The Weeknd Reached Global Stadium Tour Status, at Last

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Image via Getty/Theo Wargo
Image via Getty/Theo Wargo

The Weeknd couldn’t help himself. Looking out over a sold-out crowd at MetLife Stadium, he tilted his head back and took in the moment as rain fell from the New Jersey sky.

“This might be the greatest night of my life,” he beamed.

It was the kind of over-the-top statement that often slips out of artists’ mouths in moments of euphoria—a nice gesture to make an audience feel special. But on Saturday night, you got the feeling he actually meant it.

After all, The Weeknd’s first global stadium tour has been a long time coming. Not only did he have to endure multiple COVID-related delays and cancellations over the past two years, he’s been working towards these stadium shows for much of his career.

When his breakout mixtape trilogy first hit blogs back in 2011, most people would never have guessed that the brooding, mysterious singer who rarely showed his face would be selling out stadiums a decade later, but he’s been laying the groundwork for this tour ever since scaling his sound up to popstar status with smash records like “Can’t Feel My Face” in the mid-2010s. (Although, even Abel Tesfaye couldn’t have guessed his first stadium tour would be sponsored by a cryptocurrency company called Binance as part of the first-ever “crypto-powered world tour.” Times sure have changed since the Tumblr days.)

In the days leading up to the tour, Abel promised fans that he would bring his “opera to a stadium near you,” and he happily indulged his taste for theatrics inside the massive stadium. On one side, he erected a dystopian cityscape. On the other, there was a large inflatable moon that apparently blocked the view of some attendees (but looked cool as hell for everyone else). And although Abel didn’t bring along any guests on tour, besides openers Mike Dean and Kaytranada, he was accompanied by over 20 dancers draped in flowing red cloaks, which added to the drama.

But first, a surprise. Before Abel took the stage, he debuted a teaser for the forthcoming HBO Max series The Idol, which he co-created alongside Sam Levinson and Reza Fahim. In case anyone at MetLife forgot he’s a global superstar now, what better way to remind them than by sprinkling in a little Hollywood glitz?

When the trailer ended, the cityscape turned to an apocalyptic red and The Weeknd finally appeared, donning a plastic mask as dramatic stage lights flashed around him. As soon as he sang the opening notes of “Alone Again,” though, it was clear he wouldn’t need to lean on the lavish set and theatrics to keep the stadium crowd entertained. His voice was more than enough.

Abel has come a long way since his live debut at the Mod Club in Toronto back in 2011, when he stood very still in front of the crowd and figured out how to translate his recordings to the stage in real time. Since the beginning, his live vocals have had enough power to carry a stadium performance on their own, but now he’s learned to physically command a massive venue like MetLife, moving effortlessly up and down the elongated stage with his backup dancers. This was only the second stop on the tour, but he confidently navigated the set, avoiding any major hiccups. This might be his first stadium tour, but he is the same guy who just played the fucking Super Bowl, after all. He was ready for this.

The Weeknd first stadium tour review Getty image
Image via Getty/Theo Wargo

As unlikely as The Weeknd’s rise has been—from shadowy, mysterious origins to international fame—he’s become a remarkably fitting superstar for this strange and chaotic period in human history. The tour’s dystopian imagery is reflective of the times, and he’s built up a catalog of songs that are very well-suited for the unsettling reality we find ourselves in. He’s uniquely positioned to offer moments of blissful escapism (“Less Than Zero” goes off in a stadium) before hitting you over the head with tragic anthems full of bleak undertones, and his career-spanning 29-song setlist beautifully oscillated between both energies.

There will always be a place for shiny popstars who are completely removed from reality, but in 2022, a more nuanced, grounded star like Abel feels much more appropriate. This is a time that calls for artists who aren’t afraid of diving into the darker aspects of life—something he does better than anyone. One of the loudest moments during Sunday night’s show came when a stadium full of people passionately screamed along to the desperate pleas of his tortured anthem “Call Out My Name.” That’s the energy people are looking for right now.

Abel understands that he has different types of fans to please at every show (those who came for smash hits like “Can’t Feel My Face” and those who came for deeper cuts from the early years) and he was able to offer something to each. The bulk of the setlist was reserved for newer songs from After Hours and Dawn FM, as well as recent collaborations like “Hurricane” with Kanye west, but he also made sure to sneak in surprises like “Kiss Land” for the day-one supporters, shouting, “This is for the OG XO fans!”

A decade into his career, Abel has turned into quite a showman. He chooses his words carefully onstage, but he usually says the right things at the right times. After a particularly impassioned singalong, he exclaimed, “You guys sing better than me!” And when it started raining in the middle of the show, he happily embraced it, telling the crowd, “Look how beautiful this rain is,” before teasing, “Y’all not trying to go home right now, are you?” He even handled the awkward state-straddling location of the stadium well, making sure to shout out both New Jersey and New York City throughout the show.

This stadium tour is the culmination of many smart decisions by Abel over the years. Some of it came by chance (he only decided to book stadiums after combining his After Hours and Dawn FM tours into one and increasing demand) but the larger career arc was well-calculated. After the success of those early mixtapes, the safe decision would have been to remain a mysterious figure at the peripherals of the pop landscape. But instead of limiting himself to the role of cult hero, he set his sights on worldwide stadium tours, and achieved exactly that. Getting a chance to perform his No. 1 hit “Starboy” for over 60,000 screaming fans is the payoff from a choice to expand his sound in the mid-2010s.

It didn’t happen overnight, but now that he’s here, The Weeknd has a hell of a catalog for a stadium tour. Is there a better possible way to end a concert in 2022 than with four bulletproof hits like “Call Out My Name,” “The Morning,” “Save Your Tears,” and “Less Than Zero,” right before playing the biggest US Billboard Hot 100 single of all time (“Blinding Lights”)? Judging by the roar of the MetLife crowd, the answer is no.

No wonder he said it was the best night of his life.