Dark Light

Released: 2015

Label: Universal Republic Records

Featuring: Labrinth, Ed Sheeran, Lana Del Rey

Unbuttoning the genius of Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, isn’t a breezy walk. It’s a midnight fever dream through an echo chamber of synthesized beats and raw emotional revelations. The result was felt immensely when he dropped the magnum opus, ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’ in 2015 on Universal Republic Records. This was no mixtape – this was the divine communion of molten music and unfeigned emotion.

A revelation of The Weeknd’s stylistic evolution, the album flaunts fourteen explosive tracks that usher listeners into a provocative world of haunting narratives and sonic audacity. Featuring collaborations with music heavyweights like Labrinth, Ed Sheeran, and Lana Del Rey, it floats effortlessly between searing R&B ballads like ‘Earned It (Fifty Shades Of Grey)’, pulsating pop anthems like ‘Can’t Feel My Face’, and sepulchral melodies like ‘Dark Times’.

From his elemental grappling with ‘Real Life’ to the absolute emancipation in ‘Angel’, every slice of ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’ is an intimate trip into The Weeknd’s own reckoning, augmented by the sublime artistry of its vibrant tracklist. So let’s get into it. From ‘Real Life’ to ‘Angel’, here we are breaking down ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’ by The Weeknd.

1 Real Life

The catchy hook, “That’s real life, oh, oh-ooh-oh / Real life / Ooh, mama talking that real life,” repeats like an anthem, turning personal experience into universal resonance. Still, it’s the brutally honest line, “Mama called me destructive / Said it’d ruin me one day,” that solidifies The Weeknd’s reputation as a master of self-reflection. This track lays bare not only his struggle but also the universal human desire to connect and the fear of vulnerability. It’s not merely a pop track; it’s The Weeknd serving up his real life on a platter, an audacious testament to his emotional battles.

2 Losers

Features: Labrinth

Come put this inside a test-tube,” The Weeknd challenges traditional schemas of education and intelligence in “Losers,” his collaboration with Labrinth. The insistent refrain – “What can you show me that my heart don’t know already?” – echoes his conviction in intuition and lived experience over institutional knowledge. It’s a sentiment that distances him from the ‘losers’ who depend on school for wisdom, asserting his self-guided narrative. “We did it all alone, Now we’re coming for the throne,” Abel proclaims, an audacious announcement of his intention to ascend pop music’s hierarchy, independent of conventional norms. These sharp lyrics encapsulate The Weeknd’s raw, self-professed intellect and ambition, elements central to the enigmatic persona that threads ‘Beauty Behind The Madness.’

3 Tell Your Friends

Weaving a potent narrative with lyrics like, “I do shit how I want, don’t need no blessing,” he spurns the need for validation, etching his own path towards stardom. Tesfaye doesn’t shy away from portraying the excesses of his newfound fame either, with candid lines like, “And money is the only thing I’m chasin’.” This streetwise anthem yet again reaffirms The Weeknd’s commitment to celebrating his origins, a theme that underscores this album. However, it’s the recurring hook, “Go tell your friends about it,” that stings with a delicious touch of irony—Tesfaye’s own fortunes have skyrocketed, but he isn’t hesitating to air his dirty laundry. He’s compelling the world to witness the unfiltered, tumultuous narrative of his rise.

4 Often

The song couches honesty in sexuality, and seduces us into the narrative of a rockstar lifestyle. His words trace the lines of indulgence and intimacy, marked by the line, “Infatuated by the fame status / She wanna ride inside the G-Class grey ‘matic”. The repetitive refrain, “she asked me if I do this every day, I said, ‘Often'” is a brazen nod to his lifestyle and the privileges that fame has offered him. While the line “I’m a young god” asserts his dominant position in the city, the confession “I usually love sleeping all alone” reveals a streak of vulnerability behind the veil of erotic bravado. Likewise, the artist juxtaposes ‘the god’ image with “She just happy that the crew back in town / She ’bout to go downtown for a whole hour”, implying the ever-changing relationship dynamics that fame brings.

5 The Hills

The recurring line, “I only love it when you touch me, not feel me / When I’m fucked up, that’s the real me,” is a telling confession of The Weeknd’s struggles with intimacy and substance use. It’s a stark depiction of his nocturnal world, where love becomes transactional and emotional connections elusive. Juxtaposing heady excess with stark vulnerability, this song peels back layers of his exterior, letting us glimpse the tumult underneath. And as he croons “Hills have eyes, the hills have eyes”, we’re reminded that even in his high life escapades, judgment and scrutiny are inevitable – a potent warning on the tolls of fame and decadence.

6 Acquainted

It serves as an ode to the heart-clutching conundrum of loving a person who we know isn’t good for us. The lyric, ‘To say that we’re in love is dangerous/But girl, I’m so glad we’re acquainted,’ reveals a trepidation about admitting the depth of the emotions at play, yet an undeniable appreciation for the connection they share. Ever the advocate for seductive ambiguity, The Weeknd paints a portrait of a man struggling to reconcile with the intoxicating joy of their liaison and the perilous consequences of fully surrendering to it. He tantalisingly exposes the fine line between sloppy infatuation and calculated emotional apathy, solidifying his command over the narrative of tragic toxic love in pop music.

