TAKE #20: Thoughts on The Weeknd’s Esquire Interview

Just a small break from the Week Fulla 90s Hip Hop! It’ll be back tomorrow.

Sometimes my Google News alerts are on some BS. I’ll scroll through them and get information on what type of cat litter is the best or whether or not “hard kombucha” is going to be the next “hard seltzer.” But when it comes to music, the alerts are pretty spot on because guess what I do all day lol. So yesterday, I was scrolling through, and saw a headline that said something about The Weeknd addressing misogyny in his music. And I was like “Oh! Bet it up then!!! It’s about time!” I was super curious to see what he had to say on the subject.

Boy, was I disappointed with his answer lol.

The mode of that disappointment came from an interview with Esquire’s Allison Davis, posted yesterday. Answering a question on how he reconciles with the more misogynistic things he says, Abel simply responds: ‘It’s…a character. When you hear some of the drastic stuff, you can tell. I mean, that’s why it’s tricky, because it is me singing the words; it is my writing…It’s never, like, my intent to offend anybody.’ And offers that he’d like to write an album for a female artist one day. And something about that answer really just didn’t sit right with me.

I think at this point in Abel’s career, if it’s not obvious to you that The Weeknd is a character, then…you’re missing a pretty significant chunk of his artistry lol. There are moments where it seems like his real life – his real self – comes through; there are a few moments like that on After Hours (2020), specifically, where the lines between The Weeknd and Abel Tesfaye feel more blurred. But otherwise, the extravagance that leans into a sort of surrealism that The Weeknd’s world exists in is essentially just a well-crafted compilation of moments that are loosely based on his real life. BUT it’s a character Abel created. It’s a character whose life and mannerisms are based on things that Abel had a hand in making, so answering a question on misogyny by simply saying that “ooh…that’s my character, though.” is unacceptable. That “it’s not my intent to offend anybody” felt just like a “I’m sorry if you feel that way.” And is his willingness to write a whole project for a female artist supposed to be…valiant? Was that supposed to make me…feel something?

The irritation from this extends for me further because there is very clearly a certain type of woman that exists in The Weeknd’s world. That woman is white (or racially ambiguous [or Asian, in the case of some potential fetishization of Asian women during the Kiss Land era]), thin, conventionally attractive, and lacks a sense of self-determination. I really don’t like the “LA girls all look the same,” line from “Escape from LA” because that just continues that very minimalized view of womanness. Women don’t exist as equals to The Weeknd in his world. There is a really good Pitchfork review on Chance the Rapper’s The Big Day (2019) (whew…that album lol), where Sheldon Pearce mentions that the women and girls in Chance’s life – his wife and his (then, only) daughter – don’t exist as full individuals on The Big Day. They serve primarily as side characters or “symbolic vehicle[s] for his maturation.” And the women in The Weeknd’s world act very similarly. They remain nameless and storyless forms on which The Weeknd’s backstory can be built. Even in his videos, they exist primarily as pretty objects in a room. Even when they’re meant to be main characters. And I don’t expect women or women’s lives to exist in a man’s creative project in the same way they would in a woman’s creative project. BUT when you’re given the opportunity to speak on that and the only thing you say is “ooh…but that’s a character,” it feels like a complete missing of the point. And I wish Davis would have pushed him on that more.

Do I think Abel is misogynistic? Nope. Mostly because I don’t know him lol, and nothing that I’ve seen from his world outside of “The Weeknd” has given off “this guy hates women” vibes. But. Have I always felt a distance between me and his music because I’m definitely not the type of woman he’s singing about? Yep 😦 Are there moments where misogyny is perpetuated in his craft? Yep. And unfortunately, that sidebarring of women exists in the music industry as a whole, and Abel and his music are but a piece of that. Men need to be held accountable for the ways they document the lives of women in their work (that extends to everyone needing to be held accountable for the ways they document others in their work, but we’re talking about men rn lol). Regardless of their personal distance from the stories they create. Abel had a golden opportunity to really be clear about those questionable moments and didn’t really come through with anything but an excuse.

I scrolled through some other parts of the article, before writing and saw this: “‘I probably have [experienced racism], you know? I probably have for sure. But I try to focus on making it about the music and trying to succeed,’ he says evasively. Yet he does admit that while Canada has its own issues with race, they really are nothing like America’s, which are more overt. He has an incredibly tight crew that seems to offer him some protection. ‘We just don’t rely on others to get us where we need to be,’ he says.” This this also didn’t sit right with me lol. But I’ll stay off that soap box for now.

I’m gonna go listen to After Hours for the eighth time this week, but my side eye to his answers to those questions will remain. I love me some Abel but those answers…just weren’t it. Not at all.

edit: just saw this piece by Jidenna like 2 minutes ago, a really really good read. And a good addition to this conversation and the one below.


here’s something else you might like:

TAKE #17: Hip Hop’s Maltreatment of Black Women

Sigh, here we are with another addition of “Hip Hop Hates Black Women.” A couple of weeks ago, The Atlantic posted an article by Hannah Giorgis called “Hip-Hop Won’t Stop Protecting Alleged Abusers” The article mentioned how people like Russell Simmons or Chris Brown have had allegations or situations that have been proved in where … Continue reading TAKE #17: Hip Hop’s Maltreatment of Black Women

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