Two days before Washington found itself in the Weeknd’s orbit, the video for his single “Starboy” officially surpassed 1 billion YouTube views. In it, the Canadian crooner kidnaps and suffocates a version of his former self, destroying any evidence of its existence. So when his shape-shifting Star Destroyer landed Thursday night in the packed Verizon Center to open his set with an electrifying performance of that same single, it felt like bearing witness to an opulent celebration.

For fans of the Weeknd around the time of his 2011 debut mixtape “House of Balloons,” it was hard to imagine this point. His songs then were atmospheric and drug-laden in both feel and lyrical content (the latter hasn’t changed much). They felt as distant as he was. But as his star grew, so too did his sound, as ornate pop music all but replaced his ambient R&B. Synths and hollow electronics were swallowed by textured instrumentation — in the case of live performance, courtesy of his three-man band on drums, guitar, bass and keys.

Still, the mark of a truly great pop star lies in the ability to widen his appeal without neglecting the evolution of his own art. The fans are always craving their favorite versions of an artist, and there have to be through lines for when the 1,000-capacity smoke-filled rooms inevitably become 18,000-capacity arenas. The Weeknd achieved this beautifully.

His stage and catwalk resembled a Flying V guitar as his ship changed color and shape as it hovered above. Aptly, his set — adorned in astro imagery — could be likened to flying. The liftoff was a sensory-overload romp through some of his more splashy hits. The stands literally shook as he ran through “Starboy” singles “Party Monster” and “Reminder,” bathed in a psychedelic light show. Approaching cruising altitude, he resuscitated the ghost of himself with mellowed renditions of Drake’s “Crew Love” and “Often,” complete with a celestial sequence of new and old subdued jams including “Starboy” standout “True Colors,” his very first single “Wicked Games,” a starry acoustic version of “Angel” and the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack hit “Earned It.” During these moments, his refined singing voice became fully revealed. The Michael Jackson vocal comparisons no longer seemed quite as absurd, his signature falsetto soaring and his tenor oozing poise and confidence.

As any frequent flier knows, landing has a similar but slightly lesser intensity than takeoff. Here, the colors were softer and laser beams replaced the strobes, but the closing songs stood out nevertheless. It’s no coincidence that three of the final five (“In the Night,” “Rockin’,” and “Can’t Feel My Face”) were produced by pop powerhouse Max Martin, who helped usher the Weeknd into this new phase of his career. His grand finale was an encore of “The Hills” drenched in red lights and images of fire as if we’d just landed on the sun with an artist far from his days of contrived obscurity. Now wearing his undeniable superstardom proudly, the realization settles in that the Weeknd’s little house of balloons has officially grown into a full-fledged spaceship.