Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, has evolved into one of the most popular artists in the world since his trio of debut mixtapes surfaced in 2011 (the three mixtapes compiled together make up his debut album, Trilogy). He’s achieved superstar status by creating smash hit on top of smash hit, along with meddling in melancholic mood swing songs. This versatile blend has thrusted him into a status that very few modern artists have accomplished. Being from Toronto, it’s natural that his vibe is cold, dark, and mysterious. Despite all of those distant qualities, he remains one of the most beloved figures in mainstream music.
As a self-proclaimed XO soldier, I feel it’s my moral obligation to create a unique response to his new album, After Hours. So naturally, I texted a portion of my friends who I’ve sang with, danced to, and thrived alongside during shared experiences with The Weeknd’s music.
I asked each of my beloved friends the same question: “What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of The Weeknd?” These were their responses:
chills, darkness, ejaculation, electric, ethereal, euphoria, groovy, fully fuckin’ torqued, horny, Miami Vice flow, moody, orgasm, passionate, some form of the word sex (7x), stimulating
“Naughty. He needed someone to come to the club and just go ‘NO! BAD BOY! BAD ABLE!’” - Jack Martin
As this one-question survey suggests, The Weeknd’s defining attributes for the last 9 years have been: sex, drugs, lust, romance, fame, and mystery. That’s what makes After Hours such a universally appealing album, and Abel such a globally acclaimed artist: everybody can connect with him on some level or another.
Although his devoted fans may not have million dollar mansions, countless smash hits, or Dior models throwing their picture perfect selves at them; they can still relate to Abel through his pain, and his fixation on finding its cure.
1. “Alone Again”
The King of the Cold returns for the first time in two years with an intro track that’s first 2-minutes are reminiscent of the darkly desperate vibe displayed on My Dear Melancholy.
Around the 2-minute mark, there’s an immaculately overwhelming transition that moves “Alone Again” away from a mellow, depressing ode to loneliness into a track that belongs in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a thrilling 120-seconds featuring The Weeknd at his most auto-tuned high pitch frequency in some time, which allows his angelic voice seep into the demonic instrumental.
2. “Too Late”
The second track is yet another demonstration of how The Weeknd is the best artist in the game when it comes to introspective slappers. He sings, “We’re in Hell, it’s disguised as a paradise with flashing lights / I just wanna believe there’s so much more,” then the beat immediately cascades into another electric, futuristic, spaceship-elevator instrumental.
The overall message: it’s too late for Abel to turn back from being the man he’s become since 2010.
3. “Hardest to Love”
Tonally, this track is the perfect backdrop song for the book-ending of a 1980’s coming-of-age romance story. Some YouTuber out there needs to compile a video of Molly Ringwald dancing under strobe lights and layer this track over the top.
4. “Scared to Live”
“Scared to Live” shares a lot in common with its predecessor in the way that it sounds like a song that a young couple would dance to at prom while under the influence of some combination of molly and kush. The lows are excruciatingly heartbreaking, “We fell apart right from the start,” but on the contrary, the highs are heartwarmingly thrilling. The soul-bursting, chant-like screams of, “I hope you know that!” are equally reassuring and provocative.
“Snowchild” is the first track on After Hours that features my personal favorite version of The Weeknd: the half-singing/half-rapping one. When he wants to be, The Weeknd is one of the most captivating lyricists in mainstream music.
“I used to pray when I was sixteen / if I didn’t make it then I’d probably make my wrists bleed” captures the desperation and drive that boosted him to his chart-topping spot on the top of the R&B/Pop Pyramid. I truly could (and would) quote this entire song, but it’s only appropriate that I allow Abel to do the bar-dropping because his delivery on this track is one billion times more impactful than my reciting of them through writing.