After teasing fans for months, The Weeknd finally released his sixth project and fourth studio album After Hours.
Since the release of the hazy, dark, and drug-fuelled alternate reality The Weeknd created on his debut 2012 mixtape Trilogy, Abel Tesayfe has remained a mystery, only embracing fame in the recent years of his career. Despite hitting the mainstream with 2015’s chart topping single, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’, The Weeknd has managed to maintain his enigmatic public image with minimal interviews and keeping his personal life out of the public eye.
Tesfaye’s last project was 2017’s My Dear Melancholy, produced with the help of French DJ Gesaffelstein. The return to his broodier & moodier sound had fans questions whether The Weeknd was leaving the commercial world behind, as he lyrically opened up about his passion-fuelled high-profile relationships with his former flame, Selena Gomez, and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Bella Hadid. The Weeknd worked with Gesaffelstein again on the 2019 track ‘Lost in the Fire’, and went onto other features last year before taking time to focus on his own album. As of Friday 30th March 2020, the album shrouded in mystery for so long is out in the public forum.
The Weeknd released several singles off After Hours in advance of its release, but from the classic love story on ‘Heartless’ to the Top 40 friendly ‘Blinding Lights’, the tracks left fans in the dark as to where After Hours would land on The Weeknd’s sonic spectrum, ranging from 2012’s eerie and groundbreaking Trilogy to 2016’s Starboy, where he was at his most radio-friendly.
Eight years on from Trilogy, these midnight hour Toronto flat parties and his promiscuous lovers seem a long shot away from the mansions and fancy cars that now fill Tesfaye’s reality. Despite this lifestyle change, The Weeknd keeps his morally ambiguous, Sin-City persona close to his heart. After Hours is a cinephile’s dream as he explores his identity as an artist and an individual through a sonic journey, while lyrically, reflecting on his millionaire lifestyle & the emptiness that comes with it.
We see the colourful world of The Weeknd in all of his states; at his most likeable when he is deeply personal and vulnerable on ‘Hardest To Love’, before ironically reverting to his player ways on ‘Heartless’, detailing behaviours that serve as a catalyst for his turbulent personal life. After Hours proves Tesfaye is self-aware though, as evidenced on ‘Save Your Tears’ when he acknowledges he is emotionally unable to comfort a lover he’s hurt. There is something about this duality between his reckless, hedonistic fuelled desires and his self-aware, self-loathing, and apologetic attitude that results in an endearing and chaotic kind of intrigue.
The varied narratives are also reflected through the array of producers The Weeknd calls on After Hours, from the Top 40 friendly ‘Blinding Lights’, to Metro Boomin’s work on ‘Heartless’ that gives him the trap-infused alpha-male rap persona The Weeknd desires. Tesfaye earned his own production credits on the album too, ensuring a cohesiveness across the record.
Through unique samples, drum beats and synths, the production on the album is a clear nod to the eighties, with The Weeknd’s falsetto vocals garnering comparisons to the king of pop, Michael Jackson (check out ‘D.D’, his old ‘Dirty Diana’ cover to hear the uncanny vocal similarities).
With zero features on the album, After Hours is a completely autobiographical journey. The façade of darkness is still maintained through the cinematic and moody intros and outros as the tracks subtly lead into each other, taking the listener through Tesfaye’s journey.
“Cali is the mission” The Weeknd chanted on the 2012 Trilogy classic ‘The Morning’, while on 2020’s After Hours, ‘Snow Child’, a rags to riches story, he reflects; “Cali was the mission, but now a n***a leaving”. This sentiment is reflected on the self-check-in, ‘Escape From LA’ – “Well this place is never what it seems… This place will be the end of me”. If his dreams of California weren’t all they were all made out to be, where is The Weeknd headed next, and will there be a more fulfilling happiness?
After Hours is a story of who The Weeknd is, flaws and all. Since the Toronto artist came onto the scene nearly a decade ago, The Weeknd has become a key voice of the R&B world, having released some of the most cutting edge pop, alternative, R&B songs with his pioneering genre-meshing. As The Weeknd continues to evolve, After Hours acknowledges The Weeknd’s new beginning and serves as an identity-affirming album, a benchmark in his evolution as one of the most innovative artists of our generation.