by Connor Mayhue

On March 20th, 2020, the world shutdown due to the Covid-19. The world was shut inside their homes, and inside their own minds. Paranoia, anxiety, restlessness, and metal health struggles. Due to the distance created by the shutdown caused several relationships, and families to be torn apart and lives were turned inside out. No other album from this decade perfectly demonstrates the mood and struggles for the world like “After Hours” by The Weeknd, released on the same day as the world shutting down. The album features a narrative and aesthetic that draws influence from the New Hollywood Movement. Specify directors like Martin Scorsese, Stanly Kubrick, and Tobe Hooper. It was a dark, sometimes upsetting concept album that captivated the world in their homes. Now that The Weeknd has reached an all-time career high this decade and is about to release his next and possibly final album soon, let’s look at how he started the decade and what led to his peak, by looking at this narrative built in the world of After Hours.

Storytelling has always been very important to The Weeknd, since the beginning of his career. Due in large part to his love of cinema, something that has led him to form his own production company “Manic Phase” and is now a member of the Academy for the Oscars. His first Mixtape compilation “Trilogy” was a three-act story about a drug-addicted man who manipulates and uses women for his own gain. The follow-up “Kissland” saw the same character get a taste of his own medicine and he himself faces the same abuse that he dulled out. Both “Beauty Behind the Madness” and “Starboy” show a scorned and sinful person attempting to show a more caring side of himself to a potential lover. BBTM sees him losing his lover, Starboy sees the main character succeed and find love. Four years later, The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfay unveiled After Hours after a period of personal problems, substance abuse issues, and lack of artistic vision. After Hours presented a change in the Weeknd’s sound. It was a departure from the mix of dance-pop, R&B, and trap rap and embraced a blend of dark wave, dream pop, and synth-rock. The narrative of After Hours is split into four acts, and the story is amplified by a series of music videos that are filled with loads of references to movies. I will be analyzing the music videos along with the album to fully delve into the story.

The album’s first act begins in the same way as Quintin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, in the middle of the action. The opening track Alone Again is a dark and mysterious ballad that finds our protagonist in Sin City, where he is self-indulging by himself. It’s clear that it is a cycle he has done before, illustrated by the lyric “In Vegas I feel so at home”. Abel is free to do what he wants in this city. However, we see that his heart really isn’t in it this time, and his post-breakup rituals aren’t fun anymore, with this chorus “I don’t know if I can be alone again” acting as his inner monologue for his troubled state of mind. In past albums Abel has always been able to go back to his old ways once a relationship ends. He can pick himself back up whether it be with drugs and hook ups like with songs like The What You Need from House of Balloons or I Was Never There from the My Dear Melancholy ep. He also is known to use his own success as an ego boost with songs like Tell Your Friends from BBTH or Reminder from Starboy. However, it appears that Abel’s confidence is shaken, and he can’t find a way out of his depression. This recently broken relationship seemed to really mean a lot to him, and perhaps felt as if this person was the best he ever had.

The next song, Too Late acts as a flashback to Lon Angels, where Abel is realizing that he has failed his lover. He sees that he was the issue in the relationship and that he drove this lover away. He tries to give a reason for why he has become the man he is by blaming it on LA. He feels a sense of paranoia due to all the pressures and excess from the city, shown in the line “I can’t trust where I live anymore” and then furthers the point with the lyric “We’re in hell it’s disguised as paradise with the flashing lights”. Abel also expresses that he fell in love with the lover because he thought they would fix him and we hear him lay this out with the lyric “Bad thoughts in my mind…When the darkness comes, you’re my light baby”. Too Late features the first music video I will be discussing. The video features references to the polarizing and controversial film “Martyrs” directed by Pascal Lauger. In Martyrs, a traumatized and damaged women’s quest to understand her past leads to the center of a sinister conspiracy. This narrative structure fits the narrative of After Hours as Abel’s quest to understand why he is the way he is, leads him to what will become a very destructive and fatal tragedy.

A drum beat inspired by liquid drum-and-bass and techno music fades in as track three called “Hardest to Love” plays. Here Abel is starting to feel like he has over-stayed his welcome with this girl and takes accountability for his actions and how he treated his girl. This is a point of growth in the discography of The Weeknd. On the track “The Knowing” from House of Balloons, Abel sang “I ain’t washing my sins” when confronted with his incidentally. Now Abel is saying “I’ve been the hardest to love” in the current moment. He’s trying to explain to this lover she doesn’t need to be with him anymore, that she needs to let go of him, as he will only do more harm to her. It appears that his lover was more scared of being alone than to be with someone good. Abel recognizes this with the lyric “I can’t believe you want me, after all the heartbreaks, after all I’ve done.”

