First Listen #9: The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’

Well, here we are. After months and months of teasing and sneak peeking, Abel Tesfaye has finally dropped After Hours. I’ve already talked a little bit about how I was introduced to The Weeknd’s music, but allow me to do a quick recap.

  • I had a crush on this guy in middle and high school
  • He introduced me to The Weeknd’s music via “Material Girl” and “The Zone” because he knew I was a big Drake fan at the time – not anymore lol
  • I fell in love with The Weeknd’s music
    • I thought my crush sharing the Weeknd’s music with me was a sign that he liked me, too. (WRONG)
  • I realized my he was a manipulative snake, and I spent the rest of my time in high school actively avoiding him
  • I have the unfortunate connection that bonds those two guys
  • I still listen to The Weeknd to this day despite the emotional trauma 🙂

And I think that’s important to bring up, as we dig into this emotion bomb that was After Hours. I didn’t know what to expect from this project, but I did expect something good – I mean, it’s Abel! And he uh….he delivered that, y’all.

The album begins with “Alone Again,” where we see a little bit of a return to Kiss Land (2013) vibes, as Abel pleads for the person he loves to help heal him. Backed by a haunting instrumental (that neglects Abel until the middle of the song, so we really do basically just get him for the first minute or so), Abel expresses his want to “take off [his] disguise” and be reminded of “what [he] is.” Though he says that reminder would break his heart, so that opens up that duality that we get throughout the rest of the project. It’s a solid beginning; I love the beat switch up towards the backend of the song, and I’m loving the s p a c e s h i p vibes.

The album continues with “Too Late,” which again, after being played by my Spotify being on shuffle when I clicked play on the album, I thought was the first song lol. Nevertheless, this is one of my FAVORITE tracks on the project. I love the chorus! (my notes literally just say: “the CHORUS!!!!! The chorus!!!!!!!!!!!”). I also love that “We’re in Hell, it’s disguised as a paradise with flashing lights” line, something about it really stuck out for me. There’s a disenchantment that’s happening in these first couple of songs, including “Hardest to Love,” “Scared to Live,” and “Snowbird” where Abel is seeing Hollywood (and aspects of fame that he’s wanted for so long) without rose-colored glasses. The pools, money, and “Louis a la mode” are cool, but they’re pushing Abel into a life that he sees is unsustainable for him longterm. BUT he’s kind of also seeing his lover with rose-colored glasses, finding her to be the one thing that saves him. He is taking the necessary accountability, but this need to be back in his lover’s life hits him like a drug that seems to be just as bad for him as the “flashing lights.”

One thing I want to add about “Scared to Live” is that I love it lol. The production is beautiful; I love the pop ballad vibes we’re getting on it. I remember watching Abel perform this on SNL, and I was blown away. It’s one of those times where you’re actually hearing how strong and wonderful Abel’s vocals are. The production is so minimal (but very much as strong as the other tracks), so we’re enveloped with Abel’s voice on this track. And it’s like, of course he can sing, but hearing him like that just takes it to another level.

perfect. beautiful. wonderful.

“Escape from LA” and “Heartless” are the next two songs on the project. I think it’s here Abel’s vocals start to feel a little bit more distant and muddled, and it sounds like we’re falling into a drug-induced trance. Again, the drug stops being fame and fortune and becomes l o v e. We hear him fall deeper and deeper into love, where he stops addressing the faults of him and his lover fully and begins to address them on the surface. Once the escape from LA happens though, Abel is pushed very FAST into old habits, which we were on “Heartless,” where all of that lovey-dovey love talk becomes “never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch needs.”

“Faith,” for me, is the beginning of the come down and where it seems like Abel is starting to get hit heavy with everything he’s experiencing at once. The drums get heavier and more present, the instrumental is now just as loud as his voice. It’s all a very engulfing experience. It feels like he gets completely taken over by that feeling at the end of the song; it feels like an ascension into the (beautiful) chaos that is “Blinding Lights.” I thought a lot about the video for “Blinding Lights,” while listening to it on the project. The video is essentially him dancing in the middle of the street alone, backed to a deceptively groovy track. I think it’s easy to get lost in the grooviness of the synths on this (I admit, I pulled out a highlighter as a microphone and started putting on a social-distancing concert when this song came on during my initial album listen), that you forgot how sad the lyrics are in this song. He’s talking about loneliness, feeling like he’s drowning. He’s feening for the one that he loves the most. And you see that more clearly in the video, where he’s running around Vegas, near manic, by himself. He’s feeling everything at once, and because what he’s dealing with is inside of him, he’s running but can’t get away.

