The Untold Truth Of The Weeknd

This article contains references to drug misuse.

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 his 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 people with severe substance misuse issues. 

Their monthly $850 rent was covered by their welfare checks and they shoplifted for food during the day. At night? "[It was ]'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 his 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 (via HuffPost) about the party at a Bel Air mansion with Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry in attendance. "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***, 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.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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.

The Weeknd co-wrote the HBO show The Idol

The Weeknd is clearly interested in all forms of art and storytelling. Rather than just creating music, the Weeknd is flexing his writing muscles in a new vein. For 2022, the singer teamed up with "Euphoria" creator Sam Levinson to create "The Idol," an HBO original series about a Hollywood love story between a fledgling singer and a cult leader. Even before it premiered, it had already created quite the buzz — and understandably so. 

The Weeknd stars as the main character — a charismatic cult leader moonlighting as a club owner. He stars alongside another famous face relatively new to the acting world, Johnny Depp's daughter, Lily-Rose Depp. However, this isn't the first time we've seen the Weeknd acting. The star made an appearance in the 2019 Josh Safdie film "Uncut Gems" (we know you read that in Julia Fox's voice), and he's done his fair share of voiceover work for shows like "The Simpsons" and "American Dad." "The Idol" provided relatively new territory, though, because, for the most part, the Weeknd had only ever acted as himself. With this HBO show he had a chance to showcase his wider skills as an artist, including his depiction of an original character. 

He received his own Halloween Horror Nights house

Though his music isn't ostensibly scary, the Weeknd's work is influenced by the horror genre, particularly the visuals that accompanied his fourth studio album, "After Hours." Because the Weeknd is a visionary, he likes to combine pieces of his work with other ventures — including theme parks like Universal Studios.

In Fall 2022, the musician received the honor of his own house at Halloween Horror Nights in Universal's Orlando and Hollywood parks. "The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare" turned the '80s throwback hit album into an immersive walk-through experience, complete with jump scares, bandaged brutes, and banging tunes. "I always wanted my own Halloween Horror Nights haunted house as Halloween has always been significant to my music," The Weeknd said in a press release published by Vibe. "So this is a total dream come to life. I feel like my music videos have served as a launching pad for a collaboration like this, and I cannot wait for people to experience this madness!"

If simply immersing oneself within a spookhouse rendering of the album wasn't enough for fans, they could also chug a tune or two at the After Hours Nightmare Bar featured at both parks. Featuring autumnal drafts and wine, the bar was also serving a signature peach boba cocktail called Save Your Tears, named for one of the singles off "After Hours."

The Weeknd has been connected to famous women

Given he's one of the most famous men in the world, it should come as no surprise that the Weeknd has been romantically linked to some of the most famous women in the world, too. For about three years, the Weeknd was involved with model Bella Hadid. Though the Weeknd refrained from commenting on their relationship at the time, Hadid told Glamour, "I'm dating Abel. I don't see him as The Weeknd. I'm proud of The Weeknd and the music he makes, but I really love Abel."

The Weeknd has commented on dating as a whole, though. In 2021, he told GQ that he feels bad when he dates women who aren't famous and they're forced to experience his fame by proxy. "I do feel guilty. For sure ... I just try not to bring attention to myself. And I just love being in normal situations, man. It's such a great feeling."

The Weeknd's primary form of communication is his music. In his 2022 album "Dawn FM," the singer alluded to dating a movie star in his song, "Here We Go... Again." Per Elle, listeners speculated that the lyrics, "Baby girl, she a movie star" are in reference to his rumored romantic relationship with actor Angelina Jolie, though neither party has confirmed they're together. The Weeknd also dated Selena Gomez for a short time, debuting as a couple at the 2017 Met Gala. However, their relationship did not last long after.

