There’s no denying The Weeknd’s influence over today’s string of moody/alternative R&B. The singer-songwriter has changed the scope of the genre with his mix of synths and dark lyrics but the artist believes he inspired one of the biggest artists in the genre in the process.
As the cover star of Variety’s latest issue, The Weeknd discussed the success of After Hours, transitioning into mainstream music and his presence in R&B. While looking back on his classic 2010 mixtape House of Balloons, he noted how two years later he began hearing his sound in other artists.
“House of Balloons literally changed the sound of pop music before my eyes,” he said. “I heard ‘Climax,’ that  Usher song, and was like, ‘Holy f**k, that’s a Weeknd song.’ It was very flattering, and I knew I was doing something right, but I also got angry. But the older I got, I realized it’s a good thing.”
But the resurgence of EDM in the early 2010s might’ve inspired Usher’s hit single. “Climax” which went on to win the Grammy for Best R&B Performance in 2013, was produced by Diplo who looked towards house music and “Atlanta strip clubs” to create the track.
“The production actually started as a house thing with a chord progression that I wrote, but with some time in the studio alone, I was making a sort of “wildfire” beat out of it,” Diplo said.” The idea of pushing cut-off on a synth used so much in progressive house music but pulling back. I was making something like a minimal techno record with Atlanta strip clubs in mind.”
He also shared how much Usher knew of his work outside of Major Lazer. “Usher knew about my first album on Ninja Tune, Florida,” he added. “I was so surprised about how much these guys are into music beyond their normal lane. That is something that makes it very easy to work with him. Usher has the power to take a record into any lane. He’s that big. He brought house music to the R&B crowds in America, and with “Yeah!” he brought synths to Atlanta hip-hop. I think he wasn’t going to these producers for their sounds … We all know what they do. Usher is a smart man, he has been doing this for long enough. He’s using the producers instead of the other way around.”
“Climax” ended up on Usher’s Looking For Myself album, which played to all his strengths with dance tracks like “Scream,” quiet storm jams like “Dive” and “What Happened To U” and the clubs like “Lemme See” with Rick Ross.
Legendary superproducer Max Martin also worked on “Climax” and would eventually work with The Weeknd on Beauty Behind The Madness standouts like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “In The Night.”
This isn’t the first time the two have been compared to one another. The Weekend issued an apology to Usher in 2016 during the Billboard Music Awards after he mistakenly claimed to win the most awarded male R&B vocalist in the show’s history. The Weeknd took home eight trophies including Top R&B Artist and Top R&B Album for Beauty Behind The Madness.
But Usher famously took home 11 trophies in the 2004 telecast for his magnum opus, Confessions including awards for Artist of the Year, Male Artist of the Year, and Hot 100 Song of the Year for “Yeah!”.
Elsewhere in the interview, The Weeknd also explained his decision to release After Hours in the middle of the novel coronavirus pandemic. “Fans had been waiting for the album, and I felt like I had to deliver it,” he said.”The commercial success is a blessing, especially because the odds were against me: [Music] streaming is down 10%, stores are closed, people can’t go to concerts, but I didn’t care. I knew how important it was to my fans.”
The album amassed 2 billion global streams in its first week and debuted at No. 1 in the U.S., Canada, Australia, the U.K., Ireland, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and New Zealand.