“Die with a smile, don’t show the world how alone you’ve become.” ~ Abel Tesfaye
One of the most polarizing artists of the 2010’s, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, has taken the world by storm, on multiple occasions. With some of his back-then niche master-created pieces of art from the beloved “Trilogy” era, to his large breakout hit ‘The Hills’ off his “Beauty Behind The Madness”, to his slow-burning classics from Starboy, to now at his peak popularity with “After Hours”, Abel has not shown any sign of slowing down. The burning passion in his music is insurmountable, surpassing expectations every few years. His music-creation ability is nothing short of astonishing. His deep dark past makes his uprising much more interesting and just comes to show that effort is such a large driving force coming up from nothing to one of the largest musicians of all time. With Abel’s extensive past, and his bright future, he decided to compile some of his best tracks of all time onto the mega compilation “The Highlights”.
There’s not much more you can ask for with this compilation. It has everything that The Weeknd is known for and collectively his best “album” yet. To keep this paragraph brief, I’ll just get right into it. This will be a large breakdown of each of these extremely detailed and powerful tracks. All 18 of the tracks. To preface this, I’ve been putting off this review for quite a while. I started working on the review around a month ago, to come out after my 1k follower review around 2 days later, but I could not finish it. Anyways, here it is, and I’m back to AOTY.
We start off with the upbeat sweet-sounding “Save Your Tears”, a deceptive track in it’s sound with a much more melancholic subject matter. Sulking over a lost love, or even multiple. Past relationships, recollecting himself and looking into the memories of the lover that they probably have forgotten as they’ve clearly moved on. A synth-heavy, 80’s esque track, unique as it’s one of the darkest tracks of the album. I’ve really liked to compare this to many other tracks that follow the same path with the deceiving nature, and I found it unique to what it is due to the sheer popularity and how it is a mainstream song.
Kicking off with “Save Your Tears” might’ve been a lot, but then we transition into one of my personal favorites of the artist, “Blinding Lights”. To really appreciate the immense amount of quality of this song and how truly great it is, you must take a break from it. “Blinding Lights” was the biggest song of 2020 by a long-shot and definitely the most memorable due to just how good it is, but also in a negative way from the amount of times you hear it. The inescapable 80’s synth heavy treasure although overplayed, still is an amazing track. The visuals for the music video completely explain the subject matter, substance abuse, gambling, Vegas, you can catch what I’m saying. Another light-hearted sounding song, with a deeper meaning to uncover. “Blinding Lights” might be an overplayed one, but it’s still a relic, and will be looked back on as a classic.
“In Your Eyes”, another continuation of the 3 track run-on from 2020’s “After Hours”, brings in one of my favorite bits of production in the whole album. With the blaring saxophone solo, Abel’s beautiful vocals, and catchy chorus, there’s nothing to hate about this song. It displays Abel in a vulnerable state, and not really showing himself as the central role of the song. Speaking more on the lover more than his own feelings. A stand-out, but not enough to really dig deep down into.
The first three tracks are now over, and we finally transition into a different era of The Weeknd, Beauty Behind The Madness, his breakout era. “Can’t Feel My Face” is the first one up, a track seemingly from an outsider's perspective without deep thought, would think as a love song, but is a song about drug addiction, referring “she” as a drug. This track is one of my first outlets to Abel’s music so it’s very near and dear to my heart. A pop classic, heavily influenced by pop legend Michael Jackson. The song although being years old, still would hold up to today’s standards.
We now quickly transition into another era of Abel’s music, the Starboy era, which occurred just right after Beauty Behind The Madness. We start off with the collaboration with the legendary French electronic duo, Daft Punk, “I Feel It Coming”. This song in specific was one of my favorite songs of 2016. The groovy disco pop song, with one of Abel’s most catchiest choruses ever. This was not the last time he collaborated with the great duo, in the same album and coincidentally coming after this track, there was “Starboy”, lead single to the album sharing the same name. Starboy. A man who has sex with many women.. a.k.a eliiscool5.. I mean… the song! The braggadocious track leaves a lot to love. Maybe not one of his more experimental or best sounding tracks, but is still solid and holds up well, and I’ll never not ask for a Daft Punk song. Anyways, Quet, “I Feel It Coming” is NOT the best Weeknd track, sorry.
The mass majority of Abel’s music doesn’t contain features, notably his last project not having any, but when he does collaborate with artists, they seem to meld together way too well. You may think Daft Punk and Abel matched really well, but there are many different instances of this, next being “Pray For Me” featuring one of the greatest rappers of all time, Kendrick Lamar. From an outsider's perspective, knowing both artists' musical style, you’d think there wouldn’t be much chemistry but there is. They bounce off each other very well, and they stand their own throughout the track. This can be said the same for the song “Love Me Harder” with one of the biggest pop stars right now, Ariana Grande. More or less dominated by Ariana, Abel still holds his own and provides a great performance. A majestic lovely sounding pop banger. Abel with his features proves to many that he has a wide range and a very versatile artist. Just him being himself, a great R&B artist, can mix with heavier pop tones and hip hop, throw him into anything, and he can sound amazing. In my opinion, I think he shines better by himself, but these songs are no doubt a treat.
What is something we truly need? Oh yeah, a predecessor to the braggadocious “Starboy”, is “Heartless” good enough to live up to it? Stylistically different, but subject-matter clearly reminiscent. Nowhere near the quality of “Starboy” but it’s semi (keyword semi) silly nature to it with the sickening twist is something I loved. This was the lead single to his best officially released “album” yet, a start to something new, and an album that keeps me wondering for what’s next. Although a weak point for this whole compilation, it’s still a breath of fresh air and a track I love.
