The Weeknd in numbers: how the singer dominated 2020
He's the most-streamed Canadian artist of the year, and 'Blinding Lights' is the biggest song worldwide
When the COVID-19 pandemic started to gain momentum in North America in March, the Weeknd was preparing to release his fourth album, After Hours. His team told him to push back the release date but Abel Tesfaye insisted and on March 20, the same week that Parliament shut its doors and border restrictions were put in place, and just one week after the NBA was shut down, the album came out.
His nearly sold-out supporting tour would have to be postponed, never mind the fact that music consumption had dropped dramatically, sinking to the lowest sales period since the boom of the '60s. In other words, it was the worst possible time to release an album — at least, that's what you'd think.
After Hours, with its themes of loneliness, self-loathing and isolation, proved to be a quarantine R&B masterpiece, striking a chord with its listeners. The album debuted at number 1 on Billboard, and it has not left the chart since.
If nothing else, 2020 has been the year of the Weeknd, in more ways than one. Below, we take a look back at his year, in numbers.
On YouTube, the Weeknd's videos have been watched 4.8 billion times around the world in 2020 alone. This is more than Drake (2.79 billion), although still not enough to surpass YouTube king Justin Bieber (5.25 billion). The Weeknd's biggest audience comes from the United States, where views of his videos topped 987 million. But the individual city that watched the Weeknd the most is even further south — Mexico City accounted for 76.2 million views.
With over 3 billion streams to date, the Weeknd is one of the most-listened-to Canadian artist of 2020 on Spotify, and After Hours was the second-most-streamed album around the world, just behind Puerto Rican rapper and singer Bad Bunny's YHLQMDLG.
"Blinding Lights" was the Weeknd's fifth career number 1 song, and it has spent more than 50 weeks on the Hot 100 singles chart. It broke a record this year after it spent 40 weeks in the Top 10, more than any other song in chart history. It was also Spotify's most-streamed song of the year, with 1.6 billion streams.
The Weeknd is also popular on TikTok, where his songs "Blinding Lights" and "After Hours" have been used in over 1.5 million videos on the platform. The #BlindingLightsChallenge, in which people perform a coordinated dance to the hit song, has been viewed more than 465 million times.
The only thing to match the Weeknd's success this year has been his generosity. During the summer months, he quietly donated more than $2 million to various charities, including $300,000 to Global Aid in Lebanon following the explosions in Beruit; $100,000 to National Bail Out, a Black abolitionist group working to end mass incarceration; $200,000 to the Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defence Initiative; $500,000 to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, supporting musicians who financially struggled due to the pandemic, and $500,000 to front-line health workers at the Scarborough Health Network.
In August, the Weeknd held an interactive concert on TikTok, which was viewed by more than two million people and ended up raising $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative through the sale of some limited merchandise.
The Weeknd also became a ubiquitous presence on the popular online game Fortnite, where his song "Blinding Lights" was featured whenever players drove around in a car. A special "Blinding Lights" emote was also created, allowing characters to do a special dance to the song. The cost was 500 V bucks, Fortnite's in-game currency, which relates to roughly $5 in real currency.
After Hours has also been one of the Weeknd's most critically acclaimed albums, with aggregator site Metacritic giving it a score of 80, based on 20 reviews. The album, according to the New York Times, is "laden with sparkled trauma, kaleidoscopic emotional confusion, urgent and panting physical release paired with failed-state romantic dyspepsia," while Pitchfork called it a "satisfying collision of new wave, dream-pop, and R&B."
CBC Music also named it the best Canadian album of the year.
In November, it was announced that the Weeknd would be the Super Bowl LV (55) halftime show performer, the first time a Canadian has played that stage since 2003, when Shania Twain, Sting and No Doubt were the performers. It's scheduled to take place on Feb. 7, 2021.
"Blinding Lights" broke the record for the most weeks spent at the top of Billboard's radio airplay chart. On Aug. 22, after spending 19 weeks there, it surpassed "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls, a record that had held for 22 years.
A week after the album's debut, all 14 songs on After Hours charted on the Billboard Hot 100, with 10 of them in the Top 40.
Despite his critical and commercial success, the Weeknd didn't receive a single nomination for the 2021 Grammy Awards. He responded by calling the Grammys "corrupt," although they claimed it was just a difference of opinion. "All of the records get the fairest of fair shakes," they said in a statement.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.