By Candace McDuffie
March 06, 2020 at 08:00 AM EST
Credit: Nabil Elderkin

It's hard to imagine this era of R&B existing without the loathsome tales and crushed-velvet vocals of the Weeknd. Born Abel Tesfaye, the Canadian singer's career has successfully paired soulful melisma with the brazen antics of hip-hop. In honor of the release of his third studio album, After Hours (out March 20), along with his upcoming appearance on SNL, we ranked all of the singer's commercially released singles — including ones in which he was featured as a guest artist.

45. "Odd Look" – Kavinsky feat. The Weeknd

Before the Weeknd dropped his debut studio album (2013's Kiss Land), he hopped on the remix to French electronic musician Kavinsky's "Odd Look." Over dark synth riffs, Abel wails of his mythical after-party escapades. But he also seems to be discovering the extent of his vocal range, which can make the track feel occasionally shaky.

44. "Pretty"

Though he relies too heavily on lyrical clichés for it to be truly potent, there's an urgency from the Weeknd on "Pretty." Making his lover feel beautiful — despite her involvement with another man — is his only concern.

43. "Rockin"

"Rockin" prioritizes catchiness over grand artistic statements, this despite a mechanical, clunky synth riff. Like the rest of the Weeknd's catalog, the song revels in the casual nature of an intimate relationship that the singer has no interest in developing.

42. "Twenty Eight"

"Twenty Eight" sees Abel lamenting over an unwanted loss of privacy. Serving as a double entendre for his relationship with women and fame, the song is a stark and layered depiction of someone begrudgingly becoming the center of attention. The only downside is the piano riff, which adds an unnecessary amount of melodrama.

41. "Wanderlust"

The funky, disco-inspired "Wanderlust" — which samples "Precious Little Diamond" by Dutch facet Fox the Fox — is ripe with pulsating rhythms and fraught vocals. But the song is too crowded and experimental for its own good.

40. "One of Those Nights" – Juicy J feat. The Weeknd

A drug- and booze-fueled evening full of sexual deviancy is business as usual for hip-hop legend Juicy J. On "One of Those Nights," he recruits Abel to narrate. Unfortunately, their chemistry doesn't come across as organic as it should.

39. "Belong To The World"

Despite the rapid-fire drums and the Weeknd's professions of love toward a woman who "is dead inside too," "Belong to the World" lacks cohesion, as it falls short of becoming another one of the singer's captivating pop anthems.

38. "Acquainted"

“Acquainted” is prototypical Weeknd, but it feels too formulaic for the listener to become fully invested. As always, Abel is reluctant to show any vulnerability. "To say that we're in love is dangerous," he croons, "But girl, I'm so glad we're acquainted."

37. "Drinks On Us" – Mike Will Made It feat. The Weeknd, Swae Lee, Future

A prime example of a Mike Will Made It classic, "Drinks On Us" thrives with its bombastic beat and Abel's falsetto. Though his proclamations of wealth and propensity for partying feel inevitable: "My jawline so defined, I'm wilding like I'm Gunplay/ You see no white inside my eyes and it's a fun day."

36. "Lost In The Fire" – Gesaffelstein feat. The Weeknd

Renowned French DJ Gesaffelstein produced two tracks on the Weeknd's 2018 EP My Dear Melancholy ("I Was Never There" and "Hurt You"). "Lost in the Fire," their collaboration from Gesaffelstein's album Hyperion, may lack focus, but it still manages to capitalize on the duo's flair for swelling melodies.

35. "A Lie" – French Montana feat. The Weeknd and Max B

The Weeknd’s boasting perfectly compliments French Montana's unapologetic megalomania on "A Lie." Alongside the rapper, Abel warbles about his innate superiority to other men, deeming their praise unwanted and ultimately untruthful.

34. "Party Monster"

The Weeknd’s vocal cadence squares up nicely with the impulsive and tenuous nature of this hypnotic Starboy cut, as he attempts to create a haunting scenario through dramatic soundscapes (and a cryptic appearance from Lana Del Rey). But the singer's own apathy negates the song's intrigue.

33. "Wild Love" – Cashmere Cat feat. The Weeknd & Francis and the Lights

The onslaught of shrieking melodies and synth lines make "Wild Love" an adventurous listen. Abel's mesmerizing voice pops as unpredictably as the soundscapes do, but carving out his exact place on the track proves to be a difficult task.

32. "Live For" feat. Drake

"Live For" paints the picture of a man swimming — and possibly drowning — in excess when it comes to the spoils of fame. Ecstatic crescendos, dramatic repetition, and a boisterous appearance from Drake only cements the song’s hyperbolism.

