"Scared to Live": The Weeknd
Production: Abel Tesfaye, Max Martin and Oscar Holter
Album: After Hours
There’s a particular moment, a very specific run on the third line of the last chorus that encapsulates so well something that is often hard to explain about the Weeknd’s music. What’s the appeal of Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a the Weeknd)? Sure, it’s the ‘bad boy’ image, it’s the Rockstar druggie, it’s the sex appeal and those breathy high register notes. But there is something else, something that I guess only a small number of listeners can fully appreciate and it happens on this song just as it happens at 3:27 on I Feel it Coming, just as it happens at the end of the Hills.
As someone who has very limited musical theory knowledge it’s hard to say exactly what makes an ‘Ethiopian’ run or lick, only that it is instantly recognizable in the tone and delivery of The Weeknd’s music. Scared to Live is somewhat of an 80s throwback. Without being derivative, it has big booming drums and an almost theatre like drama and yet there is this singular moment, a flourish where Abel flexes his Ethiopian heritage. These signatures, almost, are not arbitrary; they are an essential part of a Weeknd song and combine with the artists unique tone to give the music that very specific North East African flavour. It’s hard to explain the feeling those moments inspire; there’s almost something empowering about it.
Although I have mixed feelings about the album, Scared to Live is the Weeknd at his best and speaking as a person from the Ethiopian diaspora, amasagenalu Abel.