As a man, I am often wrong about a lot of things. As a yoruba man with an aries placement, I am frequently LOUD and wrong about a lot of things. It is a blessing and nuisance, but I am willing and open to reconsideration, 7 out of the 10 times.
Look, nobody had it all figured out in 2012. Only memories of silly bands and Kony have survived the repression. That, and this weirdly strong opinion that the Weeknd’s 2013 debut album Kissland was terrible, not just his worst album but an objectively bad collection of songs.
We should normalize the concept that all music isn’t for every you. Not even every person, but the thousands of versions of ourselves we go through over our lives. Many times, I find that an album I didn’t care for turns into an album I wasn’t in the right headspace with subtle distance time tend to lend memory.
It’s perfectly fine to come back to an album that you weren’t emotionally ready for when it released. And so, following a routine intense music discussion with my roommate, I decided to spend a night giving Abel and his synth-dripped and haze-induced first project the second chance it deserved.
I would like to direct the people’s attention to the song “Pretty” for the rest of this TED talk but I seriously suggest you give this entire album another listen, with a heart a bit more aged, an ear more in tune with the vision Abel and XO set out to expose from where there were only shadows shuffled in smoke trails.
“Pretty”, the 8th track on Kissland & the album’s fifth single, finds Abel at his darkest, brim with vengeance over his girlfriend’s infidelity while he’s been out on the road. The production, like most of the album, is meandering and spacey, a kick thumps and rings deep into the abdomen, a heavy kind of pulse as the Weeknd chillingly plots her (& her lover’s) death. It be like that sometimes. We hear Abel in the hook crying:
“And he can’t make you feel this pretty
No, he won’t make you feel this beautiful”
But I always hear something more here, you heard it too right? There’s rage & vitriol, but also a bit of pleading. No, he won’t make you feel as beautiful as I do. No, he can’t make you feel pretty like I can. When you watch the official video [tw for yazuka violence and naked asian women], it’s hard not to mistake Abel’s cold demeanor as he creeps through a blue-grey Toronto for someone who isn’t simply lost and confused. A 23 year old african kid disassociating because life is moving too fast and shit is getting out of hand all the time, all at once. Or maybe it’s hard not to project that, idk.
You would also notice in the video something else. The Weeknd has always been that nigga. Not only musically, but visually choking us in the good way. For a ‘debut’ artist, to be able to pull off the special effects during the climax scene (and that shit is a SCENE) in 2012?? It was truthfully probably on par with whatever Fast & Furious sequel they made that year.
XO’s, Abel’s label imprint with Republic Records, biggest key to Tesfaye’s success is that they’ve gone for character depth over aesthetic range. The Weeknd is his own specific popstar, much different from the jack-of-all-trades Drake, and he likes it that way. The greatest finesse the Weeknd ever pulled was “coming out of anonymity” only to become one of music’s greatest performance artists. He showed us his face, but we only know him through his characters.
And all that started with Kissland. Kissland is, at its core, is a character study. I remember hearing Abel talk to Complex during the album rollout, a short yet forever-sounding 7 years ago, he spoke a lot about how “Kiss Land symbolizes the tour life, but it’s a world that I created in my head.” Kissland is a cold and wet depiction of the world told by a narrator whose head has been caught heaving in a toilet on too many nights. Thrilled and tired with fame, Kissland is a turbulent journey through the eyes of an early popstar, without any filters.
It’s the effortless way in which the Weeknd built this cohesive yet eclectic soundscape of ambient noise and Phil Collins drums at this early stage in his career that reminds me, greatness happens in stages, not all at once.
Listen, there are plenty of hiccups on this project. I wasn’t crazy for not being a fan. Most of the songs were too long, many of them freestyled with little sense of direction and there’s only so many times you can vibe to 3 minute bridges. “Adapation” was great, but too long to ever be sad enough to run back; “Live For” was overplayed in the day and honestly was a C-tier Drake verse. The entire project certainly wasn’t as adventurous as the Triology that came before it or any project that came after it. It was more or less a continuation of Echoes of Silence. Not in a good or bad way, it just was.
However, I enjoy the idea of an artist showing their work, being able to listen to a project again with some distance & sense the bread crumbs scattered with aid of hindsight. It’s encouraging to think of the artist as a scientist going through experiment after experiment, tinkering away at some ideal. It reminds me that getting better, in any regard, is not an event nor a destination but a process, & even when you think an idea fails, it never does. It’s just part of the process.
About the writer:
Tayo Omisore is a Nigerian-American rapper, writer, and filmmaker, whose work has appeared in AFROPUNK, The Diamondback, BlackNerdProblems, and Button Poetry, among others. Tayo is the Founder and Creative Director of Blackburb Media; a POC driven creative agency whose mission is to Empower, Educate, and Entertain through the power of Empathy. Avid Romcom watcher. Lover of Blues and Yellows.
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