31. "Die For You"

This elegant ballad is an ambitious nod to R&B basics, displaying a more traditional side of Abel (the one rooted in heartsick romanticism). But the old-school approach feels predictable and a bit too simplistic when compared to other songs in his catalog.

30. "Some Way" – NAV feat. The Weeknd

Canadian rapper Nav made his unforgettable debut with the Weeknd-assisted "Some Way." Abel's slick-talking lyrics (“I just took that chick and I know you feelin' some way”) made some believe he was referencing a feud over a high-profile ex, but he’s never been the kind to divulge too many details.

29. "What You Want" – Belly feat. The Weeknd

Belly's light-hearted track "What You Want" maximizes its effect with its dreamy chorus. Abel turns up the charm with a cameo that accentuates the song's breezy and joyful nature.

28. "Wonderful" – Travis Scott feat. The Weeknd

The blustery and booming "Wonderful" is a celebration of two of music's most indulgent artists, as Abel reveals his more playful side, using sultry vocals to keep up with Travis's boasts.

27. "Blinding Lights"

Tinged with throbbing '80s synths and bright harmonies, "Blinding Lights" showcases the Weeknd's musical malleability and how easily he can oscillate between hip-hop, pop, and R&B. Abel's vocals and cagey temperament make the song feel like an engrossing thrill ride.

26. "Love In The Sky"

"Love In The Sky" is one of the few songs where the Weeknd takes a break from his mechanical sensuality to address his crippling insecurities: "As for me, I've been flying around the world/I've been killing these shows/But I'm always getting high/Because my confidence is low."

25. "Power Is Power" – SZA, The Weeknd, Travis Scott

Named after a line taken from the mouth of Cersei Lannister herself, this heavy-handed Game of Thrones soundtrack single has Abel narrating a story of resilience alongside SZA and Travis Scott. Ambient soundscapes and meteor-storm effects abound.

24. "Can't Feel My Face"

This wildly addictive track from Weeknd was his second No. 1 single following "The Hills." Max Martin's buoyant production works to Abel's advantage here, as he sings about the pros and cons of drug dependency.

23. "Love Me Harder"

This airy duet between the Weeknd and pop star Ariana Grande is as tawdry as it is tender. Between lightly chanted vocals and sprawling, delicate synths, the singer serves up promises of pure ecstasy: "Can you feel the pressure between your hips? I'll make it feel like the first time."

22. "The Zone" feat. Drake

The malaise of "The Zone" is both toxic and enticing, as Abel shares that his antidote for loneliness is drug-fueled trysts. Meanwhile, an appearance from Drake sees him predictably reiterating his weakness for beautiful — and vulnerable — women.

21. "Earned It"

The lead single from the soundtrack to 2015's Fifty Shades Of Grey gave the Weeknd his first top five Hot 100 single, along with a Grammy win for Best R&B Performance. With climatic buildups and eerily thrilling vocal changes, "Earned It" is the perfect example of how the singer can bring impassioned sensuality to any song.

20. "Remember You" – Wiz Khalifa feat. The Weeknd

"Make me remember you like you remember me," the Weeknd repeats as he playfully teases a potential muse on one of Wiz Khalifa's more solemn tracks. Here, Abel's repudiation for emotional reciprocity is at its height.

19. "Starboy" feat. Daft Punk

The Weeknd's pop vision came to life on "Starboy," the title track from his third studio album. Over trippy Daft Punk production, the crooner reminds us that he is invincible, steadfast, and just starting his musical reign.

18. "Elastic Heart" – Sia feat. The Weeknd and Diplo

The second single from the The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack is a grandiose pop anthem. The Weeknd's heart-wrenching performance — over a cataclysmic beat from Diplo — is almost as impressive as Sia's.

17. "In The Night"

The Weeknd stretches the boundaries of his vocal register on this springy ’80s-inspired track. His adoration of a scorned, jaded muse allows him to bask in rich and vivid storytelling: “She was numb and she was so codependent/She was young and all she had was the city/But I don’t mind.”

16. "After Hours"

Following a sumptuous intro, “After Hours” seamlessly morphs from an intimate fireside chat with a lover to a phantasmagoric thrill ride. The title track from the Weeknd's fourth album encapsulates his loneliness while zeroing in on the singer’s capricious tendencies. Settling into Abel's confessions is always a gamble, but “After Hours” proves that it’s well worth the price of admission.