7 Can’t Feel My Face

On the surface, it’s catchy pop, but lying beneath is a dark undercurrent of passionate obsession. The lyrics detonate Abel’s struggle with substances, personifying them into the form of a love interest. The chorus, “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you/But I love it, but I love it,” pulls no punches, exposing the chilling reality of substance dependence. But there’s a more sinister line that leaves its mark, “And I know she’ll be the death of me/At least we’ll both be numb” which triggers an unsettling truth about destruction and desire. This track blurs the line between dread and elation, pushing pop’s boundaries and transforming tragedy into a foot-tapping, infectious rhythm.

8 Shameless

Drenched in melancholic yet addictively catchy melodies, the lyrics capture an intense emotional standoff between two lovers locked in an unending cycle of lust and detachment. The Weeknd croons, “I don’t wanna hurt you, but you live for the pain / I’m not tryna say it, but it’s what you became / You want me to fix you, but it’s never enough / That’s why you always call me, ’cause you’re scared to be loved”. Raw and provocative, such lyrical profundity teeters the fine line between desire and despair, embodying the singer’s notorious yet irresistible bad boy charm. It becomes a tongue-in-cheek critique of the complexities of modern love, mirroring the sensual yet lacerating ethos of The Weeknd’s artistry.

9 Earned It

Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, masterfully parallels the ambivalent feelings of love and despair. The key lyric, “Said it wouldn’t be love, But we felt the rush (fell in love), It made us believe it was only us (was only us)” succinctly summarizes the song’s narrative – a haunting blend of desire and self-doubt, a key theme in the unfolding drama of Beauty Behind The Madness. This song lyrically bleeds with a rawness that is as intoxicating as the melody itself, allowing listeners to immerse themselves in the ocean of what is an intense, compelling narrative of regrettable love. As Tesfaye so eloquently articulates, love isn’t always beautiful, but its ugliness is what makes the experience worthwhile.

10 In The Night

Abel, in his characteristic falsetto, croons about her grappling with the ghosts of abuse – “He sang a song when he did it / He was cold and he was so unforgiving / Now she dances to the song on the minute / Yeah, all the time, all the time.” There’s heartrending depth in her resilience, her travails mirrored in her nightly dance – an escape, an exorcism. Here, The Weeknd’s lyrics eloquently bleed a paradox – the night, her captor and also her solace. Dancing, her chain and her liberation. And through our protagonist’s frayed experiences, we’re offered a glimpse into The Weeknd’s world, where wounds find redemption under the waning city lights.

11 As You Are

Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, known for his candor, beseeches acceptance despite the scars and flaws, a plea encapsulated succinctly in the lines: “Show me your broken heart and all your scars / Baby, I’ll take, I’ll take, I’ll take, I’ll take you as you are.” This is not a sugar-coated vision of romance, but an intimate confession of how he willingly embraces the pain love brings, a conscious choice reflected in the repeated proclamation, “Even though you break my heart, I’ma need you, I’ma need you, I’ma need you, yeah.” With this track, The Weeknd affirms that love’s strength often lies in its imperfections.

12 Dark Times

Features: Ed Sheeran

The stand-out line, “In my dark times, I’ll be going back to the street/Promising everything I do not mean,” captures the central paradox of the song, emblematic of the self-destructive cycle of addiction and regret. This line rings with a potent irony as it emphasizes the performative aspect of addiction – the false promises, the pretenses, and ultimately, the loneliness that ensues. In the relentless quest for hedonistic pleasure, the song confronts the contradiction of seeking love while acknowledging the impossibility of it in the given state, “This ain’t the right time for you to fall in love with me.” The track is an honest confession of those nights when only the unconditional love of a mother could blur the harsh reality.

13 Prisoner

Features: Lana Del Rey

Nestled within these raw confessions, the standout line, “I’m a prisoner to my addiction, I’m addicted to a life that’s so empty and so cold” echoes loud and harrowing. The introspective lyrics question the glamour and allure of Hollywood lifestyle, hinting at a desire for something genuine amidst the artificiality. Central to the tune’s resonance is a sobering acknowledgment of entrapment — in patterns, in decisions, despite their destructive ends. Musically, the track leans heavily into an airy, moody landscape, amplifying the lyrical narrative with a soundscape that’s both beautiful and remorsefully sad. A standout on ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’, “Prisoner” delves into the stark reality of grappling with one’s demons, unflinchingly laying bare The Weeknd’s intimate struggles.

14 Angel

With the lines – “I know what I am and the life I live, Yeah, the life I live, And even though I sin, we all want to live, But I know time will tell if we’re meant for this”, The Weeknd encapsulates his internal struggle, acknowledging his flawed nature and the life he leads. The song gives listeners a glimpse into his own introspection, revealing a keen sense of awareness of his failings and yearning for redemption. This is beautifully coupled with his vulnerable hopefulness in the recurring lines – “I hope you find somebody, I hope you find somebody to love.” In “Angel”, The Weeknd juxtaposes hope with heartbreak, delivering a poignant message on love and self-perception.

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