It’s Weeknd “Mania,” whether you like it or not. With his new album set to drop on November 25th, he’s plastered his face, along with his new brand, everywhere. With big budget videos, clothing lines with Puma, and pop-up shops arriving in cities around the world, it’s quite clear that The Weeknd is one of the biggest stars of today’s mainstream music.
If you’ve been a fan of his music since his mixtape days, you’ve watched the evolution of Abél Tesfaye. When he began his career, he was a promiscuous, outspoken young man, with a R&B voice that could almost mimic the legendary Michael Jackson. The Scarborough born Tesfaye sang about long nights of drug abuse, over-sexualization, and apathy towards commitment. His debut album Kiss Land was not suited for the mainstream and a real piss-off to the record label who had signed him. However, after they threw a bunch of money at the problem, and brought in pop-machine producer Max Martin, The Weeknd became the music industry’s biggest rising star.
Even as a loyal Weeknd fan, it’s hard to deny that Beauty Behind the Madness was a strong album. Songs like “Tell Your Friends,” “The Hills,” and of course, “Can’t Feel My Face,” are pop-R&B hits that undoubtedly will get stuck in your head. But there was a distinct change in his sound and lyricism that just didn’t fit with the image we Trilogy fans knew and loved. Had The Weeknd sold out?
Now Tesfaye has chopped off the infamous “pineapple” hair, donned an expensive leather jacket and re-vamped his image in attempt to prove to us he’s still the badass that trolled Queen Street as a young adult. Part of this new look involves the release of his short film, MANIA. The film, which runs for a total of 12 minutes, was written by and stars The Weeknd, along with his female companion, Anais Mali, and his Leopard, Murphy. The video’s soundtrack is a compilation of songs from Starboy, including “Party Monster,” and “I Feel It Coming.” The rest of the tracks are snippets of songs that have yet to be released. The first two singles, “Starboy” and “False Alarm,” did not make the film.
The movie begins with the Leopard sitting on a platform in a completely white room, a not so subtle reminder of his latest deal with Puma. We watch him for a few moments until the scene cuts, and we’re high up on the mountain side at sunset watching The Weeknd drive one of his luxurious new cars. As the Starboy drives along a winding road, and night falls around him, he sings about his Queen street days, tough exterior and his inability to be replaced in the music scene. When he finally arrives at his destination, we see a sketchy back alley entrance to a club, to which the singer promptly enters, hiding his identity under a baseball cap.
When he arrives in the club, it’s a full on dance party with pretty girls, groovy beats, and the blue and red lights that dominate The Weeknd’s new album colour scheme. The focal point of the room is a tall and beautiful woman dancing on a platform. Tesfaye is mesmerized by her, and the two are drawn together like magnets. They begin to slow dance with each other to one of The Weeknd’s new tracks. In the corner of the room, there is a strange looking man intently watching them dance together.
Oblivious of the man’s presence, Abél finds his way to the bathroom. As he washes himself up, the man sneaks up behind him and pulls out a switch blade. Ready to attack The Weeknd, the singer is saved by what sounds like his Leopard. The villain is brutally slaughtered, and Tesfaye is left with blood splattered all over him. When the camera turns to face his saviour, we see the girl rather than the Leopard. Now both soaked in blood, the couple returns to the dance floor.
The film ends in the white room where it first began, but instead of the leopard on the platform, it is Tesfaye and Mali. Still coated with blood splatters, The Weeknd dances around his girl. As “I Feel It Coming,” plays, the credits roll out.
Whether it is an attempt to display his ability to stay shocking and scandalous, or a promo stunt to get fans excited about the album’s release this Friday, MANIA is at best, mildly entertaining. The film plays out like an extended music video that doesn’t follow any real story line. As a ploy to get fans anxious to hear his new music, the film serves its purpose. Now intrigued by the songs I heard only parts of, I look forward to hearing the full versions of them.
But has The Weeknd won back his Trilogy-style street cred he boasted about at the beginning of the video? Hardly. It’s time to accept the singer as a pop-star, rather than an underground post-R&B artist. At least his prayers for cars have come true.
Watch MANIA here: