The Weeknd will take fans on a journey through his career Sunday during the Super Bowl halftime show at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
The Grammy-award winning artist has evolved a lot over the years, but he’s always crooned about heartbreak, breaking hearts, and what it's like to live with no heart at all. He's conveyed these conceits through various genres — grungy R&B, bright and chiseled pop, industrial pop, and others — earning more fans and growing his global reach with each new album.
But The Weeknd, also known as Abel Tesfaye, isn’t singularly insistent on matters of love outside his verses. The mysterious and irresistible songwriter has spent the past few years expanding his philanthropic pursuits and using his clout to back political issues.
The 30-year-old artist’s actions often speak just as loud as his words.
Over the course of 2020, the Weeknd donated at least $2.15 million to various causes, according to HuffPost. He sent $300,000 to Global Aid in Lebanon to help survivors rebuild in the aftermath of the devastating explosions last summer. He also donated huge sums to the racial justice groups Black Lives Matter, National Bail Out, and Know Your Rights Camp Legal Defense Fund. He split $1 million between MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund and frontline health workers at Scarborough Health Network, Huff Post reports.
The Weeknd also staged a TikTok fundraiser for the Equal Justice Initiative that raised $350,000.
With multiple billion-plus stream songs under his belt, The Weeknd doesn't have much to prove artistically. But as any advocate knows, the work of social justice is never-ending. That's why his track record of philanthropy goes back several years.
In 2018, The Weeknd was a headliner at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in New York to raise awareness for these and other causes.
In 2016, he donated $250,000 to the Black Lives Matter Movement not long after he released the 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. #blacklivesmatter.”
The Weeknd tweeted that after the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two Black men who were shot and killed by police officers in 2016. Their deaths further galvanized the already ascendent Black Lives Matter movement, which has irrevocably changed the political conversation in the United States and beyond.
Tesfaye’s plainly worded statement unambiguously announced his allegiance to the cause at a time when celebrities were facing consequences for backing the movement. His donation then put his words to work.
Tesfaye has supported a variety of other causes in recent years.
Earlier in 2016, he donated $50,000 to the University of Toronto to start a Ethiopic Studies program. Tesfaye is Ethiopian-Canadian and spoke Amharic, the primary language of Ethiopia, while growing up.
His songs are sometimes influenced by Ethiopian poetry and music, and he plans to further explore these sounds in future albums.
He’s supported the Ethiopian diaspora in other ways, too, donating $50,000 to the St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Toronto.
The Starboy has also looked beyond North America. His friend French Montana, the Bronx rapper, traveled on a trip organized by Global Citizen to Uganda in 2017 to visit the Suubi Health Center, a small rural clinic, where he met with the founders and discussed ways that he could help.
One way was to start a movement of global influencers committing funds and raising awareness. So that’s what he did.
Tesfaye turned out to be one of the first major supporters of the cause, donating $100,000 to help the clinic complete construction of its first floor, an upgrade that enabled thousands of people to access health care.
Access to health care in Uganda is a split geographically. People living in cities tend to be able to see doctors when they need to, while the 30 million people living as subsistence farmers tend have poor access to health services.
Suubi Health Center aims to address this imbalance, albeit locally and on a small scale. Maternal death rates are higher than the global average in Uganda, and Suubi specializes in helping mothers give birth.
By helping the health center become operational, Tesfaye was able to make sure that mothers in the area are able to get medical quality treatment before, during, and after birth.
Helping community initiatives take root and grow — that seems to be the motivation behind most of his philanthropy.
This article was originally published on Sept. 4, 2018, and has been updated.