Right now, the Weeknd is flying about as high as any musician can possibly fly during quarantine. For the past two weeks, the Weeknd has had both America’s #1 album (After Hours) and #1 single (“Blinding Lights“). And evidently, Abel Tesfaye is feeling himself, since he’s just provoked one of the modern gods of R&B.
Yesterday, Variety published a cover-story feature on the Weeknd. In that piece, the Weeknd talks about the impact of his 2011 debut mixtape House Of Balloons, which is indisputable. He also claims that Usher’s 2012 single “Climax” was “a Weeknd song,” which is considerably more disputable. Here’s what the Weeknd says in that interview:
House Of Balloons literally changed the sound of pop music before my eyes. I heard “Climax,” that Usher song, and was like, “Holy fuck, 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.
“Climax” was definitely a song in tune with its moment. Diplo produced the track, and Usher co-wrote it with Diplo, Ariel Rechtshaid, and Sean Fenton. It’s an exquisite verge-of-a-breakup record full of strings and tastefully applied dance-music touches. “Climax” wasn’t one of Usher’s biggest hits — it peaked at #17 on the Hot 100 — but it’s one of his best-loved tracks, especially in music-nerd corners of the internet.
“Climax” might share some DNA with House Of Balloons, but I would dispute the notion that it’s “a Weeknd song.” So, it seems, would Usher.
In that Variety article, the writer Jem Aswad writes that “reps for Usher did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment.” But Usher has found a roundabout way to comment instead. The R&B singer-songwriter Eric Bellinger, who has collaborated with Usher a bunch of times but who isn’t credited on “Climax,” started up what he’s calling the #ClimaxChallenge on Instagram. The idea behind the whole thing is that Abel Tesfaye could never hit the kinds of falsetto power-notes that Usher nails on “Climax” — that it can’t be a Weeknd song if the Weeknd can’t sing it. Bellinger implicitly challenges the Weeknd to try singing “Climax,” and Bellinger includes a video of his own take on the chorus.
Usher has not directly addressed the Weeknd’s line in that interview in any way. But on his Instagram story, Usher has posted a few videos of himself listening to different #ClimaxChallenge attempts. He’s also posted his own version of it, singing the absolute shit out of his own song. It sure looks like a direct challenge to the Weeknd. Here, watch:
Can’t take it back, Abel. It’s too late.
UPDATE: Some of the various parties involved with the production and writing of “Climax” have started to weigh in on Twitter. Diplo says that House Of Balloons did have an influence, but Ariel Rechtshaid replied and said that it was “was inspired in the room without any subconscious or conscious outside influence.” Here are their tweets:
one of my favorite voices of all time. I’m glad @usher, Ariel, Eric, and I all got together to make that epic song. I remember I had the title of the song before I had the beat. It was conceptual from the beginning.
— Thomas Wesley (@diplo) April 9, 2020
It was a song that always had a crescendo but never felt like it reached the peak. kind of like some relationships never make it to where you want them but for a moment it could feel like ecstasy.
— Thomas Wesley (@diplo) April 9, 2020
i tweet this with the utmost respect to all parties involved. climax was inspired in the room without any subconscious or conscious outside influence.
— Ariel RechtshAid (@arielrechtshaid) April 9, 2020
The Weeknd even got back into the conversation, tweeting that “Of course media blows things out of proportion and takes things out of context.” :
Of course media blows things out of proportion and takes things out of context. Usher is a King and always an inspiration so it was flattering to hear what him and Diplo did on climax. XO https://t.co/GdLX4xD58a
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) April 9, 2020
But Usher has also appears to have responded to Tesfaye’s claim with a weird clapback even after that: “Have you ever seen the moon bark back at the dog?” What does that mean!? Puzzle it out yourself…
Have you ever seen the moon bark back at the dog?
— Usher Raymond IV (@Usher) April 9, 2020