Four reasons behind the success of 'After Hours' and a story guide through the beginning, middle and end of the album.
‘After Hours’ is the fourth studio album by Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye, an artist better known as The Weeknd. Following the success of hit single 'Blinding Lights', the record dropped in March 2020 to universal critical acclaim.
Info: 'After Hours' by The Weeknd. Released 20th March by XO and Republic Records
1. It gave us the biggest song of the year
Before the album’s release, 'Blinding Lights' had taken a life of its own. With its 80s synth-pop hooks and infectious chorus, it's been the most popular track of the year so far (ahead of 'Dance Monkey' and Saint John's 'Roses').
The song spent eight weeks at the top of the UK Official Chart and refuses to drop out of the top 20 half a year later.
Over six months after first being released, it’s had over a billion plays on Spotify and counting (1,193,872,372 on last count...).
2. The Weeknd's new fashion style
Before any high profile album release there’s expensive music videos and a marketing campaign to sell not just the music but the artist themselves.
More than ever before, The Weeknd has embraced this idea, and it’s as much a visual project as an audio one.
Abel has adopted a dark persona and vintage style, portraying the part of an 80s cinematic villain. It's Joker meets Robert De Niro in Casino, with a little Michael Jackson style thrown in for good measure.
Shortly before the album was released, The Weeknd released a short 'After Hours' promotion film (above) which follows him in the aftermath of a performance on Jimmy Kimmel. To the background of several songs on the album, it's an eerie watch that goes full horror film by the end.
Abel's live performances and music videos follow a consistent theme. It's all about the bloody face, Freddie Mercury-inspired moustache, red jacket suit and minor expression of derangement. The over dramatics fit the new music and story (more on that later) perfectly.
3. The 80s nostalgic sound
For the most part, the album features a heavy dose of nostalgia, combining 80s pop, synth wave and the alternative r&b style he’s known for.
The 80s sound is a large part of the album’s charm and it’s tapped into hard here. There’s just something about that time which resonates with people.
That sound is fun, carefree and many of tracks here aspire to be exactly that. The others strive for something darker. An oxymoron for a conflicted character.
4. There's a story running through the album
Scratch a little below the surface and there’s a story unravelling across the album. The Weeknd paints a picture of himself as a self-loathing and contradictory character, corrupted by the ‘blinding lights’ of success and fame.
He lives an empty hedonistic lifestyle consumed by sex and drugs, yet he’s conflicted by the mistakes of a previous toxic relationship. It's not just any ex he's singing about, though.
The songs are predominately about supermodel Bella Hadid (they dated on and off for four years) and his struggle to accept the finality of their break up.
A guide through the 'After Hours' story
The beginning sets the scene
Album opener ‘Alone Again’, is an intense beginning to the story. Abel confesses, ’take off my disguise, I’m living someone else’s life, suppressing who I was inside’.
Loneliness and fame have turned him into someone he doesn’t recognise. Throughout the album, this becomes a constant theme for the Canadian singer.
On the second track ‘Too Late’ he concedes that he’s ‘in Hell, it’s disguised as a paradise with flashing lights’. The addictive LA/Vegas lifestyle has tortured his soul, sucking him into a corrupted life he can’t escape.
The Weeknd gets all emotional on 'Hardest to Love', regretting his behaviour towards his ex (Bella Hadid). He recalls how, despite his lack of commitment, she came back and forgave him, something he feels he didn’t deserve.
The conflicted middle
The Weeknd opens with the line, ‘never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch needs’, embracing the player lifestyle and contradicting the sentimentality he shows elsewhere. Later in the song, Abel sings ‘I’m trying to be a better man but I’m heartless, never be a wedding plan for the heartless.’
With all the fame and success he’s insensitive to others and can't go back to a normal life. For seven years (since moving to LA) he’s ‘been swimmin’ with the sharks now’.
The music video for the song is a 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' inspired bender at a Sin City casino.
By the end of the video, Abel runs down the iconic Las Vegas Fremont Street to be sick. Earlier in the song he'd declared, 'I've been dodging death in the six-speed, Amphetamine got my stummy feeling sickly' and it's all catching up to him now.
The following track ‘Faith’ takes an entirely different turn. He’s bingeing on drugs but this time his ‘heartless’ feelings have gone.
He’s depressed, wanting to overdose so his ex (Bella) can come and be by his hospital bedside. The song ends with a cinematic backdrop of ambulance sirens implying he's ended up there as a result of an overdose. 'Blinding Lights' immediately follows.
On 'In Your Eyes', a vulnerable Abel sings about the relationship turning sour from both perspectives. It’s only by looking through his lovers’ eyes that he notices the pain he’s been causing her. With its synth beats and catchy lyrics, there’s an MJ vibe and it finishes with a classic 80s saxophone solo.
On 'Save Your Tears', Abel regrets breaking Bella's heart and declares how she deserves someone better. He recalls a night out shortly after they'd broken up, ‘I saw you dancing in a crowded room, you look so happy when I’m not with you, but then you saw me, caught you by surprise, a single teardrop running down your eye’.
The song refers to a night out at an LA club in 2019 where Abel’s appearance leads to a distraught Bella leaving in tears. Thanks to TMZ for hitting me up with the backstory on that one...
The dramatic ending
The best song on the album is easily the penultimate track on the album, the dark 'After Hours'. In the first verse, Abel’s mistakes have caused him unbearable pain and misery.
Only reconciling with Bella will heal him. As the production gets darker and the beat kicks in, he recalls his ‘darkest hours’ and ‘turning into the man I used to be’.
This 'man' is the cheating womaniser he describes in 'Heartless', a man intent on living out his fantasies no matter the cost, even to this relationship.
He pleads in the final few lines for her to take him back and how things will be different this time.
'Until I Bleed Out', is the climactic end to the album. Despite the more understated tone in sound, it's no less dramatic.
Abel finds himself ‘paralysed’ in the midst of an overdose. He’s addressing two parts of his life, his addiction to drugs and the doomed desire to get back with Bella. Only bleeding out will kill the toxic parts of his life away.
The album finishes with The Weekend repeating the words 'I keep telling myself I don't need it anymore'.
He doesn't need the drugs or the heartache. He's bleeding it all out.
End of story.
It’s an emotional ride throughout, sounding dark, smooth, and full of great 80s inspired r&b hooks.
The most enjoyable and consistent album The Weeknd has done yet.