The synths fade into a collage of sounds and then fade into the fourth track “Scared to Live”. This is the final “I love you” before, Abel leaves for Vegas. In it, Abel tries to remind his now former lover, that they should find someone that will be better than Able. The post-chorus has him singing, “I’ve been praying that you find yourself, I hope you know that”. Showing that he still cares for this person’s well-being even if no longer in a romantic sense. A relatable feeling of leftover love that you still have for a person, even after a break-up. It appears that this was the first lover he had that he truly felt true love for, as in the past he seems to brush break-ups off as “her loss”. In the bridge the seeds for Abel’s eventual self-awareness comes up when he croons “I should have made you my only when it’s said and done”.

This self-reflection blossoms into Abel recognizing the source of his trauma and his toxic patterns during a car ride from LA to Vegas in the song “Snowchild”. Abel calls himself a snowchild, both referencing his hometown of Toronto, but also the childhood of coldness he experienced. Abel was a high school dropout, and homeless at 19 when he dropped House of Balloons, and his situation caused him to become a callused person just to survive. Abel has likened his early life to that of the Lary Clark film “Kids”, a film about homeless kids getting into constant trouble. While living on the streets in the downtown area of Toronto, he would try to date several girls, to spend the night at their houses, just to have a place to sleep. This weighed on his mental health. Abel opens with the dark line “I use to pray when I was 16, if I didn’t make it, man I’d probably make my wrists bleed.” This line acts as a source of drama and Abel’s suicidal ideation will come up later in the album. The chorus contains a call-back to different points in his career. He sings “Cali was the mission, but now a n**** leaving”. In the song “The Morning”, his very first single Abel sang, “Order plane tickets, Cali is the mission, I visit every month like I’m split life living”, where he expressed his dreams to go to California and make it big. In 2015, his first number 1 single “Tell Your Friends” contained the line “Man I miss my city, yeah it’s been a minute, M.I.A a habit, Cali was the mission”, showing that while he is settling into his newfound fame, his nostalgia for his hometown has started to hit him. Now after a hard break-up and constant mental health issues, Abel is ready to escape LA and find comfort in sin. The music video of the After-Hours rollout is the most memorable of the bunch. An animated montage of each of the weeknd’s eras, all the way up to the current era. The animation style fits the nostalgic sound of the song, as it resembles classic animes like Code Geass, and Fullmetal Alchemist, shows Abel would have been into in high school.

Act 2 sees our protagonist crossing the threshold, as he enters Vegas. The next track, Escape from La, sees Abel while in Vegas begins to project his toxic thoughts on his girl, as he learns she has moved on and immediately found a new lover. He believes that his former lover just wants to make him jealous and is only hooking up with new people to get back at him. He’s beginning to feel a misguided frustration. Now in Vegas, he’s free to do whatever he wants and is free to do whatever he wants. Despite reflecting on his past in the last track, Abel is right back to his old coping mechanisms. He sings “Cause when I’m on that liquor I go crazy, and for that pussy you know I’m a slave”. Abel drives down the Vegas strip to look for trouble, in the next verse. He sings “I’m in that Spyder Porsche, crusin down the street, black-on-black venom-colored seats.” He both describes the car he’s while and alludes to the Marvel villain Venom, a character born out of abuse and hell-beant on self-gratification. Abel ends the song recalling an affair he had while recording music and hoping that he can find a real connection away from the fakeness of Las Angeles.

Continuing with the villina arc that started in the next track, Abel is now going into his darkest behavior, on the track Heartless. Featuring a psycadelic trap instrumental provided by Metro Boomin, Heartless see’s Abel looking for a quick hook up to take his mind off his ex, while he talks up his bad boy image with the opening line, “Never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch needs, trying to find the one who can fix me.” Abel is ready to take the edge off, after learning of his ex’s fast moving-ways he is ready to do the same. In the bridge, Abel finds some self-awareness to tell himself that he’s not as heartless as he seems, the more he’s a victim of his own disposition. He sings “I lost my heart and my mind.”, and later “I don’t do well when alone, you hear it clear in my tone.”. Heartless features the first music video of the album and perfectly illustrates the very situation that the song portrays. The film features prominent references to the Martin Scorsese film Casino and the Terry Gilliam film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Both films share narrative structures like After Hours. Casino follows a man’s descent into violence as he tries to win the heart of a trophy wife. While FALILV is a drug-fueled odessy of pure madness. Abel’s odessy slowly turns into a nightmare by the end of the track.

