When most of us first discovered The Weeknd, in the early months of 2011, it was in an atmosphere of vagueness and secrecy. Those early songs and that debut mixtape, House of Balloons, sounded genuinely, astonishingly new, and as if to drive home just how unique the style felt, it seemed to materialize out of nothing. Forget press releases, promotional tours, and overhyped music video premieres. When The Weeknd first emerged out of the ether, he didn’t even have a name. No one could even say for sure whether this was one guy or an entire group.
A decade later, Abel Tesfaye is an icon, a household name, and one of the world’s biggest stars—not bad for a kid from Scarborough. But while Abel eventually opened up and shed his faceless, nameless persona, his origins are still largely shrouded in mystery, leaving us to piece together his past from stray quotes in rare interviews and old clips that pop up online. As he celebrates his 31st birthday today, let’s look back over Abel’s early years and lay out everything we know about The Weeknd before he was famous.