“From First Avenue to the Xcel Energy Center, not bad. Not bad at all,” The Weeknd aka Abel Makkonen Tesfaye said during his Sunday night.
Not bad is right. The Weeknd has come a long way from his early days putting out mixtapes largely for the underground rap community. Thanks to radio-hits like “Can’t Feel My Face” and tracks on major block-buster soundtracks like “Earned It” from 50 Shades of Gray, The Weeknd has officially reached “pop star” status.
Tesfaye’s rise to pop stardom didn’t come overnight however. Back in 2012 he put out an album called Triology. On this album, the opening song is entitled “High for This.” This was my introduction to The Weeknd. I remember being a sophomore in high school when a friend first played this album for us in her car and instantly knowing I had never heard anything like this before. I also remember listening to The Weeknd with headphones as their lyrical content was not exactly the kind of music parents love their sophmores listening to.
The Weeknd has come a long way from the “underground” rapper status back in 2012. I think it’s probably safe to tell my parents I listen to The Weeknd now as even my suburbanite mother has admitted she loves the song “Can’t Feel My Face.” Although I still don’t think she knows it’s about the numbing effects of cocaine not a cute love song, probably like many of the other suburbanite moms at The Weeknd in St. Paul on Sunday.
It’s safe to say The Weeknd has achieved pop star status to in recent years. From dating super models to having hits big enough that both your mom and your 5-year-old nephew both know the words to, he’s the reigning king of pop. His numerous comparisons to Michael Jackson aren’t without merit however. He’s truly dominated the pop spotlight largely thanks to the 2016 release of his synth-pop driven Starboy, and vocals reminiscent of MJ himself.
Watching Tesfaye emerge from underneath the stage as mega lights descended from the ceiling, I got chills, it was truly witnessing a popstar in their prime. From the top to the bottom of his set, there wasn’t a moment he didn’t have the crowd screaming along to song after song (or at least Snapchatting along).
For a large stadium show, The Weeknd still sprinkled in personal touches that made this St. Paul/Minneapolis show feel unique to us Minnesotans. With a shout out to the East African kids in the building, there was a special connection between Tesfaye and his fans in the Xcel (Tesfaye is of Ethopian decent).
His set on Sunday largely featured the synth-laden, poppy bangers from Starboy, though Tesfaye did sprinkle in some deep cut like The Morning and Angel from the handful of albums that preceded Starboy.
“This is for the OG Weeknd fans” Tesfaye said ahead of Angel. With phones up and Snapchat open – the crowd soaked in every moment on The Weeknd’s set. There were moments during the set that Tesfaye stopped to seem to soak in the moment as well. For someone who got his start playing rooms like First Avenue, the Xcel is a departure from those early days. It’s a reason to bask in your glory as the Reigning King of Pop.
The Weeknd was joined in St. Paul by the father of trap music – Gucci Mane and Canadian up & comer Nav.
Set List: Starboy / Party Monster / Reminder / Six Feet Under / Low Life / Might Not (Belly cover) / Sidewalks / Crew Love (Drake cover) Often / Acquainted / Some Way / (Nav cover) / Tell Your Friends / Die for You / The Morning / Wicked Games / Angel / Earned It / In the Night / Secrets / Can’t Feel My Face / I Feel It Coming