Outside of music, The Weeknd appears to be a man of few words whose identity seems to be as somber his latest album title. His career, however, is much more colorful. His accolades include a collection of Grammy Awards and a spot on the cover of Forbes, amounting to the perfect balance between art and business.
But peeling back the layers to understand how exactly the Toronto native became such a worldwide phenomenon is an alluring thought.
HE EMBRACED THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
“Can’t nobody stop us, used to be homeless, now that penthouse at the Ritz where my home is,” The Weeknd sings on Rick Ross’ “In Vein.”
Though he may never have pay for a dollar menu meal in coins again, he doesn’t forget the times that shaped him. During the promotion of his debut album Kiss Land, The Weeknd opened up a phone line for fans to call him. Those who did receive a message of appreciation from the singer: “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be able to make music. From being homeless to traveling the world in such a short time, it made me realize I’ll never stop growing, and I do it all for you.”
HE UNDERSTANDS BRAND CONSISTENCY
The Weeknd has made a lucrative career being pop’s man of mystery. His woeful melodies have worldwide appeal, so much so that he was able to snag a Kids’ Choice Award nomination for “I Can’t Feel My Face,” a song about being high off cocaine.
Nonetheless, album rollouts appear to consist of calculated, often stripped away from frills or gimmicks. Even his social media presence is an extension of his reserved demeanor.
HE CAPITALIZED ON THE FREEMIUM MODEL
In 2011, The Weeknd released three mixtapes for free. Though the mixtapes were later re-released as the triple-disc album Trilogy, he explains, “I really wanted people who had no idea who I was to hear my project,” he said in an interview with Forbes. “You don’t do that by asking for money.”
Though the decision may have prevented an immediate ROI, it paid off handsomely in the years following. In 2017, he earned $92 million and parlayed 5.5 billion streams into an estimated $75 million touring advance.