The Weeknd is famously laconic. He doesn’t talk much. Ever since the Canadian singer materialized on the music scene back in 2010, identity shrouded in the dense haze of anonymity, his energies have been spent on cultivating a distinctive sense of mystery. He’s dark. The music is bruised, melancholic. Fatalistic. You wouldn’t expect a man with an album called “Starboy” to be so averse to the idea of global spotlight, but here we have him, parrying interview requests and only ever tweeting impersonal, career-related dispatches.
Instead, Abel Tesfaye prefers to put his money where his mouth is. And he often does. On Wednesday, the singer quietly donated $300,000 to Global Aid in Lebanon, a relief effort committed to supporting the victims of the country’s recent disaster. On Aug. 4, twin explosions tore through the nation’s capital of Beirut, leaving behind $10 to 15 billion USD in property damage, displacing 300,000 from their homes and killing more than 200 others to date.
“I am so honoured an humbled to work with artists who have such deep care for the world and right now for our brothers and sisters of Lebanon who are in pain and need our collective help,” The Weeknd’s manager, Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, wrote in a post on Instagram announcing the donation. “I want to thank my brother @theweeknd for his generous and class act of donating $300,000 to the Global Aid for Lebanon campaign.”
The devastating seismic blast in Beirut was loud enough to be registered 241 kilometres away, on the island of Cyprus. A port that was vital for the country’s trade and imports was totally levelled, and hospitals already backed up with COVID-19 patients were left to treat those injured by the blast out on the city streets. “There is an acute shortage of everything,” Hamad Hasan, the country’s health minister, told reporters.
The last couple of months have been marked by such donations from The Weeknd, made in relative silence. Since June, the singer, who is estimated to be worth $92 million, has given away around $2.15 million to various social justice organizations — that we know of so far, that is. $100,000 went to National Bail Out, a collective of Black abolitionist organizers working to end mass incarceration. $200,000 went to the Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defense Initiative, to support those who were arrested or fell prey to police brutality while protesting the extrajudicial murders of Black people. $500,000 went to the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. Another $500,000 to frontline health workers at Scarborough Health Network.
When he donated $200,000 to Black Lives Matter, the singer wrote a post on Instagram, asking others to do the same: “Keep supporting our brothers and sisters out there risking everything to push for actual change for our black lives,” he wrote. “Urging everyone with big pockets to give and give big and if you have less please give what you can even if it’s a small amount.
And on Aug. 7, The Weeknd held an interactive virtual concert on TikTok, which managed to raise $350,000 for the Equal Justice Initiative through the sale of some limited merchandise.
Though his music has always refused to be sweet or spritely, the man himself has often shown his heart over the years, insisting on leveraging his stardom for social justice.
In 2016, he donated $250,000 to Black Lives Matter shortly after releasing a statement: “Enough is enough. It’s time to stand up for this. We can either sit and watch, or do something about it. The time is now.”
Earlier that year, he gave $50,000 to the University of Toronto to fund a new class on Ethiopic studies, in the hopes of preserving the Ge’ez language. (Tesfaye is Ethiopian Canadian.) “The Weeknd Is Helping Communities Around The World Flourish,” reads a Global Citizen headline, from 2018.
Quiet as he might be, Tesfaye’s actions make a statement when it counts.
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