Rising Above Hype: The Weeknd and Modern Music Promotion


The Weeknd at the Ultra Music Festival, 2013. 


The Internet sensations of today are not necessarily tailored toward mainstream expectations. They lack the spotlight experience of Beyoncé or even something like Drake’s name-making stint on “Degrassi.” Developing their art online made it difficult for these artists to translate their skills onstage, in real time.

Although ill fit for overnight success, these musicians were thrust into the spotlight due to pressure from hounding record labels. Then there is the fact that their fans just craved more, so they felt indebted to put out new material, and denounced when they failed to deliver. Thus, it is easy for these artists to get caught up in the hype machine.

The digital era has significantly affected the politics of the music industry and the way artists are managed. People are not consuming music the same way, so it makes sense that promotion tactics should be switched up as well. This can either make or break a rising star’s career.

Artists like Sky Ferreira, Cassie and JoJo have faced incessant record label drama. They have released EPs and mixtapes, but have struggled to put out full-length albums. This is often due to internal disputes within record labels, like Capitol Record’s controversial merger with Virgin Records. Other times, the immense hype that surrounds these projects actually stunts their progression, placing artists in Music Industry Limbo.

Meanwhile, other Internet-famous celebs did a great job botching their own careers.

Lana Del Rey’s legendary misfire of an SNL performance should haunt her for the rest of her life, but she has managed to grow from the experience, transforming her music career into a success story.

And then there is Azealia Banks, the Harlem-born rapper who burst onto the scene in late 2011 with “212.” Even after a successful mixtape and EP, she has yet to release an actual full-length debut. Waiting too long to capitalize on her hype has unfortunately stunted interest in her music. It also does not help that Banks has become more known for her excessive Twitter beefs than her long-delayed debut.

The Weeknd’s rise to fame was considerably less turbulent than his contemporaries.

The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, swiftly became a darling of the Internet World. Tesfaye crept onto the scene with vocals that hovered with an eerie aimlessness, challenging Michael Jackson’s unmatched tenor.

The Weeknd introduced us to his darkly-tinged R&B back in 2011 with the first of 3 mixtapes, “House of Balloons.” As free downloads, these mixtapes were seen as gifts to the Internet world.

Fast-forward two years and The Weeknd has become a full-fledged leader in a new wave of R&B artists, but his identity was just as hazy as his slow jams. Tesfaye’s identity was completely unknown, and in a visual-driven world, this seems like a hard act to sell.

Yet nothing was the same once industry titans like Drake took notice. In fact, The Weeknd’s narcotized exploration into party culture has noticeably rewritten the blueprint for both R&B and pop music.

It seems the mystery that enshrouded The Weeknd actually worked in his favor. The less we knew about him, the more we wanted to know. The guy is so devoted to his enigmatic persona that he did not even do his first interview until last July, when Complex interviewed him for their cover story. Regardless, Tesfaye’s less-is-more approach to music promotion has done him well.

His debut LP, “Kiss Land,” which was released last week, is a cinematic R&B soundscape, launching the genre in a direction it rarely aims. “Kiss Land” invites listeners deeper into Tesfaye’s realm of sadcore R&B with no promise of escape. Many critics have panned the album for that very reason, but it is this sense of claustrophobia and trepidation that slyly traps listeners.

And with repeated listens, the strange lushness of “Kiss Land” unfolds, proving The Weeknd is no longer just an artist to listen to on Youtube––he has risen above the hype, becoming a tastemaker in a scene swarming with imitators.