Canadian R&B star The Weeknd hooked up with Swedish producer/songwriter Max Martin and his team of hitmakers to craft this summer’s international smash hit, Can’t Feel My Face. Initially leaked in late May 2015, the song was officially released on June 8th and debuted at no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the next few weeks the song steadily climbed the charts, eventually edging Cheerleader out of the number one spot, making Can’t Feel My Face The Weeknd’s first No. 1 hit.
Among the many characteristics that contributed to the song’s success are Tesfaye’s classic, Michael Jackson-esque vocal delivery, the infectious bass hook that’s in effect for 65% of the song’s total composition, and the clever drug/relationship themed lyrics that provide the song with a unique, engaging spin. However, it’s the clever manner in which the song’s two disparate vibes – haze and R&B/Soul Funk – interact with one another that ultimately put Can’t Feel My Face over-the-top.
What follows is a section-by-section look at how these vibes play off of one another throughout the song.
[Header1 header=”Hazy Backing Music / Funky R&B Vocals“]
Can’t Feel My Face begins with a hazy, “in the ether” vibe, which is put into effect by the morphing, distorting, and swelling synths. The vibe carries over into the first verse via the backing music, which perfectly jibes with and accentuates the song’s opening line, “and I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb.”
It’s also in the first verse where the listener is first introduced to the song’s other primary vibe – R&B/Soul Funk. Here it’s put into effect via the funky Michael Jackson-esque qualities of Tesfaye’s vocal. This hazy/funky combo remains in effect right through the pre-chorus.
[Header1 header=”Clever Vibe Reversal: Funky Backing Music / Hazy Vocals“]
As soon as the chorus enters, the elements that produce the aforementioned vibes are cleverly reversed. The backing music transitions from a hazy, “in the ether” synth soundscape over to grooving, driving funk, and the vocal transitions away from funky Michael Jackson into “in the ether” haze. A key characteristic that puts this into effect is the “blue note” vocal lift that occurs at the end of the title line, “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you.”
The next one-and-a-half sections (verse 2 and the first half of pre-chorus 2) keep the driving, grooving, funky backing music of the preceding chorus in effect. Note that this is in contrast to the hazy synth soundscape that defines their verse 1 and pre-chorus 1 counterparts. As a result, the “like section” differentiation (e.g. verse 1 vs. verse 2) takes the engagement value of the song to the next level. The Michael Jackson influenced vocal is also in effect, which along with the backing music provides the section with a full on Funk/R&B/Soul vibe with minimal traces of haze.
[Header1 header=”Clever In-Section Vibe Shift / Groove Respite“]
During the second-half of the second pre-chorus an interesting and clever shift takes place. The drums and bass are pulled from the mix, and the synths once again begin to take center stage. This, along with the processing that’s featured on Tesfaye’s vocal reintroduces the haze into the mix, albeit briefly. This shift functions to provide the listener with a much needed respite from the driving, grooving Funk of the preceding sections, especially considering that the ensuing chorus launches right back into it.
[Header1 header=”Return Of The Groove – With A Twist“]
The second chorus returns the song to the grooving, driving Funk that was temporarily done away in the second-half of the pre-chorus, coupled with the hazy lead vocal. However, in contrast to the first chorus, the second chorus is a double and features an interesting shift/addition that takes place in the second-half.
At this point a secondary lead vocal overlay enters the mix, which works in tandem with the primary lead. In contrast to the hazy qualities of Tesfaye’s solo lead, this vocal possesses a distinct Michael Jackson-esqe harmony-laden quality. Its addition takes the infectious nature and impact of the section to the next level due to the contrast imparted relative to the first half.
[Header1 header=”Back Into The Ether“]
The next two ensuing sections – the brief vocal break and the “rare” pre-chorus 3 – shift gears by returning to the hazy, “in the ether” synth soundscape that defines the first three sections of the song. The first-half of the pre-chorus features a hazy vocal from Tesfaye, while the second-half reverts back to the Michael Jackson-esqe qualities of the non-chorus sections of the song. These two back-to-back sections provide a stringent departure where you would typically expect to find the bridge – which is a section that Can’t Feel My Face doesn’t contain in its framework.
[Header1 header=”Hazy Funk & Out“]
Following the tension/anticipation laden “wait for it” moment at the end of the third pre-chorus, the listener is thrust back into the same Funk/haze combo in the third chorus that defined the second chorus. The outro then keeps the grooving Funk in effect as it rides the listener out on the song’s funky bass line hook.
To learn more about the characteristics and techniques utilized to help launch Can’t Feel My Face to the top of the charts throughout the world, read our Can’t Feel My Face Deconstructed Report by clicking here.