Faith is likely the most cinematic song The Weeknd has ever released and is the perfect jumping off point from Heartless. Abel at this point has been sober for a year as he declares when he was with his lover. Now that he is without them, he sees this as the perfect time for him to do drugs again. The song contains lyrics about MDMA, weed, cocaine, and Xanax. Abel is completely removed from his heartache and is ready to forget the one he once loved. Abel is fully aware that he is being careless and is not going to be able to stop due to his addictive personality. He sings “All my demons want to pull me to my grave; I choose Vegas if they offer heaven’s gate.” Abel knows this won’t end well, but at this point he doesn’t care, if he can’t have the person he loves, why should it matter? At this point the mind of our protagonist has reached the darkest point on the album. The song ends with Abel in the back of an ambulance. Ending the second act with our protagonist now facing the consequences of his drug addiction.

Act 3 is made up of a series of dreams and hallucinations. The synths swell as if we are entering a nightmarish dream world, and we begin the next chapter of After Hours, with Blinding Lights. In this dream Abel is looking for his ex on the streets of Las Vegas. He’s reaching back out to them and wants to see them again. The lights of Vegas are blinding him, likely referencing the light-sensitivity that is caused by heavy use of designer drugs. Abel is on a mission in this dream to find his long-lost lover. He sings “I can’t sleep until I feel your touch”, while running through the streets of downtown Vegas. He’s done hooking up with people he doesn’t even like let alone really know, as shown by the lyric “I’ve been on my own for long enough, maybe you can show me how to love, maybe”. Abel knows however that his dream is going to end as he calls out the fact that his time is running out and once morning comes, his idealist romance will end. For now, though, Abel will keep looking for them, no matter what. The music video for the single features by far the most nuanced film references. It opens with a shot of Abel bleeding and screaming that resembles a similar shot in Josh and Benny’s A24 film, Uncut Gems. The film itself concerns a man with an extreme and addictive personality, who drives both his wife and mistress away with his lack of empathy. It should be noted that The Weeknd stars as himself in the film, and the composer for the film Danail Lampton, provides the instrumental for most of After Hours. The music video then shifts to several references to Nicholos Refan’s iconic film Drive, a story of a cold and unloving man’s pursuit of the perfect women. At the end of the video, we find Abel in a similar situation of that of the main character of the David Lynch film Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet concerns the adventures of a percousoise young man who must learn to let go of his lust to protect an abused woman. All these films illustrate the song’s story of someone who is ready to let go of his vices and festering darkness to show his lover he still cares.

In his dream, he finds his true love in the song In Your Eyes. Here Abel meets up with his ex, and learns that much like Abel himself, she’s been distracting herself from her own grief with drugs and hook ups. Abel feels responsible for this, thinking that he influenced her to do this. Continuing the dream like state that he is in, Abel fully dissociates, and finds that it’s easier for him to think his lover is the same as when he left them, than to think that they have changed. The first verse alone perfectly shows a man who doesn’t want to believe the truth about his relationship. He sings “I just pretend, that I’m the dark, I don’t regret because my heart can’t take a loss”. The pre-chorus kicks in as he sings “When it’s said, when it’s done, I don’t even want to know.” The point of this part in the story is for the protagonist to see what he has done from an outsider’s perspective, this is accine to Annakin fighting himself in the cave on Dagoba, it’s the internal struggle. This internal struggle is captured in the song’s music video as a classic slasher film. The music video makes reference to Mary Haron’s adaptation of American Psycho, and Tobe Hoopers seminal film The Texas Chainsaw Massecure, with some allusions to Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. American Psycho especially is relevant as the film acts as a cautionary tale of extreme dissociation and refusal to look at reality and face the consequences of our actions. The music video itself acts as a precursor to the Too Late music video.

