Friday Song: “Blinding Lights”

A record-setting hit that harkens back to '80s synth-pop — yet feels so fresh

The Weeknd’s 2020 hit “Blinding Lights” was the first song ever to be in the Top 10 of the US charts for an entire year. It ended up spending almost two years (90 weeks) in the Hot 100 and topped the charts in 40 other countries. The song was streamed 2.72 billion times that year, and became the first song to surpass 4 billion streams on Spotify.

Compared favorably to the best synth-pop of the 1980s, the Weeknd and his producers (three of whom also helped write the song) infused its impeccable soundscape with modern flair, creating a song that leaps into your consciousness and makes itself at home. The bass synths and pads are especially tasty, and contrast perfectly with the Weeknd’s lyric tenor voice.

The Weeknd is the stage name of Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, a Canadian singer-songwriter-performer who began releasing music anonymously in 2009. He released more music through 2011 without disclosing his identity, which only added to the intrigue. In 2012, he signed with Republic Records, and his first album Kiss Land debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. In 2014, he won a Grammy for his song “Earned It” from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, a song which was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. More Grammy and other awards and nominations followed. He recently became just the 18th musical artist to chart at least 100 songs in the Top 100 chart.

“Blinding Lights” was notoriously not nominated for a Grammy in any category, which ignited a controversy on social media and with the artist, who felt it was a personal attack given the song’s success and reception. The Grammy committee responded that it was a hard song to categorize, so its strong support was probably split across categories, leading it to fall short in all.

The video for “Blinding Lights” picks up where his video for a previous hit, “Heartless,” left off, with the Weeknd wandering the streets of Vegas. The blood is fake. Remember that.