By: Adrian Duah-Mensah
Trigger Warning: This article mentions self-harm and drug use. If you’re sensitive to these topics, please don’t read or proceed with caution. If you’re in immediate danger, call 911. Stay safe.
I’m an indie kid. This is something you would understand after 2 minutes of knowing me. I’m the type of guy to wear a “Flower Boy” shirt in public, as I go home to my Wallows, The Neighbourhood, Arctic Monkeys, and Beebadoobee posters strung up across my wall, with my fairy lights perched right above them. But there was one thing for sure; The Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime performance was the death of me. I mean this in a partly good and a partly bad way. On the one hand, the set up was pretty, with the Vegas-like church setting in the beginning, to the masked dancers, and the mesmerizing violinists at “Earned It”, and just about everything about the “Save Your Tears” and “Can’t Feel My Face” performances were great. “Can’t Feel My Face” in particular had an interesting concept. On the other hand, it was a little underwhelming. The Weeknd has a lot of talent, and while the performance was good for what it was, I couldn’t help but think I might have expected too much, as it was more him singing and standing than anything. The audio mixing also didn’t help, with that bringing down the performance a couple pegs.
The Weeknd’s performance marks him as the first Canadian to perform at a Super Bowl, in addition to it being the first solo performance in several years, with part of the reason being to keep true to the story he was telling, but with part of the reason also being to keep safe during the pandemic, or at least as safe as possible. Although viewers were split on their opinion of the show, with some saying it was the worst, and the Super Bowl has gone downhill since certain performances like Prince or Lady Gaga and Shakira, some thought it was one of, if not the best Super Bowl performance to date. However, despite people’s feelings about the performance of The Weeknd, and the Super Bowl as a whole, there is one thing a lot of detractors and enthusiasts of the show agree on — The Weeknd has a lot of talent. It’s clear he loves what he does, and a lot of his songs are quite well-known, with a few songs off his discography being regularly blasted on the radio in the 2010’s, and to this day, like “Blinding Lights” and “Starboy”. It seems that just yesterday The Weeknd was performing alongside Ariana Grande with her song “Love Me Harder”. Today, The Weeknd boasts 68 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and has won multiple awards for his music. And while awards don’t really define an artists’ talents, it is clear to see The Weeknd has amassed a loyal fanbase.
Well, who exactly is The Weeknd? The Weeknd, real name Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, is a Canadian artist who’s made a name for himself for his versatility (an R&B, pop and rap artist) and his music presentation, most notably his 80’s-sounding tracks, like some of the tracks below. He began his music career in 2010, anonymously posting to YouTube. A year later, he released a few mixtapes: House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence. The first mixtape was acclaimed as one of the most influential R&B projects in recent years, as it combined many genres of music (R&B, indie rock, pop, electronica) into a cohesive, enjoyable body of work. The second, an album detailing his drug-filled lifestyle. The third, a retelling of a heartbreak story following a groupie who broke up with him for being a ‘nobody’. The Weeknd continued his rise to fame with Trilogy in 2012, which was essentially a compilation album, and Kiss Land in 2013, his debut studio album. Two years later, he came out with Beauty Behind The Madness, which released critically acclaimed tracks like “The Hills”. His third album, Starboy was released in 2016, with the single under the same name going platinum, and the album itself being ranked the third most popular album in the U.S. My Dear Melancholy, an EP came out in 2018, with the track “Call Out My Name” being the lead single. After Hours is the first album he’s released in four years, with “Blinding Lights” topping charts internationally, bringing us to where we are now.
So, I figured “Hey, I’m not really a pop kind of person, but I know some songs by The Weeknd, and he’s pretty talented. Maybe I should listen to After Hours?” No, I had never listened to this album, besides “Blinding Lights” and “In Your Eyes” . . . like many people. But, it’s been out for almost a year, and despite claiming to like The Weeknd, I never listened to it. That is, until now.
Alone Again: I was a minute into this song, and I had already fallen in love with it. I like the tone of the first half, with The Weeknd’s typical airy, smooth voice, with a bit of an eerie tone and twinkling synthesis, and the second half being even more synthy, with an almost robotic voice, though you can still hear hints of his natural voice. After an overdose scare, directly caused by his substance abuse, Abel doesn’t want his lover to leave him alone. The hard-hitting beat and the overall aggressive background music could symbolize his hopelessness and desperation as he fights for his life, and his love. He describes living someone else’s life, as though he feels he needs to use substances to hide his pain. Part of his pain could be caused by his fear of loneliness; the loneliness he is so desperate to avoid feeling again. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Abel’s relationship with both himself and his lover might not be the best.