15. "Might Not" – Belly feat. The Weeknd

With rapper Belly, the Weeknd willingly rhapsodizes about his own mortality. His usage of drugs and alcohol usually serve as his failsafe, but here he realizes they could also lead to his demise.

14. "Price On My Head" – NAV feat. The Weeknd

The Weeknd's paranoia nearly gets the best of him on NAV's "Price on My Head." It's not without reason, though: fame and fortune inevitably come at a cost. NAV tries his hand at dispelling notions of solace, but it's the Weeknd’s direful pleas that make the song much more evocative.

13. "Reminder"

The crooner holds nothing back on this 2016 cut, as he earnestly reflects on his achievements and how he doesn’t neatly fit into the current “blue-eyed soul” climate, with verses that feel as rapturous as rap bars.

12. "Lust For Life" – Lana Del Rey feat. The Weeknd

The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey make for an intoxicating pairing. Breathy, meditative swirls captivate listeners while Abel's pained falsetto drive things home.

11. "Heartless"

One of the lead singles off After Hours finds the Weeknd reporting from a void of chemical dependency and sex addiction. Everything about the song is colossal, from its earth-shattering bass to its lyrical tawdriness, as he conveys his shameless enjoyment of staying in the limelight.

10. "Pray For Me" – The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar

This impassioned, wiry single off the Black Panther soundtrack combines the Weeknd’s transcendental vocals with the raw unpredictability of Lamar. As Tesfaye chants, “Tell me who’s gon’ save me from myself,” his anguish and sensitivity shine through.

9. "Low Life" – Future feat. The Weeknd

The Weeknd slyly narrates his reckless and self-indulgent behavior on the lusty and unrelenting "Low Life" with Future. Here, his world is borderline dystopian; his impulses have become less spontaneous and more cyclical. The Weeknd's solution for pain is still copious amounts of chemicals and women.

8. "Or Nah" (Remix) – Ty Dolla $ign feat. The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa, & DJ Khaled

Alongside Ty Dolla and Wiz Khalifa, the Weeknd delves deep into his most libidinous thoughts to serve up some of the most graphic lines he's ever recited. No sexual act is too raunchy to engage in, no pleasure is too shallow to reap enjoyment from.

7. "Often"

A sample of Turkish singer Nükhet Duru’s “Ben Sana Vurgunum” helps showcases the Weeknd's typical bout of loneliness off this 2015 cut. The slinky melodies and repetitive chorus reiterate exactly who Tesfaye is and enjoys being: a glacial yet selfless lover who gives pleasure as much as he receives it.

6. "Kissland"

This nearly eight-minute-long adventure is an expansive look into the Weeknd’s approach to song-making. There’s his salacious confessions, his barred-up verses, his tender and somnolent crooning. But he takes us even further into his decadent world during the song’s latter half.

5. "Call Out My Name"

This song features one of the singer’s few moments of vulnerability and is heavy in its dejection. His vocals are needy and stirring, though his pleas for a woman to return to him prove futile. Ultimately, he comes to the realization that this great love is completely over.

4. "I Feel It Coming" feat. Daft Punk

This breezy and lighthearted Daft Punk-assisted track is one of the best moments on Starboy. Its disco-pop simplicity feels warm and oddly familiar; the verses are uptempo and minimal. And the singer’s intentions are crystal clear: to make his potential love feel at ease with him.

3. "Crew Love" – Drake feat. The Weeknd

Drake's 2011 hit from his second studio album, Take Care, features an exhilarating boast via the Weeknd about the perils of groupies. The singer is annoyed by their presence one moment, then fully enamored with his own magnetism the next. The song also  features one of Abel's catchiest hooks.

2. "Wicked Games"

The Weeknd’s debut single was a harbinger for his melancholic and piercing catalog. “Wicked Games" introduced us to the singer’s willingness to combine smoldering passion with a dangerous dependency on substances. The song also shed light on the enormously gifted vocalist who, previous to its release, was cloaked in mystery about his exact identity. Not only did the song launch the Weeknd into the pop culture stratosphere, it set the tone for an artist with lofty ambitions.

1. "The Hills"

Tesfaye’s trauma has always been difficult to navigate, but on “The Hills” it reaches horror-movie levels. His depravity and disillusion don’t stem just from the lyrics on the track, which fully disclose his coldness. It’s his throaty and deeply pensive delivery of verse after verse. Its ominous and dreary nature implies that “The Hills” isn’t just a place — it’s a feeling of hollowness that he may never be able to fill.

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