As he gears up for the biggest performance of his career at next month’s Super Bowl, The Weeknd is celebrating his meteoric rise with the crew that helped take him there.
The Canadian crooner graces the cover of Billboard alongside his trusted team of day ones including his managers, Wassim “Sal” Slaiby and Amir “Cash” Esmailian, and XO creative director, La Mar C. Taylor.
The tight-knit group reflects on the highs and lows of the past year including their shock when The Weeknd received no 2021 Grammy nominations despite the commercial and critical success of After Hours.
Looking back, Abel calls the snub “an attack.” “I use a sucker punch as an analogy,” he says. “Because it just kind of hit me out of nowhere. I definitely felt … I felt things. I don’t know if it was sadness or anger. I think it was just confusion. I just wanted answers. Like, ‘What happened?’ We did everything right, I think. I’m not a cocky person. I’m not arrogant. People told me I was going to get nominated. The world told me. Like, ‘This is it; this is your year.’ We were all very confused.”
The Grammys remain corrupt. You owe me, my fans and the industry transparency…
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) November 25, 2020
The Weeknd received messages from “people I haven’t spoken to in ages, the entire music community, all my peers,” while Slaiby called up interim Recording Academy president Harvey Mason Jr. “I wasn’t mad,” says Slaiby. “I was a gentleman. I said ‘Hey, bro, how are you? How’s your day? Our day is shit. What the f**k just went down?'”
The Weeknd, whose music was submitted in six Grammy categories, wonders if something bigger was at play. “If you were like, ‘Do you think the Grammys are racist?’ I think the only real answer is that in the last 61 years of the Grammys, only 10 Black artists have won album of the year,” he says. “I don’t want to make this about me. That’s just a fact.”
But the three-time Grammy winner is ready to move on. “Look, I personally don’t care anymore,” says Abel. “I have three Grammys, which mean nothing to me now, obviously. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I want the Grammy!’ It’s just that this happened, and I’m down to get in front of the fire, as long as it never happens again.”
The 30-year-old superstar is now less than two weeks away from performing on the world’s biggest stage, the Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The Weeknd is the first Black artist to headline halftime since Roc Nation partnered with the NFL on last year’s show, which drew 102 million viewers.
Organizers are covering all production costs, but The Weeknd is investing $7 million of his own money to “make this halftime show be what he envisioned.” “We’ve been really focusing on dialing in on the fans at home and making performances a cinematic experience, and we want to do that with the Super Bowl,” he says.
After the Super Bowl, he plans to hit the road on a summer/fall 2021 tour, which was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But he’s unsure if the tour will be tied to After Hours or his next project. “Is the tour going to be the ‘After Hours’ tour still? Is it going to be this new album’s tour, with the same tickets?” he wonders.
One thing he knows is that his red blazer-wearing After Hours persona won’t be around a year from now, although he may make an appearance on tour. “It’s a whole puzzle I’m trying to wrap my head around right now,” he says.
Ahead of his Super Bowl performance, he is set to release his 18-track album The Highlights on Feb. 5 featuring some of his most notable hits spanning his decade-long career.