Honestly, I wasn’t even that familiar with The Weeknd until his performance at the 2016 Grammys, which was pretty good — even without Lauryn Hill. He wasn’t as natural at performing as, say, Bruno Mars, but Bruno Mars isn’t exactly performing great songs. What struck me more about The Weeknd’s performance — other than his atrocious haircut, which really does defy description — was that the two songs he performed parts of (“Can’t Feel My Face” and “In the Night”) actually were good. Both songs appear on Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd’s sophomore LP, which won Best Urban Contemporary Album and was nominated for Album of the Year. About six months prior to Beauty Behind the Madness‘ August 2015 release, The Weeknd’s “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” appeared on the soundtrack from the Fifty Shades of Grey film; it appears here as well, and it won The Weeknd a Grammy the following February for Best R&B Performance.
So how is Beauty Behind the Madness? What strikes me the most about it is the consistently dark texture — there’s very little light here. Which doesn’t mean this isn’t fun music, but it’s a night record, designed to feel at home in trendy clubs that stay open until the wee small hours of the morning in places like Vegas, South Beach, LA, or New York. In truth, it does an even better job of approximating this world for the average listener without access to these kinds of clubs, offering them a theme park ride of sorts. In this latter respect, Beauty Behind the Madness is a pretty effective work, and the record’s commercial performance backs this up — within a mere eight months, this thing managed to go triple platinum.
Is this music great? Not quite, but it’s certainly more than serviceable, and often it’s really good. There are several highlight tracks here (along with a sizable amount of filler), including the blindingly great “In the Night,” which is without question one of my very favorite songs of the year. Other favorites include: “Often,” “Acquainted,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” and “As You Are.” It took a pretty big group of collaborators to make Beauty Behind the Madness a reality, and it appears all the work was worth it.