One of the less subtle songs about it’s subject matter is “Often”, really going straight to the point with it’s lyrics. Other than the blunt lyricism, this song is great. The production is absolutely immaculate, it’s simplistic but sophisticated at the same time. Bounces off his vocals very well and the increasingly crescendoing keys throughout the final chorus was just a treat to listen to. After this song dropped, Abel’s career was ready to propel to the stratosphere, with his breakout hit…
“The Hills”. My first introduction to the artist. One of the biggest songs of the decade. Due to the nostalgia factor, and really my first introduction to my favorite genre of R&B. This opened a new door of music to me, which at the time I was just a kid hooked on mainstream pop music. “The Hills” broke the norms of music that I heard at the time, and completely rerouted my interest in music. It gave depth to better and more substance filled music. It led me on a path to find actual good qualities in music, and to not really settle for mediocre. “The Hills” is undoubtedly a masterpiece. By no means it’s his best sounding songs, but it’s a song I truly owe a lot to. It deserves all of the popularity it got, it deserved to be his breakout hit, and Abel definitely deserves the recognition he got from it. As much as it was played, it still holds it’s quality to today’s standards.
There’s one Weeknd era that’s often forgotten. Not that it was terrible per say, it had its moments, but never really seemed to shine. But, there was one shining track, arguably containing one of Abel’s best vocal performances yet, “Call Out My Name” was its name. “Call Out My Name” is a track off Abel’s 2018 EP “My Dear, Melancholy”, an EP that didn’t really leave much to impress, besides this amazing track. Simplistic and basic as the beat is, the vocal performances carry this into heights that I never knew The Weeknd was able to get to. He goes all out with this song, and really shows his raw talent. He didn’t need this production with lots of depth and detail, he just needed his own voice. This really displays some of his ability the best out of all of the songs on this album. I’d say this song is mostly forgotten just due to where it landed on, but it’s an essential listen in his discography.
Upcoming in the track list is the lovestruck banger, “Die For You” off ‘Starboy’. A song over feelings and pain over a person he has feelings for, but clearly it is an unrequited love relationship. An extremely passionate song about love, with the strong synth based production. A song I believe mixes pretty well with this song coincidentally comes right after it, “Earned It”. Sonically, not the same, but the passion in love for another woman is clear. One of my favorite production styles for any type of music is displayed here… an orchestral instrumental. A memorable performance from the artist, but not one of the standouts I really think of when I think of him. Nevertheless, an amazing track.
The last 4 tracks are some of his most atmospheric sounding tracks yet, which I’ll be combining them into one paragraph, excluding the last song. We’re now at a point with no return. No silly subtle flexing, no happy 80’s esque beats, we’re now in the deep dark trenches of Toronto, Canada. The upbringing of the artist, back to his roots. Before we get there, we start off with “Acquainted”, the highly immersive track that ends off the ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’ era of this compilation. Angelic sounding, calming, loving as it is. Really delving into the relationship struggle of Abel, not really finding love, but something platonic. Poetic as it is, it’s not the best of the 3 to come. Next is “Wicked Games”, officially going into the past of Abel. The critically acclaimed ‘House of Balloons’ era. “Wicked Games” is a power ballad that is similar to “Acquainted” due to the subject matter being about unrequited love. This is a song that really touches your soul. “The Morning” is the light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel was too far out of reach. You fall down a hole before reaching the end, what are you left with?
“Thought I almost died in my dream again, fighting for my life I couldn’t breathe again.”
He tries to escape, he tries to leave, he reminisces over the past, he thinks about what he’s taken for granted, he’s fallen in too deep. But he wakes up in hijinks of the streets and alleyways of the beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada, it’s beauty can be heard from just miles away, and seen for even more of the arrays of light and boisterous sounds in the distance. But it’s not all of the beauty as it seems. There’s always madness behind the beauty of anything. “After Hours” begins, his best song of all time. I may receive flack for this one, but “After Hours” is my personal favorite and sonically his best sounding song ever. The illustrious power ballad never seems to disappoint me. It perfectly encapsulates all of Abel’s music. Using his notable falsetto, speaking on relationships, using the immersive R&B factor from his past while also coming into a new form. This song was the greatest end possible to end off his whole discographies highlights. What intrigues me a lot is rather than sulking over the lost love, he sends out an apology for his transgressions, and completely left over expectations to his normal subject matter. This song is no doubt his best song for me, and one of my favorite songs of all time.
Wow… what a wild ride. Listening to this album is just delving into the past, picking through the best moments of one of my favorite artist’s full discography, and feeling pure bliss throughout the whole way. The way it’s formulated you keep going in and out of nostalgia to now, and overall feeling insanely satisfied. “The Highlights” is a reminder, a reminder of the success, talent, and fulfillment from the artist. It completely reminded and or reignited the initial love I had for him before. Being introduced to him years and years ago, and now being reminded of the good memories of before. Abel proves himself time and time again as one of the most unique and versatile artists of the decade, and probably more to come. Changing up his style every project, but showing he can prosper in each style. A true talent spark in the business, and one of the best artists in the mainstream right now. “The Highlights” is no doubt Abel’s best collection of songs yet, and forever will be, because it’s just the best.
Favorite Tracks: Every. Single. One.
Least Favorite Track: N/A