The Weeknd has been on repeat in my house in light of the upcoming Superbowl LV halftime performance. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the mood to relax or want to get hyped up for the day; his beats seem to fit every occasion. I listened as ‘Starboy,’ ‘Can’t Feel Your Face,’ and ‘Earned It’ popped up on my playlist, and surprised myself with how many of the lyrics I already knew by heart.
How long has The Weeknd been a superstar? And more importantly, has the music industry lauded him as such?
The answer, disappointingly, is no.
Despite number-one hits and best-selling albums, the Grammys have continually snubbed The Weeknd and his hard-to-place music style. The Weeknd, AKA Abel Tesfaye, has been nominated only ten times and won three Grammys in his eleven-year career. Compare that to Drake, another Canadian-born singer/songwriter with a pop and R&B style, who has had 47 nominations and four wins after transitioning from acting to music in 2010.
While other award shows have recognised Tesfaye’s talents, most notably the American Music Awards, the Grammys have failed to do so, even though they acknowledge that Tesfaye is a musical phenomenon. Leading up to the 2021 Grammys in March, the organisation has been negotiating with the artist to perform live at the ceremony.
Can you imagine the audacity? They acknowledge that Tesfaye is a big enough superstar to boost TV ratings while simultaneously denying him the accolades in his industry that he deserves.
The Grammys aren’t the only organisation that wants Tesfaye’s name in lights; Superbowl LV already booked him for their halftime performance on February 7th, a little over a month from the Grammys. It means Tesfaye’s had to choreograph two significant performances in the middle of a pandemic.
On top of that, Tesfaye has already declined to receive payment for his Superbowl halftime performance and put $7 million of his own money towards the show. And he’s agreed to perform at the Grammys, although he blames the lengthy and seemingly tense negotiation process as the reason for his 2021 snub.
It’s hard to disagree with him when you look at the 2021 lineup. Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, currently has 0 Grammy nominations for 2021. While undoubtedly talented, Beyonce got nine nods this Grammy 2021 season – the most of any artist – despite not putting out an album since 2016’s Lemonade. On Spotify, as of writing this article, Beyonce has 32,918,375 monthly listens, while The Weeknd clocks in at 68,187,090; over double the infamous Queen Bee’s.
Celebrities have rallied around Tesfaye to bring awareness to the snub. Most notably, Sir Elton John posted an image of Tesfaye with the caption, “In my humble opinion… Blinding Lights, Song of the Year, Record of the Year” with the hashtag #GrammySnub.
What could be keeping Tesfaye from achieving the recognition he deserves? Could it be that his particular brand of music defies categorisation? Does the artist belong in the historically black R&B circle, or is he a new-age black pop star?
In response to social justice movements and the George Floyd murder, the Grammys have opted to rename the “Best Urban Contemporary Album” award to the “Best Progressive R&B Album” award. Tesfaye, who has won the Best Urban Contemporary Album award twice in the past, thinks the change is a step backwards. “R&B and black music is such a wide variety.” Tesfaye told The Rolling Stone in its September issue, “If they put us all into one category, I still think it’s not fair. We’ll see how it goes.”
His 2021 album The Highlights builds upon his impressive discography, giving listeners something new while staying true to his previous style and beats. However, Tesfaye plays with theatrical performance and camp in his new music videos, signifying his maturation and growth as an artist. I personally cannot wait to see how far this momentum will carry him as I continue to be delighted by the music he creates.
Let’s just hope that the Grammys will get the memo in 2022.