There was something vaguely disappointing about seeing Abel Tesfaye appear on stage at London’s Electric Ballroom. A wide-eyed, puffa-jacket-clad figure isn’t what you expect from his enigmatic alter-ego ‘The Weeknd’ — it seemed incongruous that we should watch this self-styled introvert performing to an audience.
At 23 years old, Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd) has released three mixtapes, achieved eight million downloads and, this year, completely sold out his British shows. His reputation is growing as people are drawn in by his distinctive, falsetto tones. The Weeknd’s first online mixtape ‘House of Balloons’ and subsequent albums took the internet by storm. Now, with increasing popularity, his enigmatic internet presence is also filtering into interviews and live performances.
Five-foot one isn’t a great height to be when you’re at a gig — something I realised as I found myself drowning in a sea of the tallest men in the world. But when I finally fought my way to the front of the crowd, Tesfaye’s quality as a live performer was mesmerising. His incomparable voice, straining with emotion, was wholly captivating. Yet perhaps it’s a voice that can be appreciated even more in the quiet of your own company. It’s reflective and intense; as he once jokingly observed, ‘I make good music for long journeys.’
There’s no denying Tesfaye’s talent. But there’s also something about its hypnotic fragility that’s slightly spoilt by the glittering of iPhones in your face and the raucous chanting of the audience. It’s a pity to have to focus on anything other than the music.