[Welcome to the 2015 edition of the Best of the Booth Awards, DJBooth's annual selection of the best music of the year. For a more detailed explanation and a full list of all the categories and winners, click here.]
New artists are constantly rising up, following in the footsteps of their musical ancestors but also adding their own uniqueness – blending, molding, and transforming their artistry like a magical alchemist turning lead into gold. It’s a musical renaissance being transmitted through iPhones and laptops, before television and radio know their names we are witnessing tomorrow’s stars a day in advance.
I consider The Weeknd one of those artists. Change is something that the R&B genre has been undergoing for years, rappers are singing, singers are rapping, it’s been a constant worry that the music was losing its essence. One day in 2011, from the shadows, like a Gotham vigilante, The Weeknd appeared with an album that didn’t embody R&B in the traditional sense but a soundscape that was fitting for today. House Of Balloons was dark, sensual, and spellbinding. The Weeknd was faceless, nameless, a complete mystery but his voice and the stories of drug-induced lust, nocturnal love, and early twenties debauchery was enough to make this unknown entity into captivating, bubbling sensation.
The Weeknd entered into the industry as a child of the night, even after leaving the comfort of Drake’s owl cage and signing to a Republic, he still carried himself like he was hiding from the spotlight. Even after his face was revealed, he still carried an air of secrecy. It was hard to predict if he would truly be someone that would be the forefront of the new class of R&B/Pop artist. Especially after his evanescent debut album, Kiss Land, came and went with very little lasting impact. He returned to the shadows and when he reemerged with a sound that closely resembled what made him the internet’s tortured sweetheart. The song “Earn It” in 2014 took him from the internet to the big screen, 50 Shades of Grey placed him right in-front of middle America, he was knocking on mainstream's door. What blew the door off the hinges was a new song, a song that didn’t sound like anything he has ever done before, Abel Tesfaye had a secret weapon.
“Can’t Feel My Face” was sonically built from a different palette of sounds than most Weeknd listeners were accustomed to. The bouncing bassline and colorful synths gave the song a color that was bright, a burning orange or a passionate red. This is a big change from someone who sings his sorrow from the blackest, bleakest holes. Even his vocals popped with life, he sounded lively but beyond the surface he was still singing a ballad about drugs, specially cocaine.
To my surprise, the song soared to the top of Billboard within weeks, his first song to reach number one. He cracked the code, a poppy sound reminiscent of an old king, a voice that could melt the hearts of the old and young and edgy enough to allude to America’s favorite drug problem. It was the hit he needed, a big enough smash to help push “The Hills” into number one weeks later. It was complete domination, the summer was his and “Can’t Feel My Face” was the reason. The radio was playing it every hour, streaming numbers were well into the millions, across the nation it was being sung poorly in karaoke bars, The Weeknd finally crossed over.
The Weeknd decided he wanted to be the biggest popstar on the planet and delivered a song that would take him from a balloon filled home into a castle with a throne fitted for a king. He didn’t completely conform, it was more of a sonic compromise that brought The Weeknd this level of success. It wouldn’t have worked if he attempted to replicate Bruno Mars, that would’ve been a disaster.
“Can’t Feel My Face” eclipses the ominous narrative with a foot-tapping, glowing backdrop. Some have considered the song disco, pop, R&B, it’s a combination that combusts into an inescapable record. The video, which we broke down earlier this year, also only added to the mania. The same way he was in fire on the video, he was figuratively the hottest artist at the time. Even now, Beauty Behind The Madness, his sophomore album, is still one of the top selling projects of the year. Even after spending the summer hearing the song tirelessly, it’s still a pretty mesmerizing listen.
Don’t get it twisted, Abel isn’t the only one delivering impressive R&B this year. Kehlani’s “The Way,” Jeremiah’s “Planes” and Nxworries' "Suede" are all impeccable records that came into the world in 2015, along with more, but no song quite moved the planet like “Can’t Feel My Face.”
It's official, The Weeknd’s "Can’t Feel My Face" is the Best R&B/Pop Record of 2015. We've also added some of our other top picks of the year, feel free to add your own selections and vote up or down. Let's see what you got.
[By Yoh, aka The Yoh, aka @Yoh31]