English isn't his first language

In addition to being a multi-talented artist, the Weeknd is multilingual. Per Variety, the singer was raised by his mother and his grandmother after his father left when the Weeknd was a toddler. The Toronto native told the outlet, "Ethiopian — Amharic — was the first language I learned to form sentences in because my grandma, who raised me with my mom, would not speak English. Because of television and being in Canada, I learned English too, but I went to French-immersion school, where you'd get in trouble for speaking English, and I couldn't speak it to my grandma, so it's almost like English is my third language, even though now it's my first."

Speaking to Rolling Stone, he revealed that Ethiopian singers like Aster Aweke, who sings in Amharic, influenced his singing style. Understandably, he also hasn't lost his great fondness for Ethiopian cuisine. "It's the best, man. But it's very fattening ... For an Ethiopian mother, if you have a chubby kid, it means you're doing something good."

The Weeknd confirmed that he speaks Amharic long ago in a 2013 Reddit AMA thread where he answered fans' questions. Here he also shared some of his inspirations, parts of his story, and artists he wanted to collaborate with at the time. The Weeknd, if you're reading this, we're still waiting on that Frank Ocean collaboration.

The Weeknd was arrested in 2015

The Weeknd stays out of controversy now, but that was not always the case. Back in 2015, the artist was arrested in Las Vegas for assaulting a cop. Per TMZ, the singer had to complete 50 hours of community service, undergo an anger management and alcohol evaluation, and pay $1,000 to an injured cop fund as penance.

"I was getting really, really tossed up and going through a lot of personal stuff. I got arrested in Vegas [for punching a police officer; he later pleaded no contest]. It was a real rock-star era, which I'm not really proud of. You hear sirens at the end the song — that's me in the back of the cop car, that moment," he told Variety of the incident, referring to the song "Faith" from his album "After Hours."

2015 wasn't all bad for the Weeknd, though. That same year he released his critically acclaimed album "Beauty Behind the Madness," which featured hits like "Can't Feel My Face," "The Hills," "In The Night," and "Earned It," among others.

He spent $7 million on his Super Bowl performance

In 2020, following the release of his fourth studio album "After Hours," which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, the Weeknd received another high honor when he was asked to headline the 2021 Super Bowl LV Halftime Show. It was a major ask as there were still restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the singer managed to deliver a show-stopping performance, nonetheless. 

The Weeknd remained tight-lipped prior to his performance, only answering a few questions. "Due to Covid and for the safety of the players and workers, we kind of built the stage within the stadium," he told Variety. "We're also using the field as well, but we wanted to do something that we've never done before." That "something" involved the musician performing within a disorienting mirror maze which understandably inspired a thousand memes

The Weeknd was so dedicated to doing something new that he put $7 million of his own money toward the performance, per Billboard. It paid off. His performance was so epic that his hometown named February 7 "The Weeknd Day" in Toronto, per HypeBeast. Now that is quite an honor.

The Weeknd first released music anonymously

When the Weeknd first released music, much of his appeal was his anonymity. He uploaded music to YouTube under his stage name and did not include any photos of himself. As he told The New York Times Magazine, while he was working at American Apparel, some of his coworkers listened to his music but were unaware that he was the artist behind it. It wasn't until 2011 that he attached his face to his music, as a featured artist on Drake's track, "Crew Love," before delivering his first performance at a club in Toronto. A year later he was the desire of nearly every major record executive.

Several executives attended a show of the Weeknd's in Los Angeles, all hoping to sign him to their respective labels. "I look to my left, it's the Interscope crew, the Atlantic crew, the Columbia crew. It was like the Five Families in one room," Monte Lipman, a Republic Records executive told The New York Times Magazine about the night. The Weeknd went on to sign with Republic. Fast-forward 10 years and the Weeknd is anything but anonymous. The Canadian singer was the sixth most streamed artist on Spotify in 2021, per Chart Data, and as of September 2022, he had nearly 79 million monthly listeners on the music streaming service.

