R&B can be described as a mixture of Pop and Soul. This was at least how the style was characterised in the Eighties. Over the years, though, the genre has lost its Soul-part. R&B has lost its soul. And not only that, but the sophistication of this kind of music has been lost on the way. Degenerated to be the soundtrack of super-nightclubs, the compositions always seemed to follow the same principle: A good or well trained voice was put over a David Guetta-Instrumental. Kitschy, calculated pop – nothing more. It seemed to be the only way to bring real singing talent to a young, wide audience. This intonation, though, was too cheap for most music-nerds, too obvious, too predictable. R&B had also lost its ability to be taken seriously by elaborate music aficionados beyond music television and chart shows. The genre seemed to have lost its sense for sophistication, for a long time there was no innovation or sense for detail to be recognised. R&B had become impossible as »niche sound«. It can be seen as the success of singers like James Blake or Jamie Woon that there rose a real demand for heartbreaking pop, for elaborate singing on different productions. Singers like them owe their rise to the interest of the same music nerds who had up to now despised of R&B.
But now, there could be a turn, as suddenly there is one band that opposes to the established practices in R&B: The Weeknd. The Weeknd have realised quickly, what a beautiful gap there is to fill. The band of Jeremy Rose and Abel Tesfaye from Toronto is – regarding the use of vocals – as R&B as, let’s say, The Dream. But the use of voice is the only similarity there is. The Weeknd do without the headlines in gossip magazines, they abstain from flamboyant artist presentations on music television, they deliberately seek their access via the internet. By purposely holding back information, the band tried to get the raging blogs to step back and wait for a moment. Therefore, blogposts about them were filled with adjectives like »mysterious« and contained just vague bits of information. The Weeknd made it: The blogosphere held its breath for a minute and gave space to a new phenomenon. It was also the categorisation of the style of their music, which forced the net to take its time with descriptions. How could this new R&B be described, which was suddenly unironically celebrated by the heads? The band had won a momentum. R&B had found a new expression and an audience which forms trends beyond popular music in its original sense.
The oeuvre of The Weeknd sounds like blurry, druggy erotic dreams, like female silhouettes behind swollen eyes – R&B on Codein.
Cough syrup Gone Sexy
The rise of The Weeknd to the next big thing in the internet, forced Drake (yes, Drake!) to mention them in his blog. Without any description on background, the mysterious aura of the band remained, the interest rose. Since last week, the band present their first official mixtape on their website: House Of Balloons. It mostly contains tracks which have been heard on the internet for a while. But song after song one starts to recognise why the canadian duo was able to re-invent R&B in a way. Loft Music is a perfect example to show how the two youngsters could do just that. With a Beach-House-Sample, this track reaches over to the Indie/chillwave-area. Lyrically, it’s exactly what one expects from an R&B-track: The invitation to take clothes off and the enthusiasm about oneÂ´s own sexyness. The difference lies in the musical foundation: The dark beat billows as a contrast to the light and boyish vocals, stumbles, falls asleep and wakes up again with yet deeper drums. Cough syrup gone sexy, in a way. A trend, which was refined on What You Need and which was adapted to modern phenomenons. Pitched, echoing vocals support a beat that slowly shuffels along, from bassdrum to bassdrum. The difference to The Loft lies in the vocals, which seem to drift and stray through the room and which seem less seizable. They echo, hiss, repeat, lose themselves in the abstract, find themselves again and continue in regular pop-structures. The progressivity of the dubstep-movement has drawn its wide circles here. The Weeknd also use the concepts which might turn James Blake’s »soulful« singing into something exciting, although theyÂ´re not as minimalistic and bass-focused as the british high-flyer. Most of the songs are divided into verses and choruses, but a musical and lyrical unhappiness, a sombre depth can be heard beneath all: »Bring your love baby I could bring my shame,/ bring the drugs baby I could bring my pain«, sings Abel Tesfaye. The Weeknd sound a lot like blurry, druggy erotic dreams, a lot like female silhouettes behind swollen eyes, like R&B on Codein. It is definitely the slowness of the songs, which seem to be soaked with tranquilizers, that takes all glitter off the stereotypical rhythm and blues, smears its Make-Up together with a contextual disillusion (»Twist and turns, and the only girls that we f†”- with/ seem to have 20 different pills in them«) and only reminds faintly of established charts-R&B. In times, when surfeit wins over endurance, The Weeknd contrast their internet presence with an absence in the real world.