 I feel everything

When I’m coming down is the most I feel alone

THE WEEKND, “FAITH”

I don’t have much to say about “In Your Eyes” other than the chorus goes tf OFF and it makes me feel like I’m at prom. I think this is the beginning of the fall off of the peak Abel was on during “Blinding Lights.” He seems to be seeing a little more clearly. He sees what his lover has done to him; he sees what he’s done to her. He becomes more self-aware of their destructive behavior, especially the ways he was destroying himself. “Save Your Tears” does sound a bit like a step backwards, though. He’s still offering some accountability (going both ways), but also desperately wants to be with this woman, so he pretends like she’s not a fault for anything they went through. I do think this is my least favorite song on the project, after a second listen through the album. It’s still really good though, which speaks to the quality of After Hours.

“Repeat After Me” was so so smooth! And I did NOT expect it to sound like it does. In it, he’s pleading (again lol) with his lover to leave who she’s with and come back to him. He’s trying to get her to see that he’s really the one she should be with; there’s no love that she could have that’s better than what she’s going to get from him. “After Hours” – which I’ve grown to like A LOT since hearing it the first time – makes more sense in the context of the project. I love the production. I love the beat switch up. I think, story-wise, it’s clear that at this point his lover has declined his begging to be back with him, and this song acts as a parting word of his love and dedication to her – maybe with the hope that she’ll hear that he’s willing to change and want to be back with him, too.

The album finishes with “Until I Bleed Out,” which by far is my favorite song on the project. But it’s also the saddest song for me on After Hours. Baby boy sounds really drained on this. He’s given all he can to the person he loves, realizes that she’s no good for him (or they’re no good for each other), but he also doesn’t want to actually live without her, and it seems like by the end of the song, he doesn’t live at all. It’s a heavy track, but it’s so beautiful. The swelling at the beginning throws me back into Trilogy-era. The chorus is heartbreaking. And really the perfect ending to After Hours.

The first time I listened to this – which was 12am Friday morning when I was halfway delusional from staying up past my bedtime – I liked it a lot, but didn’t feel like it was solid. I haven’t felt completely solid by a project from Abel since Trilogy (2012); I’ve liked them all (in various amounts), but it’s always felt like something was missing. And listening to this album for the first time gave me those same feelings, but listening to get again for the second time while writing this really brought everything together for me. It really is solid.  The production is great, Abel’s vocals are heavenly as always. On the songs that I don’t like as much (but I do like them all), the hooks and choruses really hold it down. I remember Abel talking about how he struggled with writing hooks around the time Kiss Land came out (which was clear, but I also didn’t mind lol), but he has grown more and more into being a solid hook/chorus guy, and I love that for him. I’ll have to find that interview because it really is great to hear that growth in him.

There’s very much a story being told on this project. We start off with some infatuation and self-blame for the lost of love with the first five tracks, which leads into the kinda love drug-induced and bad decisions section with “Escape from LA” and “Heartless,” as he both fights for his lover and fights against his love of her. There’s a little bit of a moment of clarity with “Faith,” before he starts to feel everything at once with “Blinding Lights.” And as he offers his final pleas and promises with “In Your Eyes,” “Save Your Tears,” and “Repeat After Me” and gives everything thing he has with “After Hours,” he’s left emotionally drained with “Until I Bleed Out.” And while the concepts of heartbreak, love, and both existing at the same time aren’t new for Abel’s music, I feel like After Hours is a more grown up version of those feelings. They feel more intense; they feel like the stakes are a little bit higher on this project than they were before. Love no longer feels like something he can slip on and slip off; it’s grown into being something that he wants – and wants to be real. It’s an album that necessitates no features; there’s a vulnerability that comes with that solitude. And that’s what makes it such a winner.

Overall Album Rating

Featured Image Credit: https://genius.com/album_cover_arts/442600


(listen to After Hours by clicking the image below)

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6 thoughts on “First Listen #9: The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’

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