The Weeknd is now sober lite

From the beginning of his career, the Weeknd has released music with overt themes of drug use. His first major hit, "Can't Feel My Face" is about cocaine. A fact he seemingly confirmed in his 2016 song "Reminder," with the lyric, "I just won a new award for a kids show, talkin' 'bout a face numbin' off a bag of blow," per Genius.

The Weeknd has noted that he was a heavy drug user as a teenager and in his early years of making music. However, as he told GQ, the singer has since changed his lifestyle a bit and is now, as he puts it, sober lite, which means light drug use and light drinking.

When asked if he drinks, the Weeknd responded, "I do. Occasionally. I'm not a heavy drinker, as much as I used to be. The romance of drinking isn't there." He added that although he smokes weed, he does not use heavy drugs anymore. "Drugs were a crutch. It was me thinking that I needed it. And not doing the work to figure out how not to need it. And I've spent the last for years realizing that and thanking God that I don't need it. Because for a lot of people, it's hard to shake it. But I knew I didn't want it."

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

He won't enter his music for Grammy consideration

The Weeknd has several awards under his belt, including multiple Grammy Awards. However, he will no longer put his hat in the ring for future accolades from the Recording Academy. 

When "After Hours" became one of the most critically favorable and commercially well-performing albums in 2020, many people, including other artists, thought the Weeknd would be a front runner for Grammy nominations. For instance, on his Instagram Stories (via The Economic Times), rapper and frequent collaborator, Drake wrote, "I said the Weeknd was a lock for either album or song of the year along with countless other assumptions." However, the Weeknd did not receive a single nomination for the 2021 awards selection despite being one of the most accomplished and popular artists in the qualifying year.

The Weeknd attributed the exclusion to secret committees within The Recording Academy and vowed to no longer submit his music for consideration for the awards. After the Academy fessed up to some potentially unfair practices, the Weeknd told Variety, "I remain uninterested in being a part of the Grammys, especially with their own admission of corruption for all these decades. I will not be submitting in the future." Despite the drama, the Weeknd won another Grammy in 2022. After collaborating with Kanye West on a track for his album, "Donda," "Hurricane" won Best Melodic Rap Performance. Not even the Weeknd can stop the Weeknd from winning.

His SNL performance inspired a meme

You're not famous until you've been on "Saturday Night Live." Or so it's said. The Weeknd has performed on the famed 30 Rock stage multiple times. But one of his most notable performances arrived off the tails of his 2020 album, "After Hours." The star performed his hits "Blinding Lights," and "Scared to Live," all while wearing his signature red blazer and bandages.

Although the performances were great, something else caught the attention of meme-enthusiasts across the internet. The host that week was James Bond, himself, Daniel Craig. As is "SNL" tradition, unless the host also acts as the musical guest, they'll introduce the musical guest. And Craig's introduction of the Weeknd was one of the best in the show's history. Or at least the most viral. As is customary, the British actor ushered in the Canadian musician's performance by stating, "Ladies and gentlemen, the Weeknd." However, his tone and inflection — like a man relieved to be clocking out of work for the week — amused viewers so much it spawned a meme with some impressive online durability.

Though the Weeknd himself hasn't acknowledged the buzzy clip, Craig has. In an interview with The New York Times, Craig admitted he had no idea about the viral trend, saying, "It's amazing. I don't know what that is, but thank you. That's lovely. I suppose I'd have to have social media to know what that was all about." Long live this incredible meme.

The Weeknd released the biggest song of all time

In 2015, The Weeknd told The New York Times that he wanted to become the biggest artist in the world, and by many standards, he did just that. In 2019, he released his single "Blinding Lights," and it soon climbed to the top of the charts. Per Billboard, the song spent 43 weeks in the top five, 57 weeks in the top 10, 86 weeks in the top 40, and 90 weeks on the Hot 100 chart. The track also spawned a viral TikTok dance

In late 2021, Billboard officially crowned it the number one song on the Greatest Songs of All Time Hot 100 chart. It was an unbelievable feat as the former number one, Chubby Checker's "The Twist," had been on top since 2008 and was originally released in 1960. Checker took pride in his accomplishment, and on his website claimed that nobody would dethrone him until 2065 — he's since updated it to reflect the change.