Too Late: The song opens another electronic, synth-sounding beat, like a late 2000’s garage band. It keeps with this pace the whole song, with the lyrics being about running away and leading a sinful life. Abel might have concluded after his overdose that there is no way he could turn back, as though there was no way he could lead a “good” life. So now, he is determined to run away with his lover and lead a negative life. The relationship seems to be turning slightly toxic at this point, although it wasn’t implied it was good to begin with.
Hardest To Love: As the relationship seems to have gone sour as shown in the previous songs, this song confirms the relationship is falling apart. Abel blames himself for the relationship going wrong, as he sings “But I’ve been the hardest to love” compared to how he feels about his partner, who’s soldiering through a dying relationship, trying to make it work. However, it’s clear they are unhappy and the partner wants to break up, even though they are still together. There are a lot of glowing sounds throughout the song, with the instrumentals belonging to a type of drum called a liquid drum and bass, mostly seen in electronica music. The song is slower than the ones prior, and seems to sound more somber than the previous two. While the previous ones were more fast paced and energetic, this song, while still energetic, has lower pitches, and a calmer beat.
Scared To Live: With a lower piano and an even slower beat than Hardest To Love, the story seems to be even sadder sounding as it deals not only with the topic of the lover’s past relationships, but how the current one is coming to an end. The ballad discusses how the two were supposed to take a break, but instead, with Abel’s fear of being alone, he keeps the lover close, leading to them feeling suffocated and exploited in the relationship. Abel knows that their past mistakes lead to them feeling hurt in the relationship, yet they don’t want to leave as the partner’s fear of not finding a better person than Abel shines through. Eventually, the song implies that they broke up, leaving Abel alone.
Snowchild: This song is about Abel’s tumultuous past, laden with drugs, hookups with women as he starts gaining popularity, and the people he left behind. The song is a more rap-like track, however. The instrumentals are more futuristic sounding, with the same piano used in Scared To Live. The lyrics “She likes my futuristic sounds in the new spaceship” could be referencing the futuristic sounding song. He describes dropping out of high school, self-harm, and being homeless as he chases his dreams. He describes the start of his relationship with the lover mentioned in the previous songs. He references several of his previous songs and pop culture figures such as Dizzy Gillepsie and Jimmy Hoffa. His singing is in a spoken word style, and sounds a bit breathy.
Escape from LA: In the previous song, Abel sang this lyric, “Cali was the dream, but now a ———– leaving”. That might’ve been a reference to what was to come in this song, about how he and his partner need to get away from LA to truly be happy together. This could be for one of two reasons: they’re still together, or he’s pleading to her to get back together, because the real problem was the hustle and bustle of LA . The instrumentals sound tired and lower, symbolizing how Abel is not only tired of pleading, he is also tired of the LA area and being alone. The real reason he could be pleading to leave though, is because the two are probably not together, and he wants to leave the LA area to rid himself of the memories of his ex-lover(s).
Heartless: This song has a lot of beat drops, and a strong bass, sounding a lot like a rap song. The beginning synth sounds set the tone for the rest of the song. The song seems to be about drugs, and the repercussions of fame as now he wants it all. The fame has seemed to desensitize him, as he’s been in the industry for over seven years, and he rose to fame rather quickly. He’s been “swimming with sharks”, meaning he’s been competing for a while, and now that he’s winning, he’s been hit with the negative effects of fame.
Faith: The song opens with an eerie sounding beginning and soft synths. With the laser-like sirens ushering in the drums, the song uses the futuristic party sound to discuss Abel’s substance abuse. He uses the topic of losing your religion and faith to compare to his drug use, as if every time he uses, he loses a little more faith each time. He also repeats the sentiment that if he were to OD, he wants someone, maybe a lover, right beside his side to help him feel less alone while he dies, a sentiment that was said multiple times in Alone Again, and throughout the whole album. He also references self-harming again, as when he feels pain, he uses drugs and self-harm to cope. The police sirens in the background towards the end of the outro could reference how big the city is, or how he’s somehow gotten hurt.
Blinding Lights: Probably the most well-known song of the album, Abel talks about the city, going through withdrawals, and how the only thing that’s keeping him grounded in his state of distraction is his lover. His lover doesn’t even have to do much; she just has to be there. The song is clearly ‘80s-inspired, with the upbeat electro funk sound, the synths, and the fast, electronic dance drums. He sings about how he won’t even be able to sleep without his lover’s touch, and how he’s never going to skip on the chance to be with his lover, as he’ll never let them go.
