Toronto’s 50 Most Influential: #18, The Weeknd
Our annual ranking of the people whose smarts, connections and clout are changing the city as we know it
18 Toronto’s music scene has long been dominated by indie rockers. Drake shook things up when his emo-rap went international, and now the Weeknd’s moody, chart-busting R&B has completed the transformation. Suddenly, nascent rappers and crooners from the GTA have local heroes to emulate, and the Scarborough native—real name Abel Tesfaye—is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. He started releasing music in 2010, but it was only this year that he achieved monster commercial success. It kicked off in January with his international smash single “Earned It” for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, which has spent 43 weeks and counting on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number three. He won artist of the year at the Junos in March, and in the summer, New York Times Magazine published a glowing profile anointing him the new king of pop. The article coincided with the release of his album Beauty Behind the Madness. It topped the charts for three weeks and has sold over a half-million copies, making it the second most successful launch of 2015, only behind Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The album’s hit songs included the irrepressibly joyful “Can’t Feel My Face”—lip-synched by Tom Cruise on the Tonight Show—and “The Hills,” which Tesfaye performed with Nicki Minaj on Saturday Night Live. He kicked off his worldwide tour with homecoming concerts in early November at the ACC.
Friends in High Places:
Kanye (who produced a track on the Weeknd’s album), Taylor Swift (who brought him on stage for a duet), Drake.