The Weeknd May Have Gone Major, But Insists: ‘I Didn’t Change’

It's all about the music, the singer says in videos he shared with MTV News.

He may have signed a deal with a major record label, finally spoke to the press and handed over the directing reins to the pros, but The Weeknd wants fans to know: He hasn’t changed. It’s still all about the music for the elusive, reclusive musician from Canada.

Abel Tesfaye first blipped onto the music world radar back in 2011 with a series of self-released albums, the first being the excellent House of Balloons. His identity was kept close to the vest at first, and Tesfaye resolutely turned down requests for interviews. He was a spectre then, a kind of great white hope in a world obsessed with image and money. He gave away his music for free and his face — well, we didn’t know Abel from Adam at first.

In recent years, however, Tesfaye started dabbling his toes in the mainstream, signing a deal with Universal Music Group, releasing his trio of mixtapes under the moniker Trilogy and finally, finally consenting to his first-ever interview before dropping his debut studio album, Kissland, Tuesday (September 10).

Still, Tesfaye wants fans to know he’s still the same music-obsessed mystery the world first met — or, rather, tried to meet — three years ago. Recently, The Weeknd and Co. sent MTV a series of video pieces — written and directed by Tesfaye, of course — that tell the story behind Kiss Land‘s creation, including a behind-the-scenes look at the making of his “Belong To The World” video.

While Tesfaye more or less directed all the videos made for the Trilogy album, this time around, he went with pros when it came to adding images to music.

“For Kiss Land I came up with a lot of cool visual ideas, but I left it all — I left all the directing to the professionals,” he said in the video, referring to VMA-nominated director Anthony Mandler, who directed “Belong To The World.

Still, he doesn’t see this as relinquishing control. “I really wanted to execute my vision and bring it to life,” he said. “I look at Trilogy as a learning experience and it makes it easier for me and the director to get the shots we intended.”

This evolution when it comes to his video-making style also extended to how he handled the writing process of Kiss Land. Tesfaye asserted in one of the videos that he hadn’t spent as much time on a project since House of Balloons — that he took his time to keep the new album fresh. “The production is pretty me asking myself constantly, ‘Did I do this?’ or ‘Have I used this formula before?’ ” he said. “‘Have I used similar sounds or have I used this arrangement before?”

Despite this willingness to grow and change when it comes to direction and songwriting, however, The Weeknd stresses that he has not changed — even if he has come out of his hidey-hole to execute interviews and personally call his fans.

“I feel like my fans will love Kiss Land because I didn’t change — it’s the same character, but in different settings and scenarios,” he said. “Once you’ve changed who you are or who you’ve portrayed in your music, the fans, they’ll catch it…. Once I feel like the world knows me for anything else but my music then I feel like I failed.”


Brenna Ehrlich is a reporter for MTV News as well as the senior writer/editor for the O Music Awards. In the past, she served as associate editor at Mashable, penned a netiquette column for CNN and co-authored the blog and book "Stuff Hipsters Hate." She likes trying not to die in moshpits and listening to songs on repeat. Follow her on Twitter @BrennaEhrlich for news on cats and punk bands.