In Your Eyes: Another ‘80s inspired song, but this time sounding more disco-like. Many of the songs on this album discuss his previous relationships, some with Bella Hadid, others with Selena Gomez, and a few with both. This song is no different in keeping up with the relationships. In this song, Abel draws many comparisons to his blindness to his lover’s feelings, and he knows they’re hiding something, as though they’re hiding their true feelings, but Abel is constantly forgiving to his lover, a contradiction to how he constantly blames himself throughout the album. He talks about how he knows she’s the only one for him, and though he’s tried to find love in others, he knows she’s the only one he loves. The song features a saxophone performance by Tomas Jannson.
Save Your Tears: This synth-heavy banger talks about Abel’s past relationships yet again, except instead of sympathizing with his lover, he tells her to save her tears, as she provided no explanation for the relationship ending, and she also needs to save her tears for someone better than him. This track is also riddled with self-blame, but it seems to have some form of acceptance. He doesn’t want his ex-lover to reminisce on the times they had together. Even though he wants his partner back, he realizes that his substance use would lead to the relationship falling apart anyway. He realizes that he can’t keep doing this to her, and while he’s sad, he realizes it’s for the best, and he doesn’t want her to cry over it.
Repeat After Me (Interlude): With a feature from Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker, the song clearly takes after the band. The psychedelic, ambient-sounding beat goes well with the theme of essentially hypnotizing his lover to get back together with him after she finds someone new, as she doesn’t really love him, and is only with him for a quick fling. It also goes with the previous song, of not having to cry, but to him, it’s a shame that she found someone she “doesn’t love” and is only with out of spite.
.After Hours: The dark vibes of the song are reminiscent of Abel’s earlier works, most particularly Trilogy. The themes of the song share a similar sentiment, like a reflection of his past relationships with a fine-tooth comb, and his failures in those relationships. He mentions his darkest hours again, and themes of going back to his old ways — his heartless, detached ways. He’s sad that these ways are part of the reason they left, and he apologizes for breaking her heart. The themes of self-blame and recklessness are back again, with the whole track being about how he blames himself for his past heartbreaks..
Until I Bleed Out: With a robotic-sounding voice alter, this song signifies the death of Abel. As he’s paralyzed, and has given every last amount of effort into his relationships, but is finally finished. He tries to convince himself he doesn’t need love or drugs anymore, but it fails, as he succumbs to his lovesickness, and his vices. He mentions cutting his ex out of his dreams, symbolizing the misery he feels just thinking about her. Somehow darker than the previous track, this song is a great closer for the album.
After listening to the whole album multiple times, and a lot of The Weeknd’s other work, this is probably one of his best works. The album was dark, cohesive, and experimental. The Weeknd’s versatility really shone through, and it was a great piece of work. It tells a tragic story of heartbreak, substance abuse, and the negative effects of fame. It tells the story of a troubled relationship, made even worse with a substance problem, that eventually leads to an OD. His fears of loneliness lead to him never wanting to be apart from his lover, but his vices lead to the relationship becoming clouded and the lover to break up with him. Much of the album is taken up with him begging to get her back, with the ex refusing. After she finds someone new, he tries to convince her it’s not true that he actually loves this person, and in a final attempt to get her back, he’s rejected once more. He then tries to accept that he can’t get her back, but instead reflects on why the relationship went wrong. Realizing he is at fault for the relationship failing, he now sees himself as a failure, all alone, and possibly OD’s again, although that’s just a theory. It’s on the same level as Trilogy in my opinion. The dark, experimental music, and the themes, they all are interesting and mysterious like Trilogy. The ‘80s sound fits well with all of the songs, and the album deserves all of the praise it gets.
Although I’m sort of late to the party, I wanted to write about After Hours as a look at his current work, and a reminder of his previous work. The Weeknd is a talented artist, and he only seems to be getting better. His lyrics, his voice, and his music all blend together to make this amazing album. I would absolutely recommend this album, and his music in general. My favorite songs were “Alone Again”, which was a great introduction to the album and the story. “Hardest To Love”, an important song to the story, as it introduces the fact that the relationship is dying. “Heartless” because I love the fast-paced beat and edge to this singing, “Blinding Lights” because of the ‘80s inspired beat, “Save Your Tears” for the beat and for the importance to the story, and “Until I Bleed Out” for being a fabulous, grim ending to this magnificent piece of work. If your first impression was his Super Bowl performance, I would definitely recommend listening to this album. You’ll be smiling and jamming so hard, you won’t be able to feel your face.