10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Weeknd looks at the life of Abel Tesfaye who we all know as The Weeknd,a R&B megastar, multi-Grammy award winner, television producer, sportswear designer, screenwriter and occasional Hollywood film star. Wow! Since the singer’s meteoric rise back in 2012, music fans have clamored for information about Tesfaye’s self-confessed life of rock and roll excess. Over the years, he’s proved himself to be a remarkably talented musician – a master of many genres – and sent his hedonistic alter ego to the top of The Billboard Top 100 more than once. But what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to The Weeknd? What do we really know about the maestro with the misspelled name?
In this article, we explore 10 things you didn’t know about The Weeknd to help you get the skinny on this megastar.
# 1 – English Was Not His First Language
Most people know The Weeknd is from an Ethiopian family who emigrated to Toronto in the 1980s. The singer was born in Canada and still has a home there but, surprisingly, English wasn’t his first language. Up until the age of five, he spoke Amarhic – the mother tongue of Ethiopia – almost exclusively. On Reddit, in 2013, he explained that his mother worked long hours when he was a child so he spent long periods with his grandmother who spoke only Amharic in the house. “First language I learned”, he added, “until I was like five. No English”.
# 2 – He Dropped Out of School At 17
Following what’s been described as ‘a whim’, The Weeknd dropped out of high school and moved out of his mom’s house at the age of seventeen. By this point, he knew he wanted to make music but he didn’t have a clear plan and the decision strained their relationship for a time. Talking to the New York Times in 2015, he described what it was like to move out so spontaneously, saying it was clear his mother believed she’d failed him. She gave him the “worst look” as he and best friend La Mar Taylor threw his possessions into a van and headed for their one bedroom apartment.
#3 – The Drug Use In ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’ Was Real
The Weeknd’s second studio album ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’ caused a stir on its release due to its vivid descriptions of casual sex and recreational drug use. The musician admits his first years away from home were every bit as debauched as the album’s lyrics suggest. To survive, he stole food from local grocery stores, paid his rent with welfare checks and sold marijuana to make extra cash. He describes his life in Toronto as “the film Kids without the AIDS. No rules.” Without parental supervision, he and two roommates indulged in regular MDMA, Xanax, cocaine, mushroom and ketamine binges.
#4 – His Best Friend Released His First Songs to YouTube
Eventually, Tesfaye got himself a job at American Apparel. However, he continued to write songs inspired by his drug-fueled escapades and hoped to one day sell the rights to another musician. At this point in his life, he claims he took it for granted he would be a background artist (or even a film director) as he was “really shy”. Luckily for him, friend La Mar Taylor uploaded three of his tracks to YouTube in 2010 and, as they say, the rest is history.
#5 – His Coworkers Didn’t Know They Were Listening to His Music
In 2011, The Weeknd released three mixtapes – House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence – to critical acclaim online and from media outlets like The New York Times and Pitchfork. But it was until rapper Drake recommended the songs in a blog that things really started moving for Abel Tesfaye. He still finds it amusing knowing his coworkers at American Apparel had no idea the singer was him. He released these early tracks without a name or photo and would find himself anonymously folding shirts next to people who expressed their love for his music.
#6 – His Mysterious Persona Is More About Shyness Than Being Cool
Having witnessed The Weeknd’s explosive entry onto the world stage and subsequent rise through the charts (again and again), it’s difficult not to equate the musician with his larger-than-life onstage persona. But in his own words, he’s a shy person and deliberately obscured his identity to better cope with fame. He told Vanity Fair he initially hid his image because he “hated how [he] looked on camera” but the mystery worked to his advantage so he “ran with it as long as [he] could”.
#7 – He Refuses to Do Live TV Interviews Due to Shyness
Until 2013, The Weeknd refused to sit down for a media interview, preferring instead to communicate with fans via Twitter. When asked why, in his first interview with Complex, the singer opened up about feelings of anxiety and inferiority. “Me not finishing school”, he explained, “I still have this insecurity when I’m talking to someone educated”. In more recent interviews, he said he often feels he’s “the most boring person to talk to” and “would puke” if forced to do a live interview.
#8 – He Hated His Coachella Debut in 2012
The Weeknd lit up Coachella’s main stage in 2012 on his debut but has since confessed to feeling “scared s–tless” and being horrified when he watched his performance back later. He told Rolling Stone, “I thought I did good, then I watched the tape and it was a nightmare”. The musician recalls getting in touch with his agent and telling him to book “as many shows as possible. That guy is not a star”.
#9 – He’s the Proud Owner of Two Doberman Pinschers
In 2017, The Weeknd and then-girlfriend Selena Gomez decided to cement their relationship with a shared pet. They added a beautiful Doberman Pinscher called Caesar to their family which already included a younger Pinscher named Julius (okay, very witty guys) whom the singer owned before moving in with Selena Gomez. Though the couple has since split, Abel continues to dote on the pooches, revealing they have matching white dog houses at his home in Calabasas.
#10 – He Never Dreamed of Being an R&B Superstar
The Weeknd has said that even when he did entertain notions of being a musician, he never really imagined himself as an R&B star. When he was younger, he describes being entranced by punk legends such as Iggy Pop and Joey Ramone and imagined himself with similarly long hair, acne and a skinny frame. But he also says he’s always been open to personal evolution and he’s glad his career happened the way it did.