Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye had an exceptional summer, quite unlike any other. It all began with the HBO premiere of The Idol on June 4, which he co-created and starred in. Two days later on June 6, the After Hours til Dawn tour kicked off in Lisbon, Portugal, with sold-out shows across multiple cities, concluding in London on August 18. The tour, following a successful North American leg, showcased The Weeknd's evolution since his 2009 debut, from House of Balloons to Starboy to After Hours. His ability to reinvent his sound and maintain global relevance over a decade reaffirmed his status as a musical icon.
miss you … this summer belongs to europe XO pic.twitter.com/2wVk24hjvJ— Abel Tesfaye (@theweeknd) March 29, 2023
But, that was just the beginning. Throughout the summer, he dropped several singles for the show, such as "Popular," featuring Madonna and Playboi Carti, which surpassed 358.8 million streams, and a cover of John Lenon’s “Jealous Guy.” Additionally, he joined forces with Travis Scott and Bad Bunny on "K-POP," a track that garnered over 201.5 million streams. On top of that, he even broke a few records, including attendance records with 160k fans at London Stadium over two nights and the record for the first artist to sell out two nights at Milan's Ippodromo La Maura in Italy.
A Global Icon
The Weeknd has solidified his status as a global music sensation with chart-topping hits that have garnered billions of Spotify streams. From "Blinding Lights," which has gotten nearly 3.9 billion plays since its release in November 2019, to "Starboy," released in September 2016, with over 2.8 billion streams, his catalog is a testament to his global appeal. Tracks like "The Hills," "Die For You," and "Save Your Tears" have also captivated audiences worldwide, each boasting over a billion Spotify streams.
He currently ranks as the second most-listened-to artist on Spotify, with 103.7 million monthly listeners and a dedicated following of 74.58 million followers, with his fan base coming from all over the world. In the past year, he has gained an additional 24.7 million new monthly listeners, a 31.2% increase. He has a strong global reach: his top five countries by Spotify monthly listeners are the United States, the Philippines, India, Mexico, and Indonesia and his top cities are Mexico City, Jakarta, London, São Paulo, and Sydney.
Following the successful first leg of his After Hours til Dawn tour in North America, which included a live album and an HBO concert film, the tour headed to Europe for the summer. According to the current audience data, he performed in nearly all of his top European countries and cities and even did multiple shows in cities such as Stockholm, Paris, and London. Overall, this leg of his tour consisted of 30 shows in 22 cities across Europe.
The setlist for the tour featured "permanent" songs performed in most shows, primarily from Tesfaye’s 2020 album After Hours and the 2022 album Dawn FM, as well as some of his biggest hits. Unlike the first leg of the tour, in which the setlist remained consistent throughout the leg, the setlist saw changes in most shows, where Tesfaye surprised the fans with “bonus” tracks, which were played only a few times or even only once during the tour. Most of these tracks were from his debut album Kiss Land and the compilation album Trilogy, tracks that he hasn't played in over ten years, in addition to some songs from The Idol.
What makes this intriguing is how these live performances had a tangible impact on Spotify streams. Unlike the conventional TikTok-to-Spotify or TikTok-to-Shazam pipeline for music discovery, the tour has shown an interesting effect where the live concert experience influences streaming. An example of this is the song "Tears In The Rain," released in 2013 as part of Tesfaye's debut album, Kiss Land. The track was performed by Tesfaye at all stops on the tour after first being played in Stockholm on June 17 (the fourth show of the tour). Two days later on June 19, there was a sudden increase in Spotify streams, which has continued to grow ever since. Similar increases were also seen in the Shazam and Genius views of the song.
“Tears In The Rain” is considered a deep cut from his extensive catalog and may have resonated with newer fans introduced to it through the live setlist. The immersive and emotional experience of witnessing the live song might have sparked a newfound appreciation, leading them to seek it on streaming platforms. Furthermore, attendee's social media posts and word of mouth can also spark curiosity and FOMO among fans who didn't attend, driving fans to repeatedly stream the song to connect with the broader fan community.
Moreover, this sheds light on the evolving dynamics of fan communities and the challenges of reconciling long-time enthusiasts' experiences with the artist's current global appeal. While some argue that being a fan of The Weeknd is now more mainstream, with the artist's widespread popularity evident in Spotify numbers, stadium concert attendance, and TikTok trends, others express nostalgia for the earlier, more niche XO fan culture, who were there since the original days of “Tears In The Rain.”
During the summer, his Spotify streaming activity went through two phases. The first phase, which took place from June 3 to July 22, centered on his weekly new music created for The Idol. It consisted of six separately released EPs between June 9 and July 3, 2023, which were released around the premiere of each episode.
