of this one is pretty clear: sex, drugs, traveling and the rock star lifestyle set to hazy synths and woozy blues riffs. With ‘The Morning’, Tesfaye created a new subset of R&B: hangover jams. The song also got play in the 2019 film Uncut Gems, when The Weeknd (playing himself) performs it a darkened nightclub.
6: ‘Rolling Stone’
Taken from his trilogy of mixtapes, ‘Rolling Stone’ saw the enigmatic singer drop his guard ever so slightly, dedicating the music video to his fans accompanying it with an open letter. “Because I am a man of few words, I chose to make a video to show you how I felt and where I stand. I usually don’t like to ‘spoon feed’ my audience because I grew up idolising story tellers who tell stories using symbolism, so it was in my nature to do the same.” The singer gets reflective, as he addresses the camera over a simple guitar melody.
5: ‘The Birds Pt.2’
Well, she didn’t heed his warning, and now she’s shooting a gun. The combination of crying, gunshots and crows cawing at the beginning of ‘The Birds Pt.2’ paints an eerie picture. This dark track illustrates Tesfaye’s craftsmanship when it comes to storytelling, making it one of The Weeknd’s best songs in a roster of hits.
4: ‘The Birds Pt.1’
The Weeknd often muses about his difficulty with relationships and here offers a literal warning not to fall in love with him. On ‘The Birds Pt.1’, Tesfaye goes as far as to describe falling in love with him as “falling to the point of no return”; by the end of the track, you’re practically praying that every woman who listens takes heed. But then what would happen to the music?
3: ‘Starboy’ (featuring Daft Punk)
‘Starboy’ finds The Weeknd stepping into his fame and revelling in his own talent. The accompanying video shows him walking through an immaculate mansion and smashing his own record plaques. The single and platinum-selling album of the same name also represented The Weeknd star-walking over the threshold of fame and into a new chapter of his music. Teaming up with French electronic music duo Daft Punk, the synth-laden track went seven-times platinum in the US and peaked at No.1 on both Billboard’s Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts.
2: ‘King Of The Fall’
Tesfaye drops a little well-earned braggadocio on plenty of his tracks, but ‘King Of The Fall’ has some of his most potent verses. Once again, the singer shares his perspective as the protagonist of his own hedonistic debauchery and speeds up his usual languid delivery. It was released as a standalone track ahead of his King Of The Fall Tour in 2014 and served as a precursor to Beauty Behind The Madness, which dropped the following year.
1: ‘Coming Down’
The House Of Balloons mixtape was a grand introduction to The Weeknd’s push-and-pull narrative about relationships. On ‘Coming Down’, the artist sings about his feelings surrounding a relationship while under the influence, apologising (but not really) for things he did when he was high. The track creates the hazy atmosphere of coming down from an intense high and coming face-to-face with the harsh reality.
Looking for more? Discover How The Weeknd Forged His Own R&B Empire.