After years of toiling in Canada, The Weeknd drew critical acclaim (and Drake’s attention) in 2011 with his debut mixtape House of Balloons. Four years later, he was dominating the radio and streaming services with his mega-hits “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills.”
He then parlayed his newfound success into a high-profile, but ill-fated romance with Selena Gomez, followed by an on-again-off-again thing with model Bella Hadid. Not one to give a ton of interviews, the Melancholy artist’s persona is as mysterious as his music. But he doesn’t want you to get that impression. “People always say when they meet me that I’m not what they expect. I assume they think I’m this super dark and depressing guy, but I like to channel all of those emotions into my work. I’m pretty laid-back in real life,” he told Vanity Fair in 2015, adding, “I just love hanging with my friends and making jokes. The jokes don’t stop — literally, all day.”
So what else do we know about this Canadian hitmaker? Let’s take a brief trip through the untold truth of The Weeknd.
Dropping out of high school influenced The Weeknd's stage name
How does one decide on calling oneself The Weeknd? Well, during a 2013 Reddit AMA, the singer-songwriter born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye explained he came up with the name after — wait for it — one fateful… weekend.
“I left home when I was about 17 dropped out of high school and convinced La Mar [Taylor, Tesfaye’s best friend] to do the same lol. We grabbed our mattresses from our parents threw it in our friend’s sh***y van and left one weekend and never came back home,” he wrote. “It was gonna be the title of HOB. I hated my name at the time though so I tried it as a stage name.”
The “Starboy” singer said the name “sounded cool,” but there was just one problem: “I took out the ‘e’ because there was already a Canadian band named the weekend (copyright issues),” he revealed. But don’t see his dropping out of high school as him endorsing it. “I’m not trying to inspire people to drop out of school or leave home at 16 or 17,” he told Time. “It’s just something that — it’s who I am.”
Things got bad after The Weeknd left home
“The worst look anyone could ever have,” The Weeknd said of his mother’s disapproving gaze when he made the decision to drop out of high school (via The New York Times). “She looked at me like she had failed.” But he left anyway. According to the publication, The Weeknd, his bestie La Mar Taylor, and another friend left their suburb and rented a one-bedroom apartment in the Parkdale neighborhood of Toronto that he claims was largely inhabited by “students and crackheads.”
Their monthly $850 rent was covered by their welfare checks and they shoplifted for food during the day. At night? It was the movie “Kids without the AIDS,” Tesfaye said, clarifying, “No rules.” And they did any drug they could get their hands on including “MDMA, Xanax, cocaine, mushrooms, ketamine.” The trio eventually got evicted and The Weeknd had to get creative in finding places to stay. “There was, like, three girls that thought legit that I was their boyfriend,” he said.
He then found a job at American Apparel and began writing songs. The rest, as they say, is history.
A possibly drunk Taylor Swift was obsessed with The Weeknd's hair
The Weeknd’s trademark Jean-Michel Basquiat-inspired dreadlocks are gone now, but in 2015 they were part of a signature look. And during a Grammys afterparty that year, a possibly drunk Taylor Swift couldn’t stop fawning over them. “Everyone was hammered,” The Weeknd told Rolling Stone about the party at a Bel Air mansion with Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry in attendance (via HuffPo). “Unfortunately, that was the one month I decided to stop drinking. Everybody was having a great time, all these cool things were happening, and I was shaking, like — ‘F**k, I really want a drink.'”
Then Taylor Swift walked up. “The whole time she was talking, she was kind of, like, petting my hair? I think she was just drawn to it — she must have been a little gone off a few drinks,” he said. “And of course I’m not going to be like, ‘Hey, can you stop?’ I mean, it felt good! But when she started petting my hair, that’s when I was like, ‘I definitely need a drink.'” So an allegedly inebriated Taylor Swift forced The Weeknd to break his sobriety? We need a song about that.
The Weeknd is a quiet philanthropist
Although some might describe his music as depressing, The Weeknd’s hope for the world certainly is not. He has used his influence and bank account to support numerous causes and initiatives to help those in need. In 2016, he donated $50,000 to the University of Toronto to help establish an Ethiopic Studies program. The following week, he donated $250,000 to Black Lives Matter.
In 2017, he donated $100,00 to a maternity and children’s medical facility in Uganda. Three years later, he stepped up more, donating $500,000 that was split between “Black Lives Matter Global Network, Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp and National Bail Out (via Billboard). “Keep supporting our brothers and sisters out there risking everything to push for actual change for our black lives,” he wrote on Instagram of the causes, adding, “Urging everyone with big pockets to give and give big and if you have less please give what you can even if it’s a small amount.”
And after Beirut, Lebanon was rocked by a devastating explosion, the “Can’t Feel My Face” singer donated $300,000 to the Global Aid for Lebanon (via Complex). That same month, he held an interactive concert on TikTok that raised $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit that is dedicated to ending mass incarceration.
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