The 25-year-old singer, real name Abel Tesfaye, is arguably this year’s biggest breakout star—he currently has two No. 1 singles, “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills,” and he’s the 12th artist in history to score back to back Number Ones (perRolling Stone).
Yet, in spite of his super stardom, little is known about the Toronto native, who recently sat down with Rolling Stone for a candid chat about his music, personal life and meteoric rise to fame.
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Covering the November issue of the mag alongside the headline, “Sex, Drugs and R&B,” the musician sheds his cryptic persona and gives a deeper look into his mysterious mind. Here are 16 things we learned:
1. He’s Much Nicer Than He Seems in His Music: “When people meet me, they say that I’m really kind – contrary to a lot of my music,” the hitmaker, whose lyrics include “Bring your love baby I could bring my shame/Bring the drugs baby I could bring my pain,” reveals.
2. He’s Still Adjusting to His A-List Lifestyle: “I just started being fancy, to be honest. Like, I just started learning how to pronounce what I’m wearing.”
3. He Doesn’t Like to Do Interviews Because He Didn’t Graduate High School: “Me not finishing school– in my head, I still have this insecurity when I’m talking to someone educated. I don’t want them looking at me like this f–king retard – no disrespect.”
4. His Iconic Hairstyle Stemmed From His Desire to Be Different: “I want to be remembered as iconic and different. So I was like, ‘F–k it – I’m gonna let my hair just be what it wants.’ I’ll probably cut it if it starts interfering with my sight. I can kind of see it right now. But if I cut it, I’d look like everyone else. And that’s just so boring to me.”
5. Taylor Swift Couldn’t Stop Petting His Hair During Their First Encounter: Tesfaye met the superstar at a 2015 Grammys after-party, where he admits, “Everyone was hammered.” Swift approached the singer and told him how much she loves his music, “but the whole time she was talking, she was kind of, like, petting my hair? I think she was just drawn to it — she must have been a little gone off a few drinks. And of course I’m not going to be like, ‘Hey, can you stop?’ I mean, it felt good! But when she started petting my hair, that’s when I was like, ‘I definitely need a drink.'”
6. He’s a Mama’s Boy: “Everything good, I get from my mother,” he says adding that he recently bought her a “huge house” in Toronto. “I think me getting my diploma would make her much happier, though,” he admits.
7. He Doesn’t Know His Father, But He Doesn’t Hold Resentment: “I saw him vaguely when I was six, and then again when I was 11 or 12, and he had a new family and kids. I don’t even know where he lived – I’d see him for, like, a night. I’m sure he’s a great guy. I never judged him. He wasn’t abusive, he wasn’t an alcoholic, he wasn’t an asshole. He just wasn’t there.”
8. He’s Candid About His Past Drug Use and Was Previously Homeless: “I never needed detox or anything. But I was addicted in the sense of ‘F–k, I don’t want to spend this day without getting high,'” he admits. “Like, ’08 to 2010 –those are my hazy years.”
9. He Just Found Out Girlfriend Bella Hadid Is Training for the Olympics: “I read that!” he says of his girlfriend, who isan award-winning equestrian. “I hope she does. I’ve never seen her do it, but word on the street is she’s bangin’ at it.”
10. He Admits Their Relationship Wouldn’t Have Worked Two Years Ago (And Not Because of Her Age): “If I’d met someone two years ago, I probably would’ve f–ked it up. But I’m more – how do I say it? – clear-thinking now.”
11. The Sex in His Music Is Autobiographical: “I don’t want to sound like that guy where sex is not an obstacle. But I’ve had a lot of sex.”
12. He Lost His Virginity at 16: “She was so drunk. I was drunk too. It was the worst experience of my life. Losing your virginity to an older woman sounds good, but it was kinda like, ‘Oh s–t, it’s done?'”
13. He Got Starstruck Meeting Leonardo DiCaprio: “I don’t get star-struck, but I get star-struck when I see someone like that. Our tables were beside each other, and the owner of the club knew how important he was to me, so he introduced me.”
14. He Thinks His Rental Home in the Hollywood Hills Is Haunted: “I’ve had sleep paralysis. I hear voices sometimes. I heard the Hills are over Indian burial ground. But maybe it’s just the wind.”
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15. He Hasn’t Let His Success Get to His Head: “I’m not known as the greatest singer right now, but I’m also not known as the guy who f–king sucks, you know?”
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
16. He Won’t Stop Until He’s Considered a Legend: “Coachella was the first show I did in the States, and I hated my performance,” he admits. “I was scared s–tless. I got on stage and thought I did pretty good, then I watched the tape, and it was a nightmare. I saw all the comments, and I wanted to kill myself. I remember telling my agent, ‘You need to book me as many shows as possible. That guy onstage is not a star. That’s not a legend.'”