The Weeknd was already famous, but this major hit ascended him into new territory. "I don't think the success of 'Blinding Lights' has hit me yet. I try not to dwell on it too much. I just count my blessings, and I'm just grateful," he told Billboard about the achievement.

He created an NFT

The hype surrounding "Blinding Lights" arrived at the same time that internet buzz heightened around NFTs.  So, it was only right that the Weeknd commemorate his hit and make a little money in the process with his very own digital offering. As told by Investopedia, an NFT, or a non-fungible token, is a unique piece of art or music that is digitally created and held, and, as the name suggests, it cannot be transferred to another person. Users have to purchase NFTs with some form of cryptocurrency, making them even more exclusive and elusive to own.

The Weeknd's NFT was a collaboration with Strangeloop titled "Acephalous." The artist released multiple offerings, including a never-before-heard song, and held an auction. Per V, the set made $2 million in just 24 hours. 

Months later, the artist collaborated on another set of NFTs, this time with Billboard. Created in partnership with Autograph, the seven-piece set featured a variety of animated designs, including three trading cards inspired by the music video for "Blinding Lights." Billboard president Julian Holguin said of the venture,"The Weeknd's NFTs capture the excitement that 'Blinding Lights' inspires, and music fans and collectors alike will gravitate towards these NFTs and be proud to own them for years to come." 

The Weeknd has an incredible real estate portfolio

Over the course of his career, The Weeknd has been busy increasing his net worth. By September 2022, he'd amassed an impressive estimated fortune of $300 million. This has likely come from a variety of sources, including his record label XO Records, music sales, tour sales, merchandise, and his NFT sales, among others. Per Celebrity Net Worth, the Weeknd has sold more than 70 million records within the United States, which positions him as one of the wealthiest entertainers in the world.

So what's he doing with all that money? For one, he's investing in real estate. Per Architectural Digest, the Weeknd has owned a number of different places in the past decade, including a $20 million Hidden Hills estate, which he purchased in 2017. In 2021 he sold it to another wealthy entertainer — Madonna. The Weeknd also owned a $21 million penthouse in the Beverly West, which he then sold for $22.5 million just a year after the sale.

These days the Weeknd lives in a fabulous $70 million Bel Air mansion. The home is 33,000 square feet and boats insane features such as an infinity pool, home gym, movie theater, sauna, and, of course, a music studio. We're sure the Weekend has some epic (forgive us for this) weekends there.

He's got a special connection to Vegas

The Weeknd has special connections to places all over the world. That includes his hometown of Toronto, as well as Tampa Bay, Florida where he performed his Super Bowl show. He's also got a special connection to another town — Las Vegas. The Weeknd has mentioned the infamous city in his music multiple times, including his songs "Alone Again" and "Blinding Lights" from his album "After Hours," with lyrics stating, "In Vegas, I feel so at home," and "Sin City's cold and empty," respectively.

While on his After Hours til Dawn Tour, the Weeknd shared that he was particularly excited for his Vegas show by tweeting, "This town is the reason this whole 'After Hours' universe exists ... Tonight's a special one!" The Weeknd's "After Hours" universe existed while promoting his album, and it seemingly ended when he received the Billboard Music Award for Top Hot 100 Artist. Arguably the prominent feature of his After Hours era was his signature red jacket, which he wore in many of the album's music videos, to several red carpet appearances, and for his Super Bowl performance. While accepting his award, the Weeknd said, "I'd like to thank God that I don't have to wear that red suit anymore."

The Weeknd did don the jacket once more, though. To honor Las Vegas, the singer put on the blazer a final time to perform "Blinding Lights" while performing in the city, once again crediting the city for "After Hours."