The Weeknd performing
Image: S.Camelot/Flickr

The Weeknd vindicates his vices on ‘After Hours’


Debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, The Weeknd’s new album After Hours is an alluring and raw tale of heartbreak, fused with ideas of masochism, self-discovery and egocentrism at its core.

The record dissects The Weeknd’s emotions and desires succeeding his separation from on-off girlfriend and bonafide super-model, Bella Hadid. As excessively documented by the press, the sporadic breaking-up-getting-back-together cycle of their relationship has allowed the impassioned lyrics and self-reflection on his past. 

The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, has never been shy about his relationship with his vices – in particular, narcotics: he admitted that the years 2013 to 2015 were his darkest times, and a real rock star era after being caught up with drugs and even getting arrested.

These hedonistic themes of sex, drugs and fame appear to be the catalyst for his more melancholic moments and have been touched upon in past hits like the breakout ‘Can’t Feel My Face’. They are hallmarks of The Weeknd’s discography, yet After Hours is an even more in-depth, honest investigation of their impact. 

his voice continues with its signature smooth and sensual sound

Personal instability is mirrored in the experimental drum n bass – inspired track ‘Too Late’, and the gritty garage of ‘Hardest to Love’. Such songs also bring ideals of masochism to the surface: heartbreak is presented as a new, thrilling sensation for The Weeknd to experience.

Lyrics of flirtation and stimulation echo throughout all songs, even when discussing heartache – as if sex is his cure to grief: ‘You got me tattooed on your mind/ You just want me all the time’. This could simply be The Weeknd drawing upon his classic, crowd-pleasing mood of seduction, but this time it seems less of a façade: his voice continues with its signature smooth and sensual sound, reminiscent of Prince, Craig David and Michael Jackson.

After Hours amalgamates 80s synthpop and R&B, like his previous works ‘Starboy’ and ‘Beauty Behind the Madness’, but this time each song is distinct, with a transparent narrative that lays all of his cards on the table. The first half of the album presents the twisted, darker side of The Weeknd, and as it progresses, it continues to satisfy with commercial, club-ready tracks.

[The Weeknd’s] romance contradicts the gore of his self-portrait

One of the first half’s standout tracks is ‘Snowchild’. Fans of previous hit ‘Party Monster’, featuring Lana Del Rey, will love the song’s similar sound combined with a more harrowing narrative. As the name suggests, it delves into his drug-ridden past and, in The Weeknd’s usual style, the many hook-ups and dalliances it brought with it. Lyrics such as “If I didn’t make it then I’d probably make my wrist bleed” are a testament to his desperate need to achieve fame, and what levels of unsettling and raw self-destruction he will go to in its pursuit.

Even the album’s cover, his Instagram promotional photos and his live performances are hinged on violence – from a bloody prosthetic nose to holding his own cut-off head on SNL. When he admits in ‘Snowchild’ he “keep on falling for her daily” the song pauses, almost as if this is a ground-breaking confession for the egomaniac, whose romance contradicts the gore of his self-portrait. The song concludes on a further, unsettling note, with “Twenty mill’ mansion, never lived in it / Zero edge pool, never dipped in it”, suggesting that fame has not caused happiness, instead creating an uncertain and forlorn future. 

After Hours is a stripped-back portrayal of the artist’s emotions – but perhaps more Abel Tesfaye than the ‘The Weeknd’

A favourite for the second half of the album is ‘Save Your Tears’. Whilst it can sound like a typical pop song on first listen, picking up on the fashionable, retro sound used by indie bands such as Blossoms, once combined with The Weeknd’s 80s synthpop influence, its an unexpectedly good dance track.

The lyrics are emblematic of his conflicting emotions, wanting to end his relationship because he believes he is too good for her, and expects that he will be missed in return. Yet, he instantly contradicts it with painful honesty: “I made you think that I would always stay” with “Girl, take me back ’cause I wanna stay” and “I don’t know why I run away / I make you cry when I run away”.

After Hours is a stripped-back portrayal of the artist’s emotions – but perhaps more Abel Tesfaye than the ‘The Weeknd’. It’s an album, with all of its various sounds, that defies a singular mood. Whilst it would gain a higher rating if it showed another facet of his life, rather than just drawing on the desires of his ego, the album is still exceptionally coherent, with a clear, albiet questionable, narrative woven throughout. It captures a modern aura that is relevant as ever in these ‘Dark Times’ we live in.   

Boar Music recommends:

  • ‘In Your Eyes’

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