Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on


The Weeknd Finally Breaks Into the Mainstream with the NSFW "Wicked Games"

Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on the logic that just because a lot of the music on the radio is crap doesn't mean all the music on the radio is crap.

The hit: "Wicked Games," by The Weeknd, off House of Balloons.

Current chart position: #76 on iTunes, #68 on Billboard Hot 100, #19 on Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

The team: Abel Tesfaye, the 22-year-old artist known as The Weeknd, wrote "Wicked Games" with the young producer Rainer Millar Blanchaer and the two men responsible for producing all three of his mixtape (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence, all of which were packaged together as the Trilogy album last November)--Doc McKinney, who has produced tracks for Cee Lo Green, Drake, and Santigold, and Carlo "Illangelo" Montagnese, who has produced The Weeknd's remixes and collaborations with Drake ("Crew Love"), Lady Gaga ("Marry the Night (The Weeknd & Illangelo Remix))," Wiz Khalifa ("Remember You"), and Florence and the Machine ("Shake It Out (The Weeknd Remix)").

Breakdown: The Weeknd's been on many a critic and R&B fan's radar for a while now--House of Balloons, the much raved-about first of his mixtapes, was even nominated 2011 Polaris Music Prize. (Tesfaye, like his friend and collaborator Drake, hails from Toronto). He capitalized off of the glowing reviews and building buzz by releasing the compilation album Trilogy in November, and "Wicked Games," a song from early 2011, was chosen as the reissue's first single. It's also given Tesfaye his first taste of mainstream success--it's charting commercially and has been added to regular rotation at urban radio stations like Seattle's KUBE 93.3.

The radio's had to tamp the song down a bit in order to avoid trouble from the FCC--"Wicked Games" bears one resemblance to Chris Isaak's 1989 hit "Wicked Game" in its overt, living, breathing sexuality. Tesfaye gets much more explicit than Isaak, though. "Wicked Games" details an intense, desperate night with a rebound. The singer is reeling from the realization that he doesn't love his girlfriend anymore, and he wants the woman he's addressing to help him get over his pain: "Bring your love, baby/I could bring my shame/Bring the drugs, baby/I could bring my pain." Later in the song, he begs, "So tell me you love me/Only for tonight/Only for one night/Even though you don't love me/Just tell me you love me."

The song is backed by dark, doomy synths and cold, metallic percussion, but its main vehicle is Tesfaye's stunning vocals. He sings about taking the edge off with sex and drugs and "drank," but his soaring singing brings an astounding sense of ravaged emotion to open-heart lines like, "I got my heart right here/I got my scars right here." The way he's able to convey damage and sickening, racking pain is almost supernatural. Tesfaye's voice could very well be the most powerful instrument in pop music today.

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