On first encounter, the idea of a song by the Weeknd for the film Fifty Shades of Grey is almost too on the nose. The doomed-sex theme of Toronto R&B singer Abel Tesfaye’s early mixtapes, packaged together as 2012′s Trilogy, was beginning to calcify into shtick by last year’s Kiss Land. With a voice out of Michael Jackson’s personal Neverland, Tesfaye shouldn’t have to be a one-trick pop artist. Wouldn’t doing the film adaptation of E L James’s BDSM-oriented 2011 novel sort of typecast him?
That’s a risk he must’ve been willing to take. In fact, Fifty Shades track “Earned It” is one of the singer’s most focused since his mixtape-era standouts such as “What You Need,” only here he works in waltzing symphonic pop fit for the cinema screen, rather than syrup-dazed bedroom experimentalism. As with Beyoncé‘s “Crazy in Love” remake from the movie trailer, it works through suggestion rather than anything explicit; we’re left to wonder what, exactly, this “perfect” girl has earned. If it’s the way Tesfaye tosses around the title phrase, like a cat batting around a yarn ball, well, damn. Not a bad way to be typecast, then.