The dream is about to end in Save Your Tears, a bouncy new wave balled. Abel now understands that he creates unsafe situations for his lovers. Even in his dream he realizes he can’t with his lover over. Abel always hurts people he truly loves and is in such a terrible state of mind he isn’t even sure why. He sings as much in the pre chorus crooning “I don’t know why I run away; I make you cry when I run away”. Abel clearly knows that while his ex may have moved on fast, they were doing it because they wanted to be treated right and wasn’t trying to hurt Abel. Abel has been projecting his own feelings on someone who isn’t even in his life anymore, and now not even in his dreams anymore. The music video for Save Your Tears features a recreation of Stanly Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, a film about a man’s dream like odessy of self-discovery after a breakup. The music video is the most popular, having amassed a billion views. Abel ends the song with one more pre-chorus and chorus before he ends the song. However, before he wakes up from his dream, he finds himself in a half-asleep state as a soulful Hammond b organ and sampled drum machines arrive with atmospheric and hazy production. This song is the interlude and conclusion of act three, Repeat After Me. Abel repeats to himself that his ex is just trying to make him jealous and spiteing him. Abel knows this isn’t true but it’s the only form of comfort he can find.

Act 4 is the final act. Abel wakes up after his overdose. He realizes he’s alone again. Nobody is coming for him now. The fun of the evening to midnight party has ended and it’s 3 a.m. After Hours is the penultimate track. The track acts as a suicide note to his ex. The high of Act 3 is over. Abel has threatened suicide several times in the past, mostly in My Dear Melancholy. However, that was done in a toxic and vindictive way just to hurt somebody, but this is genuine. Abel is in the darkest point. In break ups, there’s a lot of mixed emotions and highs/lows. Abel has distracted himself, and his ex is in his subcoisunes. However, he has realized now that their once lover is gone. He can’t accept this. It’s common for someone to realize how much they miss their ex after wanting to forget them, and it’s also very common to feel lonely a little colder once you realize you aren’t getting back together. Abel describes this as his darkest hour. He dreamt of having a family with this lover, but the end of the relationship was because of his lack of love and affection, he now knows that. The music video features references to Gasper Noe’s Irreversible and Todd Philips Joker. The majority of the music videos utilizes the same continuous shot and hand-held paranoia that Irreversible features. Irreversible in question is a film about male entitlement being used for evil, and how a lack of real affection can only lead to suffering for a relationship. The final shot sees a reference to Joker, a film about mental illness warping the perspective of a man alone in the world. Abel cries out for his lover at the end, but the cry rings hollow alone in the streets of Vegas.

The final song of the album see’s Abel killing himself, in Until I Bleed Out. Not because of his lover, but because of his realization that he has left a trail of trauma for other people. He has used, manipulated, and abused his past lover. While there is no excuse for this behavior in a relationship, it’s clear it was due to a lack of mental stability within Abel. It features lyrics about him wanting to cut himself, until he bleeds out. Until I bleed out sees Abel being done with this journey, he’s been on from the breakup in LA to the depression of Las Vegas. He sings “I don’t even want to get high no more”, saying that he doesn’t even want to try to cope. He just wants to forget he ever met his ex and forget all the things he did. This is where we started Alone Again. Only this time we see what he was intending to do, to die. The music video makes references to his first two mixtapes, House of Balloons and Thursday. These mixtapes were written when all his vices, activities, and lurid energy were fun. The video sees him moving backwards in his old house, to represent his regression and constant relapse. The video ends with a reference to Park Chan-wook’s adaptation of Oldboy. The ending of Oldboy sees the protagonist undergo hypnosis to forget his past mistakes and actions in the film. Similarly, Abel wants to forget, he wants to even forget everything from House of Balloons to After Hours. He finds his only option is to bleed his sins out.
In summation, After Hours is a peak artistic moment for The Weeknd. Bringing his love of darker sonics and his love for film into a holistic experience, allowed him to find new avenues to explore. The cinematic side of the project allowed him to do other film projects like his Amazon Prime film to accompany Dawn FM, his HBO/A24 show the Idol, and his upcoming film co-starring Jenna Ortega and directed by Trey Edwards Shults. Now that The Weeknd project has reached its moment of closure, I think that we will look back at his career and single out After Hours as a shining moment in his storied career. While we are only now approaching the middle of the decade, once the 2030’s roll in, I think that we look back at After Hours as one of the best albums of this decade.

Art by Logan Habib