The Weeknd’s “After Hours” album — a story about a beautifully toxic relationship

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When fans and other music enthusiasts learned that three-time Grammy winner The Weeknd was not nominated for a Grammy this year, despite his record-breaking feats and well-received praise from music critics, people were notably upset. 

Abel Tesfaye, most well known as The Weeknd, dropped After Hours on March 20, 2020, which set a high bar in music. 

The album’s unique instrumentals encompass the listener with strong emotions that almost feel like an out-of-body experience. After Hours follows a clear storyline about an unhealthy relationship influenced by Tesfaye’s own love life. Even if you have not been in a relationship, Tesfaye makes it as if you were the one in his situation. 

The Weeknd opens up the album with a dark R&B feel and heavy bass lines that convey his deepest thoughts and experiences during his relationship. This theme follows throughout the first half of the album, up until “Blinding Lights”. The narrative starts with The Weeknd singing about his unstable relationship with a girl who is devoted to him, but he, unfortunately, cannot be the same towards her. Despite him not being able to properly communicate his emotions, he still finds it hard to let go of the girl he loves. Their relationship continues to crumble due to trust issues and insecurity, and it eventually leads to their breakup.

Aside from his relationship, Tesfaye shows a more vulnerable side to him by talking about the harsh reality of stardom. In “Snowchild,” Tesfaye reminisces about his time before stardom and the hardships he faced before his breakthrough with a graphic opening line: “I used to pray when I was 16, If I didn’t make it, then I’d probably make my wrist bleed”. The song then transitions to focus on his life as a superstar, boasting about his fancy lifestyle and the fame he gained. Once again the focus shifts, but instead it’s about Tesfaye’s true thoughts on his life as a celebrity: “20 mill’ mansion, never lived in it / Paparazzi tryna catch me slippin’,” which can be seen as him feeling alienated in Hollywood. The melancholic atmosphere with the lack of beat shifts within the song sends a message as if his feelings never changed despite him being at the top.

The Weeknd uses “Heartless” as the midpoint between the thematic shift of R&B to 80s pop. Unlike the previous tracks, he boasts about how his material possessions and notoriety made him “heartless” (hence the title). Though this track’s trap and R&B beat make the listener feel as if they are invincible — like they’re in an intense chase scene from an action movie. The dark reality of the lyrics shows how even though Tesfaye has all this wealth, his ability to properly connect to anyone emotionally has been severed.

With “Blinding Lights”, the most notably popular song off of his album, The Weeknd completely ditches the dark R&B and replaces it with the 80s inspired tunes. Bound from the beginning to be a chart-topper, this song incorporates futuristic synths and a fast tempo that anyone can dance to. In this song, Tesfaye collaborates with Max Martin, a man who helped produce hits like “I Want It That Way” by Backstreet Boys and “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. This song fills you with ecstasy and adrenaline, thanks to electro-pop sounds combined with Tesfaye’s captivating vocals. This song also perfectly weaves into the theme of the previous song, “Faith”, which centers around The Weeknd’s fall into drug addiction. The chronological placement of this song serves as him being on that “high”. 

The album continues with the romantic aspect of the story, despite the two parties already having separated. Both The Weeknd and his love interest still have feelings for each other, yet they know it’s wrong to be together. However, they find a way around that by being friends with benefits, even going so far as committing infidelity with each other. The sound also reverts to the dark R&B feel, which represents him going back to the toxic “relationship” they have.

The album reaches its end with a tragic, yet hypnotizing song, “Until I Bleed Out”. Other than reading the title itself, the song impacts the audience as Tesfaye hypnotizingly chants about how he wants to cut her out of his life permanently to the point that he bleeds. However, depending on the listener, this song can also have a double meaning in which it refers to his drug use. Continuing from the story around “Faith” and “Blinding Lights”, “Until I Bleed Out” serves as the conclusion of the story with The Weeknd being hospitalized most likely from his drug usage. The ending is up to the listener on whether the character he plays is still alive. 

Truly an album worth 4 stars, The Weeknd inserts many allusions that allow the audience to interpret their own story. The cycle of pain, heartbreak, and bad habits is something that leaves the listener upset at his actions, yet the melodic and catchy tunes are something that sticks with them. Without a doubt though, The Weeknd has a unique artistic ability that allows him to create a sophisticated storyline that lets the audience have a love-hate relationship with the character he created.