In an interview promoting his recent album After Hours, The Weeknd compared an Usher song to his music and it did not go well with The Internet.
The singer spoke to Variety, breaking down his new album and his nearly ten year career. During the discussion, the 30-year-old brought up his debut mixtape House of Balloons and described the impact it had on music.
“House of Balloons literally changed the sound of pop music before my eyes,” he said. “I heard ‘Climax,’ that  Usher song, and was like, ‘Holy fu**, that’s a Weeknd song.’ It was very flattering, and I knew I was doing something right, but I also got angry. But the older I got, I realized it’s a good thing.”
When first reading this, I too was discomforted by The Weeknd’s broad statement. The man wasn’t specific at all.
Although I agree that both “Climax” and The Weekend’s music both have electronic influences, to call “Climax” a straight-up Weeknd song was problematic.
When social media got a hold of the statement, many people were quick to drag The Weeknd, mainly arguing against his vocal chops.
“The Weeknd thinking Usher sounds like him is delusion. Usher is a vocalist. The Weeknd is not,” wrote one Twitter user. “That’s no shade. Lol”
“Usher was singing falsetto back when The Weeknd was still a weekday… Take a seat sir,” tweeted another user.
Even Usher seemed to be, at best, annoyed by The Weeknd’s comments because the singer took to Instagram Live to sing “Climax” in his piercing falsetto. He even replaced one line in the song, which seemed to be directed at The Weeknd, singing “Can’t take it back ni**a, it’s too late, we’ve reached the climax.”
Clearly, The Weeknd hate had taken off with no turning back.
But despite his general statement, it would be a disservice to the last ten years of music to diminish Abel Makkonen Tesfaye’s impact.
The Weeknd came at a time when a lot of popular R&B was geared towards the club and the party mentality. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, singers like Chris Brown and even Usher were creating songs that favored fist-pumping electronic dance music (EDM) that, at times, felt repetitive and un-inspiring. Even R&B singers that didn’t necessarily create EDM music but were receiving radio play tended to make a mixture of party anthems and the occasional bedroom slow jam (e.g. Trey Songz).
When The Weeknd released his seminal mixtape House of Balloons in March 2011, the music was atmospheric, the lyrics were dark and the electronic and 80s synth influences were evident. The sound was so distinct that even Drake took notice and tapped The Weeknd to work on his sophomore album Take Care. The Weekend explained in a 2013 Complex interview, “‘Crew Love,’ ‘Shot for Me,’ and ‘The Ride’ were supposed to be on House of Balloons. I wanted to come out with like 14 records. I felt like ‘The Ride’ was the last one, and it wasn’t done yet. [Drake] heard it and he was like, ‘This sh*t’s crazy.’”
Not too long after The Weeknd made his imprint on the music world with House of Balloons and the follow-up 2011 mixtapes, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, various artists started gaining buzz with a similar atmospheric or moody sound. The effects can still be felt today, from SZA‘s early 2010s mixtapes to certain cuts from Summer Walker‘s 2019 Over It album.
Even the producer for Usher’s “Climax”, Diplo, hopped on Twitter to directly say that he was influenced by The Weeknd’s sound.
“The production on Climax lends itself to House of Balloons era @theweeknd,” tweeted Diplo. “When I heard those early records they blew my mind – soulful in their silences, and a spacey iconic voice that felt uniquely internet. the idea of R&B having dark edges was what I wanted to bring to @usher.“
The big question still remains, however. Did The Weeknd directly influence Usher or any of these other artists for that matter? The answer is yes and no.
Many of these artists might not say who their influences are or they might not be cognizant as to how current sounds have influenced their music. Even if a certain sound can’t be traced back to The Weeknd, his music could’ve had a ripple effect of inspiring artists who eventually received major radio play or streaming counts. With a certain kind of music “in the air,” some artists can’t help but be inspired by the sounds. In Usher’s case, many influences have contributed to his vocal and musical delivery over the years and the same goes for Diplo. Even though they might not list names to each other, clearly a combination of their taste has created an incredible record.
The Weeknd is not a sole innovator as well. It’s very clear that Michael Jackson, electronic music and 80s synth pop and rock have influenced his music, and he’s repeatedly said this in interviews. Even his approach to singing falsetto can’t necessarily be put within the same framework as Usher. Whereas Usher’s falsetto is powerful and crisp, The Weeknd tends to use his more softly as a way to communicate vulnerability or tenderness. Everyone from Maxwell to Mariah Carey have used this approach to varying effects. Both Usher and The Weeknd are valid in their delivery, depending on what emotion they want to bring to the song.
Recent “one gotta go” social media graphics putting The Weeknd in the same group as Usher, Bruno Mars, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Chris Brown risks diminishing the impact of The Weeknd because clearly, people are mad at him right now. However, all of these artists are influential in their own way and naturally, folks should remove the one they listen to the least or whose music or persona they simply don’t like.
To settle the debate between Usher vs. The Weeknd, ironically, it might be best to end with an Usher quote.
He recently spoke with Zane Lowe about the creation of “Climax”, according to Variety, and he had this to say:
“I think ‘Climax’ was one of those ones because I felt like it was so advanced in the nature of what it was. Me and Diplo, we were trying to do something that would raise the bar for R&B. Yeah, I made R&B hit records before and, yeah, Diplo, he could do many things. But I said, ‘Is there any way to tie these two worlds together?’ This world that was happening as an emotion for EDM, but do it in a way through using R&B….I want to sing in a way that no one else does in this time over a track that I know doesn’t fit there. It’s going to freak people in R&B and is going to freak people out who are more alternative.”
Clearly, Usher was thinking deeply about mixing genres and redefining what R&B and pop can sound like.
It’s safe to say, The Weeknd was thinking similarly.