Chart-topping Canadian singer The Weeknd is arguably as well known for his signature hair as for his morose, ethereal take on indie and R&B music. And it was his hair—or, rather, a famous pop star’s perennial cluelessness—that put him in what many black people know to be an uncomfortable and utterly infuriating situation.
In his new Rolling Stone cover story, which hit stands last week, the 25-year-old singer (whose parents hail from Ethiopia) talked about meeting Taylor Swift for the first time at a post-Grammys party for British hitmaker Sam Smith. Despite what he described as an overall positive interaction with the reigning pop princess, The Weeknd, whose legal name is Abel Tesfaye, did relate a story that is all too familiar for people of color:
Tesfaye says Swift went on for about 15 minutes. “But the whole time she was talking,” he says, “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.’”
So maybe it actually was enjoyable for The Weeknd, or maybe he was so uncomfortable that he had no idea how else to respond or feel. Either way—and, really, this should go without saying—it is not cool to touch black people’s hair without their consent (and besides, what’s going on with you that you think it’s cool to even think of doing in the first place?). That Swift did so is part of a pattern of behavior for the solidarity-espousing artist, where she constantly makes herself the center of attention and doesn’t seem to understand the specific ways that her behavior perpetuates otherization and erasure of black people’s feelings and voices. Clearly, she didn’t heed any of our recommendations of how not to treat black people, and she treated The Weeknd like less than a human during their interaction.
The Weeknd also elaborated on his iconic hairstyle, saying that he drew inspiration from celebrated artist Jean-Michel Basquiat:
Tesfaye says the hair was partly inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat. He began growing it out four years ago: “I want to be remembered as iconic and different,” he says. “So I was like, ‘Fuck 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.”