The Weeknd on ‘SNL’: Slick Moves, Amharic Grooves and a Surprise From Nicki Minaj


Any man who can make Kanye West get up out of his chair at the VMAs to dance like a Cool Mom hearing “Party in the USA” for the first time as a prom chaperone is one to be commended, and Abel Tesfaye — a/k/a The Weeknd — reprised that performance of his hit “Can’t Feel My Face” on Saturday Night Live this week.

Two years of a slow burn have lead up to The Weeknd’s current smolder: The gentle R&B giant contributed lead-off single “Earned It” to the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack; he collaborated with Ariana Grande (and appeared alongside her on SNL almost exactly a year before his own musical guest billing), Sia, Meek Mill and more, and the production credits of his latest record, August’s Beauty Behind the Madness, include schemes from West and Max Martin. “The Hills” is currently topping the Billboard Hot 100, and “Can’t Feel My Face” — a jam so good it gets even the most aloof moving — has spent nine weeks bouncing around the same chart’s top slots. This is the perfect time for Tesfaye to be taking the stage at Studio 8H, and he did so by showcasing the strengths of his current singles while flipping the script on them and wowing everyone in the process.

With the lights dimmed to an after-hours neon glow, Tesfaye’s vocal tour jetés cascaded in flawless lines before Nicki Minaj strode out to deliver her bars for the remix treatment of “The Hills.” The beats were meditative and slow-crashing, but Tesfaye and Minaj were the picture of high-profile comfort, easing over their parts and throwing side-smiles, sweet nothings (with Tesfaye lilting through a few lines in Amharic) and melodramatic (and occasionally encouraging) glances each other’s way. Tesfaye pulled a Wayne and Garth and bowed before her Minajesty before “The Hills” wrapped up in a velvet finish all “We’re not worthy!”-like, so it’s good to see that stars are just like us as far as Queen of the Barbz is concerned.

For “Can’t Feel My Face,” Tesfaye took his falsetto and his microphone stand to the dance floor, relishing in the funk buoying his scorcher and thoroughly enjoying each step he took. There were hints of the King of Pop’s prowess in both his moves and the smoothness with which he sailed over those high notes, and those elements definitely aid in both the single’s intense likeability and the euphoria it induces in a live — or a live-televised — setting.

As for the internet, they freaked out about Nicki, sure, but Abel’s hair and Amharic flow were what got people talking on Twitter. Behold:

Barb sonnets are the best sonnets.

Dads watched The Weeknd …

… And moms REALLY watched The Weeknd.

Just kidding the whole damn family is up on The Weeknd.

But would you slow-dance to “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls and exchange mix tape love notes tho

“The Hills” may have delivered the first Amharic lines to hit the SNL stage ever, and Weeknd fans were overjoyed by that:


This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 12, 2015

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