The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’ is a dark work-of-art

The singer-songwriter crafts an immersive, listen-to-believe-it experience with his fourth studio album

The+Weeknd+performs+to+an+audience+at+a+concert+in+Oslo%2C+Norway+in+2015.+

"The Weeknd - Oslo 2015" / NRK P3 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Weeknd performs to an audience at a concert in Oslo, Norway in 2015.

Stuck in self-quarantine, I’ve been listening to music a bit more than usual recently. Among the many releases that have dropped since I’ve said goodbye to the outside world is Abel Tesfaye’s, better known as The Weeknd’s, “After Hours.” The album is his first full-length release since “Starboy” in 2016, and it is quintessentially him. 

Preceding the album were the singles “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” released in November 2019. Out of all of the songs on this album, these two tracks are easily the most digestible on first listen. Dark and electronic, the album lives up to its chilling cover and necessitates repeated plays.

Luckily, I have all the time in the world to do so. 

The album primarily surrounds The Weeknd’s relationship with model Bella Hadid, as he affirms that he is “not the man [that he] used to be.” In “Hardest to Love,” he discusses the nature of their on-again, off-again romance. 

“I can’t, can’t believe you want me / After all the heart breaks, after all I’ve done,” he sings. 

With “Snowchild,” he may be directly alluding to their relationship. 

“She never need a man, she what a man need / So I keep falling for her daily / We was at Coachella going brazy,” he intones over a soft beat. 

According to Genius News, The Weeknd first met Hadid at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2015. However, he has also been spotted at the festival with his now ex-girlfriend, fellow singer-songwriter Selena Gomez. He addressed the fallout of his relationship with Gomez in his 2018 EP “My Dear Melancholy,” where he expressed how it led him to revert to unhealthy behaviors. 

UMG 2019

Fans speculated that one lyric in particular from the song “Call Out My Name” off the EP — “I almost cut a piece of myself for your life” — was a direct reference to Gomez’s bouts with lupus, which resulted in her receiving a kidney transplant due to organ damage. 

He touches upon being a prisoner to his addictive lifestyle in the lead single off the album, “Heartless.”

“I’m back to my ways, cause I’m heartless,” he belts. “Trying to be a better man, but I’m heartless.” 

Ultimately, he states that his other relationships paled in comparison to his current love interest, presumably Hadid. 

“Tried to find love in someone else too many times / But I hope you know I mean it, when I tell you you’re the one that was on my mind,” he ruminates throughout “In Your Eyes.” 

In the penultimate, six-minute dark ballad and title track of the album, “After Hours,” released as a promotional single in February, he promises not to “break [her] heart.” 

I’ll treat you better than I did before / I’ll hold you down and not let you go,” he sings. “I lied to you, I lied to you, I lied to you / Can’t hide the truth, I’d stay with her in spite of you,”

UMG 2020

While the song may be directed towards Hadid, the “her” is believed to be Gomez

There is no filler on this album; each track serves a purpose to the overall storyline as he battles with his inner demons and navigates through these turbulent relationships. The album blends electropop, synthwave, and ‘80s influences with the darkness of modern-day hip-hop and R&B to produce a body of work that is personal, direct, and true to his creative vision.

It is perhaps his strongest album yet. Not only do the songs fit perfectly within the context of the album, but they are equally as stunning when you listen to them on their own.

If you close your eyes, you can immerse yourself within the world that he has created with this album. The production is top-notch work, his voice is incredibly emotive, and the lyrics are stellar; they could not have been written by anyone else. 

This album is a return-to-form for The Weeknd and will surely end up on my and many others’ year-end lists.