“XO + 999 Thursday Night,” The Weeknd posted to Instagram on Aug. 4 while sharing a picture of the late Juice WRLD, confirming that a once rumored collaboration was going to become a reality. The song – entitled “Smile” – arrived on Aug. 7, and it was exactly what fans had hoped for. It came as a comfort to hear Juice WRLD’s one-of-a-kind voice immediately kick off the song, which fans have been missing.
Juice WRLD and The Weeknd’s message is simple in this collab: they just want the person their serenading to “smile,” a message that takes on new meaning in the wake of Juice WRLD’s death. “I want you to prosper and come proper even if that means I ain’t by your side,” Juice WRLD sings, with that familiar depth of vulnerability that made the late rapper a household name.
The Weeknd’s message – “XO” representing his record label, and “999” being the number Juice WRLD used throughout his career before his death in December 2019 – sent fans scurrying through the Twitter archives to find a Sep. 10, 2019 tweet from Juice. “Me and The Weeknd would make a diamond record…” the rapper tweeted, and The Weeknd retweeted it almost a year later with a trio of prayer hands.
This song comes as both The Weeknd (born Abel Tesfaye) and Juice WRLD (born Jarad Higgins) have found chart success in different ways. The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” has been a staple of the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No. 1 and never really straying that far from the top of the charts. Juice WRLD’s posthumous album, Legends Never Die, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, selling a total of 497,000 equivalent album units to briefly dethroning The Weeknd’s After hours as the biggest release of 2020 (a record that Taylor Swift would smash a week later.) It still remains the most successful posthumous album of the past 20 years in America, per NME.
XO + 999 Thursday Night
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) August 4, 2020
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) August 5, 2020
Juice WRLD died on Dec. 8, 2019, suffering a seizure shortly after arriving at Chicago’s Midway International Airport. Juice Wrld’s cause of death was released at the start of the year, with the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office ruling that the 21-year-old rapper died “as a result of oxycodone and codeine toxicity. The manner of death is an accident.” Juice reportedly ingested “several unknown pills” after authorities searched his private jet, uncovering 70 pounds of cannabis and three firearms. Seven months later after his death, Juice’s estate would release his album, and on Legends Never Die, he would rap about how his substance abuse was “killing me.”
Despite the COVID-19 coronavirus putting the music industry on pause, 2020 has been a busy year for The Weeknd. In addition to releasing After Hours – which left fans speculating if he was referencing his former relationships to Selena Gomez and Bella Hadid – the singer made a surprise appearance on American Dad. During the animated cameo, he sings about being a virgin, which is counter to everything the sexy crooner is about. “I’m a longtime fan of the show,” he told Variety. “I’ve been watching since high school but I really appreciated it about seven years ago. It’s been running for so long, and I feel like it has a real cult following. To really enjoy the show in its entirety you have to really know the characters.”
And what’s one thing not many people know about The Weeknd? “I’m very approachable and people don’t really know that about me. It might be surprising to some to learn how inquisitive I am and how much I love talking to people and going deep into conversation.”