Abel Tesfaye may be from Toronto, but Los Angeles is the Weeknd’s town. That was the takeaway from his headlining bow Saturday night at the Forum, where the singer arrived onstage amid the blinding lights of a Starship Enterprise-like contraption hovering above, and the deafening cheers of a packed house hailing its transplanted “Starboy.” Little did those in the crowd know they’d also be getting a two-song guest turn by local hero Kendrick Lamar in addition to appearances by openers Rae Sremmurd, Belly, and 6lack, each of whom cameo’d at previous shows leading up to the Forum date. That is to say, every ticket purchaser got their money’s worth, and then some.
Like his albums — and you could even say the Weeknd’s career arc so far — the show built gradually. “Party Monster,” “Reminder,” and “Six Feet Under,” all off of “Starboy,” showed an artist in command of a large, exceptionally diverse audience, while his covers of fellow Canadian Belly (“Might Not,” with Belly), Ty Dolla $ign (“Or Nah”), and Nav (“Some Way”) drew the focus back to a guy who rolls with a tight-knit, almost compact crew.
The sexy-time portion of the set (pretty much de rigeur for the Weeknd) brought out the salty “Tell Your Friends,” the romantic “Angel,” and the seductive “Earned It,” the latter of which turned into a group activity with the crowd handling parts of the chorus. That led the way to rapping along with Rae Sremmurd on the banger “Black Beatles,” during which the Weeknd joined in (though disappointingly, not singing the song’s falsetto hook), but mostly gracefully ceded the stage.
He did the same for Kendrick Lamar’s performance. The beloved rapper, who grew up in nearby Compton, was an unexpected surprise on a poignant date: the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots. He joined the Weeknd for another “Starboy” track, “Sidewalks,” then launched into his just-released “Humble,” flooring fans in the front rows with the fury and precision of his delivery. The Weeknd was wowed too, bowing to Lamar as he exited the stage.
Like Lamar, the Weeknd seems equally comfortable in both an arena and real life, and this sense of perceived accessibility is a large part of what endears him to such a wide variety of people. Musically, however, he’s in his own world. Sure, much has been said and written about the the Weeknd sounding or harkening back to “Off the Wall” era Michael Jackson – certainly “I Feel It Coming” was his most MJ moment, though it’s hard to imagine Jackson singing such graphic lyrics – but a run of hits like “In the Night,” “Can’t Feel My Face” and show closer “The Hills,” each song so different melodically from the next, point to something entirely other.
The Weeknd started out as a mysteriously nameless and faceless mixtape artist. Today, the former Tesfaye is a bonafide pop star and an undeniable influence on his contemporaries.