London Stadium is as far from The Weeknd’s humble but iconic beginnings as you can get. Drenched in mystery and underground buzz, those initial mixtapes over a decade ago were a lightning rod for what became the sound of the years to follow. Fast forward, and you have one of the defining figures in modern culture – Super Bowl half-time shows, whirlwind tabloid frenzies around supermodel relationships, a Blockbuster TV show featuring a trending rattail. But above all else, we have an award-winning, chart-topping, record-breaking phenomenon, all served up from the mind of an artist refusing to go by the norm. It’s why tonight, as The Weeknd’s global stadium tour rolls into the capital, there’s a sense of anticipation for how he will exceed expectations. Spoiler, Dear Reader, Abel Tesfaye not only smashes it, but possibly redefines the live stadium show format. Not bad going for an underground artist who once released mixtapes from his bedroom.
Don’t for a moment doubt that those humble beginnings mean he is not ready for this – he is and then some. The show feels set up to showcase The Weeknd’s catalogue in the most cinematic of settings. Dancers are clad in uniforms of white, accompanied by flames bursting into the sky to the likes of ‘The Hills’ and the bouncing ‘Can’t Feel My Face’. Sheer pandemonium greets openers ‘Take My Breath’, ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘How Can I Make You Love Me’. It’s a breathless run that thrives on the adrenaline of hit after hit after hit. The broken metropolis the show creates puts us firmly into The Weeknd’s mind, an underbelly of seediness and danger that becomes the biggest show around. ‘Kiss Land’, ‘Often’ and ‘Crew Love’ see singalongs ring throughout the crowd. The Weeknd’s DNA can be felt across every fibre of the music while still feeling trail-blazing and fresh. More than anything, tonight doesn’t feel like a victory lap with the sole purpose of celebrating how successful he’s become. In its theatrics and design, this show feels like a vital next chapter in the story of The Weeknd.
Last playing in London nearly 6 years ago, he leaves no stone unturned. Whether it’s ‘I Feel It Coming’, ‘Call Out My Name’, ‘Out Of Time’ (which he introduces as his favourite song right now), ‘Starboy’ or the pounding ‘In Your Eyes’ – it’s a show that manages to generate the visceral energy of a club and translate it into a stadium show. There’s an added dose of something special when early cuts like ‘Wicked Games’, ‘High For This’ and ‘The Morning’ are served up in widescreen joy – a far cry from those early days of blog nods and underground whispers. It stands out as the blockbuster vision of an artist truly in their prime. When it lands, ‘Blinding Lights’ is mayhem – the biggest pop song in recent memory met with a cinematic flair that makes tonight feel more like a movie than a regular gig.
From the staging to the setlist, to his command of every person gathered, it is a flawless performance. That he’s done this whilst refusing to compromise makes it all the more worthy of note. It’s a Hollywood show from an artist who has changed modern culture. In terms of stadium shows, there may be no finer show than The Weeknd right now. We’re all the better for it.