Does Abel Tesfaye ever sleep?
Judging by the hectic pace of his life these past few months for the 32-year-old, Toronto-born superstar sensation known as The Weeknd, one would have their doubts.
Aside from being knee deep in rehearsals in Philadelphia for “After Hours til Dawn” — a multi-year, worldwide, stadium-filling extravaganza that was supposed to kick off its 19-date first leg at the Rogers Centre on Friday, until the cross-Canada Rogers outage intervened — Tesfaye has also been filming the six-episode HBO series “The Idol,” of which he’s the star, co-writer and co-creator with “Euphoria” director Sam Levinson and producer/writer Reza Fahim.
In fact, once he had kicked off the tour — which according to a Variety story has already grossed $100 million on sales of more than 700,000 tickets — he was expecting to immediately jump on a plane to wrap filming in L.A in the six days between his Toronto and Philadelphia gigs.
That’s not all: The Weeknd also dropped his bestselling album “Dawn FM” this year.
And he subbed in at the last minute at Coachella for its two consecutive April weekends, appeared in an episode of “The Simpsons” and scored a huge eight-figure deal in April with Republic Records/Universal Music Group, which encompasses recordings, music publishing, merchandise and video.
Other career numbers? More than 75 million albums sold and collective streams, according to Chartmasters.org, at 32.6 billion — fourth best in the world. The Weeknd also has 75.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify and last year broke chart records with “Blinding Lights,” which spent 90 weeks on the “Billboard Hot 100” and was declared the No. 1 song of all-time.
Along the way, he’s picked up more than 140 awards and accolades, and more than 400 nominations — including seven Junos, membership in the Canadian Walk of Fame, a 2016 Academy Award nomination for Best Song for “Earned It,” an Emmy nomination for performing at the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show and — dare we say it — four Grammy Awards.
Then there’s his philanthropy: The Weeknd is a recipient of the Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award and has been appointed United Nations World Food Program Global Goodwill Ambassador. He’s also secured a tour sponsorship from blockchain ecosystem Binance to help him provide $2 million to the XO Humanitarian Fund, along with $1 from each ticket sold going to the fund, resulting in another several million to help eradicate world hunger.
This is just a partial list of his many, many accomplishments since entering the music scene in 2009. He has had a lot on his plate. So the fact that the usually interview-adverse Tesfaye graciously took time to answer questions by email for the Toronto Star is appreciated.
Congratulations on your well-deserved success. Now that you’re embarking on your first stadium world tour, is the preparation any different from that of an arena tour?
The preparation is fully immersive and on the biggest scale we’ve ever done, so it’s a lot. But I’m so excited to perform for fans again that in some ways it’s effortless.
When you perform in concert, what is it you want to convey about yourself to the crowd? Do they get a better sense of you by seeing you as well as listening to you?
When I’m performing, I am intent to bring people into a story and a world to be lost in for those few hours. It’s not about understanding me as much is it is about feeling a state of being that isn’t your usual.
You mentioned in early interviews that you wanted to become the world’s biggest star. Now that you’ve arguably achieved that, where do you go from here?
I just follow the creative visions I have in whatever medium of art they come and am compelled to share it with as many people as are open to it.
I’m sure that when ‘Blinding Lights’ was declared the most popular song of all time, you must have been ecstatic. Is there an inner competitive drive to try to outdo that feat?
I like some healthy competition with myself, so I do tend to try to outdo whatever I did last.
You’ve been quite the philanthropist. Your “After Hours til Dawn” tour will highlight your role as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, there’s been Toronto’s Hxouse incubator and you donated an initial $50,000 to the University of Toronto to study Ge’ez, the classic language of Ethiopia. What attracts you to a cause? Do you believe artists have a responsibility to give back?
I care about people and will always share what good fortune comes to me. I don’t speak or have expectations for other artists. I just know that I want to help others who need it.
What is the most important accolade you’ve received?
Being honoured with the Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award by the Black Music Action Coalition at their first BMAC Gala last year was incredibly moving for me.
You’ve accomplished so much. What is the most satisfying aspect of your career?
Taking people to other worlds and helping where I can.
When you’re not creating, how do you like to relax?
Relax? I’m not sure I know that word’s meaning.
What words of encouragement would you offer up-and-coming talent?
Have a bigger vision, tell a story and dedicate to it fully.
Dude, I have to ask: did you really lick that toad in the “Heartless” video?
How else would I have had access to that trip if I hadn’t?!
You’re kicking off your tour in Toronto. What do you love about the city and what do you miss about it when you’re not here? Any fond memories of Scarborough or fave hangouts?
Toronto is home to such good people, friends and, of course, my family. It is a feeling of truly being home. The journey from Scarborough to downtown and then out to the world is something I’m so grateful for. Going from my first Mod Club show where fans saw my face for the first time to now playing Rogers Centre 11 years later is so humbling and incredible.
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