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.
6. “Escape From LA”
“Escape From LA” is essentially a continuation from the chorus on “Snowchild.” He (and his significant other) have no choice but to leave Los Angeles if they want to improve upon and sustain their relationship.
The track is perhaps the most lethargic on the album. Abel seems to be drowning through the instrumental, desperate for his beloved’s unconditional affection.
Quick side-note: I’m glad that Abel recognized the same cyborgian traits that every female Instagram influencer seems to have, “LA girls all look the same, I can’t recognize. The same work done on their face.”
Nearly 4 months later, it’s safe to say that the Metro Boomin/Weeknd collaboration does indeed still slap superfragilisticexpialidocioisly.
“Faith” is an intoxicating banger that fits seamlessly between “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights.” It highlights the inexplicable highs experienced while using drugs like marijuana, cocaine, molly, codeine-promethazine, xanax, and also touches on other intangible feelings like love, the thrill from gambling, intimacy, and even something as simple driving a really nice car really fucking fast.
9. “Blinding Lights”
“Blinding Lights” is the iridescent pinnacle of the 80’s Miami Vice vibrancy that The Weeknd achieves on this album. If I were to go to Las Vegas tomorrow, I’d have this, “Pyramids” by Frank Ocean, and “Hell of a Life” by Kanye West on a 3-song playlist that would be recycled through until my departure from that God forsaken city.
10. “In Your Eyes”
“In Your Eyes” carries the effervescent momentum evident on “Blinding Lights” and further emphasizes this Bladerunner-esque vibrancy that Abel has single-handedly resurrected. In one way or another, it feels like a nod to his previous collaboration with Daft Punk on “Starboy.”
11. “Save Your Tears”
“Save Your Tears” is the fifth and final installment in the five-track banger series on After Hours. Much like the majority of The Weeknd’s music, one has to dip beneath the surface of the mesmerizing instrumental in order to receive the intended message.
“I don’t know why I run away,” illustrates the unquenchable thirst that Abel suffers with, and his inability to pinpoint how to resolve this incomprehensible absence. All the while, his melodies still make you want to dance on a beach with nothing on your body but a white leather jacket.
12. “Repeat After Me (Interlude)”
The interlude is a hypnotic break from the colorful palette and escapes into a, “You love me! Not him!” love letter to his (former?) bae. It’s as if the repetition of, “You don’t love him,” throughout the song is supposed to not just convince this woman he’s speaking to to side with him, but to put her in an unbreakable trance.
13. “After Hours”
“After Hours” is the cornerstone of the album. As it should be, consider its the title song.
The first 2-minutes are an unadulterated glimpse into Abel’s secret diary. It’s vulnerable, blatantly honest and reveals a side of The Weeknd that’s rarely on display in the public eye, “I want you next to me / This time I’ll never leave / I wanna share babies / Protection we don’t need.” A shocking turn from the man who famously said, “Never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch need,” several songs prior.
The 2.5-minutes that follows a transient beat switch exhibits the same instinctually groovy yet simultaneously dark aura that The Weeknd is so brilliant at executing. The final minute-and-a-half takes this foundation that he’s built over the course of the album and solidifies it in ink.
14. “Until I Bleed Out”
The last track features a version of The Weeknd that’s beyond alien to his devotees: one that is aching to become sober from both drugs and women alike.
Striving for independence from getting high and being dependent on love.
Exhausted by the constant seeking of answers through the use of amphetamines and sexual encounters.
A 180-degree turn from the artist who exploded onto the scene with House of Balloons and became the face of a prescription abusing, women choosing movement.
The final words of the album, “I keep telling myself I don’t need it anymore / Need it anymore,” is an allusion to the pain that no matter how many times Abel tries to convince himself that he won’t return to his old ways, he may be helpless in this paralyzed state of addiction.
Overall, After Hours is a brilliantly crafted album that succeeds on several levels including the resurrection of 1980s groovy electro-pop, the return of peak box music, and a fresh perspective into the King of Modern Pop Music’s most personal thoughts, issues, and struggles.
Overall Rating: 8.8/10
Last but not least, I’d like to thank all of my friends who shared their insights with me for my last-second survey: Ajla Rahmanovic, Carter Ferryman, Derik Rush, Drew Madden, Duron Boyce Jr. (Ronnie Rage), Elise Swanstrom, Evan Linden, Jack Martin, Jackie Stutz, Jackson Steele, Josh Nichols, Matt Malizia, Paul Lee, Petey Compiano, Ryan Fairweather, Sammy Maasarani, Semir Sehic, and Skyler Riesberg.