The second phase was from July 22 to August 19, in which he collaborated with Travis Scott and Bad Bunny on “K-POP” and then on “CIRCUS MAXIMUS” with Scott (again) and Swae Lee. The collaborations were part of Scott's fourth album, UTOPIA, and his fantastic performances in these songs, in addition to big shows in Milan and London for his tour during this time period, helped him achieve a new milestone and break a record as the first artist to reach 113 million Spotify monthly listeners.
When a popular artist like The Weeknd performs abroad, it often leads to increased streaming of their songs by local fans and concert attendees as a result of excitement and anticipation for the live event. During the tour, there were notable spikes in his Spotify monthly listeners in multiple cities. After his second Stockholm show on June 18, his local listenership increased by 11.2k the next day, and 7.7k the day after, marking the greatest daily increase since January 2, 2022 (20.6k) in the city. This surge can likely be attributed to the tour rather than the release of a new EP, due to how sizable the increase was and the lack of significant changes for the prior EPs for The Idol.
Similarly in Milan, there was a significant increase in his Spotify monthly listeners following his performances on July 26 and 27, with a growth of 13.6k on both July 27 and July 28. This was the highest increase since July 26, 2022 (32.4k). His monthly listeners grew by an average of 12.5k per day over the next three days, thanks to two sold-out nights and a crowd of around 160k attendees.
With a record-breaking 87k tickets sold for a "traditional concert set-up" at Wembley Stadium, Tesfaye witnessed a significant surge of 39k Spotify monthly listeners in the city. This increase marked the most substantial change in his Spotify monthly listeners in London since November 2, 2018, and stood out as the highest one-day increase throughout the entire European leg. The surge in monthly listeners suggests that, with a large number of fans attending the show and wanting to listen to his music before the event, local fans were highly engaged with his music.
Consequently, artists' tracks may climb the local charts, potentially reaching higher positions or even debuting when they are on tour. In this case, the immediate effect of the tour was seen on the Spotify Daily Top 50 and Apple Music Daily Top 100 charts in the days leading up to and following the concert. The countries with the highest new peaks for his songs on Spotify’s Daily Top 50 were Ireland (4), the Czech Republic (4), Belgium (5), and Estonia (18), all of which were countries where he performed. For example, on August 12, the same day of the show in Estonia, 14 of the 50 tracks on the country’s Spotify Daily Top 50 chart were by or featured The Weeknd, including “House of Balloons” and “The Hills.”
The impact was more noticeable on the Apple Music Daily Top 100, where 75 new peaks or debuts were observed across various countries. For instance, the song "I Can't Feel My Face" (released on June 8, 2015) achieved new peak positions in nine nations. In the Netherlands, “The Hills” jumped 63 positions to number 34 the day after the second show in the city.
Yet, the tour's impact extended beyond the borders of the countries where he performed. For instance, neighboring countries like Latvia and Lithuania saw shifts in their Spotify Daily Top 50, featuring songs like "Blinding Lights," "Moth To A Flame," and "Lost In The Fire," correlating with the date of the shows in the neighboring country Estonia.
From videos of the Hajime Sorayama robot statue in the middle of the stage to videos of fans singing along or even The Weeknd himself singing with a fan, #TheWeekndConcert has over 1.3 billion views on TikTok. With that, endless official and fan-made sounds were used. For instance, “Moth To A Flame” jumped from 26.1k posts on June 6 to 32k on August 18, a growth of 22.6%. “The Hills” increased slightly since June 23, jumping from 307.4k posts to 332.4k, a growth of 8.13% by August 18.
Tesfaye's adept use of social media platforms became integral to the tour experience. Before any show, he posted teases of songs he might perform, adding unpredictability and engagement to each tour stop. For instance, he hinted at the inclusion of fan favorite "High for This" in Amsterdam. Fans were left speculating whether he would surprise them with such a rare gem during the show. He ended up teasing and performing the song, fulfilling fans' anticipation.
For established superstars, social media is primarily used to interact and engage with their fans and promote new releases. It is more of a tool for fan retention, rather than discovery or shaping their public image. However, The Weeknd saw a remarkable surge in his Instagram following from May 29 to June 28 of this year. He gained an impressive 3.5 million new followers in just that one month, indicating that despite his fame, he continues to attract new fans.
Going on Tour is His Vacation
From the different setlists per city, surprising fans, and the thrill of live performances, there is something for everyone to take away from this tour, whether you are an artist or a fan. It’s a celebration of more than a decade of great artistry, dedicated fandom, and, ultimately, the entire alternate world of The Weeknd’s persona. As he sings in "Snowchild," "Going on tour is my vacation."
Unfortunately, The Weeknd is now experiencing an extended vacation from this vacation. After the recent South American leg, he is now faced with the disappointment of postponing tour dates in Australia and New Zealand due to unforeseen circumstances. Despite this setback, the memories created during this summer will endure as one of the highlights of his career, forever holding a special place in the hearts of his European fans. Til next time, Abel Tesfaye — hope to catch you at the After Party.
Graphics by Nicki Camberg and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of Nov. 20, 2023.