This song finds Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye describing a passionate affair with a woman that he knows is no good for him, but is enjoying too much to stop. His lyrics describing the numbing sensation of being in love are crooned over pop synths courtesy of Swedish pop songwriter Max Martin, who has previously worked with the likes of Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.
"I can't feel my face" is a line from the 2001 movie Blow; Bobcat Goldthwait's character says it after taking a bump of cocaine.
This led to rumors that the song is about cocaine, and there is ample evidence to back up the theory, as The Weeknd is clearly out of sorts over something that he knows isn't good for him, but he can't resist. Musically, the song is rather unpredictable, simulating the erratic feeling the drug induces.
The Weeknd goes through a range of emotions as this song progresses to the chorus. In the verses, he seems to have made peace with this relationship ("And she'll always get the best of me the worst is yet to come"). In the pre-chorus, however, he is drawn back in, as she tells him not to worry, that she's in this with him. Finally, he reaches the agony and the ecstasy of the chorus, where he can't feel his face.
Abel Tesfaye debuted the song at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote speech in San Francisco on June 8, 2015. The R&B singer took to the stage after it had been announced that Apple would be launching a new streaming service, called Apple Music, later that month.
Directed by Grant Singer, who also helmed the clip for his track "The Hills
," the video sees The Weeknd perform the single in front of a packed, smoky club. However, he struggles to win over the audience and when one man lights a cigarette then throws the lighter at the singer, he is engulfed in flames. The audience, seeing the heat turned up, get on their feet and party.
This was the 21st Hot 100 #1 with Max Martin on the credits, but the first one recorded by a solo male artist. The previous 20 of the Swedish producer's chart-toppers had been recorded by either solo female artists or groups.
Entertainment Tonight asked The Weeknd's model girlfriend, Bella Hadid, if this song is about her. "There's a lot that goes on his mind, so I don't know if it's about me," she replied. "It's crazy what some people think of."
This was voted the Best Song of 2015 by the Billboard magazine critics. They said: "There are enough hooks in this one single for a dozen chart-toppers, but Abel Tesfaye packed them all into three-and-a-half minutes of sheer ecstasy."
The Rolling Stone writers agreed also ranking this as their Song of the Year. They said: "Tesfaye's showstopping vocal performance is what makesit an instant classic. He spends the song remaking himself as a pop giant – cleverly disguising his obsession with drugs beneath a metaphor about a dangerously hot fling, and playing down his angst-y tendencies until there's just a hint of existential pain in his lighter-than-air falsetto. By the time the song is over, you'll do anything for another hit."
The Weeknd performed this at the Grammy Awards in 2016, where it was up for Best Pop Solo Performance and Record Of The Year. It didn't win either award, but Beauty Behind The Madness
picked up Best Urban Contemporary Album and "Earned It
" won for Best R&B Performance.
In a 2016 interview with Zane Lowe for Beats 1, The Weeknd revealed this tune was born out of a sudden burst of creative energy. "It was the fastest song I had written on Beauty Behind the Madness," he said. "It was one of the last records. It almost didn't make the record. We wrote that in about maybe 40 minutes, recorded it, and it ended up being one of my biggest records ever."
He also spoke about the apprehension he felt releasing an abnormally upbeat single for himself. "'Can't Feel My Face' definitely made me nervous because it was so separate from what I'm used to putting out," he said. "It was a risk. But doing songs like 'Earned It' and 'Love Me Harder' definitely - I think 'Love Me Harder' was even more nervous for me, so doing that I was kind of sending a message and kind of easing into 'Can't Feel My Face.'"
The Weeknd penned the song with Swedish songwriter-producers Max Martin, Peter Svensson and Ali Payami plus American hitmaker Savan Kotecha. The quintet had been working for a few days and had already come up with "In the Night
" when this tune was created:
"I was sitting in a room with Savan, Abel, Max, and Peter," Payami recalled To Billboard
magazine. "I had been listening to some modern, disco-y influenced tracks and we started jamming. It was very natural; there wasn't a moment like, 'I have an idea, let's do this!' It just came together."
"It's a very simple song," Payami added regarding the hit track. "It's not super advanced."