Last month, singer-songwriter Abel Makkonen Tesafaye, better known by his professional name, The Weeknd, dropped his fourth album “After Hours.” Now, the album is heading into its fourth week topping the Billboard 100.
In this new album Tesafaye, who has always experimented with a dark and nihilistic outlook on life, has torn down his emotional barriers in a raw set of 14 tracks (17 in the deluxe version) that showcase a man broken and stumbling through a meaningless life of sex, drugs and partying.
Selecting the track “After Hours” was a solid move on Tesafaye’s part, for this title truly summarizes the aesthetic and feel of the album as a whole. While Tesafaye experiments with many layers and eccentricities within the genres of R&B and electro pop in this album, the overall vibe is remarkably consistent.
Listening through the whole track, one feels like Tesafaye in his “Blinding Lights” music video, wandering and even dancing through the empty streets, bars and clubs of LA in a false and empty drug or alcohol induced euphoria.
The time of this scenario is indeed “after hours.” The partiers and maniacs have turned in for the night, and the distracting lights and beats of the club are gone. Now, The Weeknd cannot run from his pain. Standing in the empty streets he must face himself, and before even listening to the album, track titles like “Until I Bleed Out,” “Scared to Live” and “Alone Again” signal that The Weeknd, or at least a persona of himself, is an incredibly broken man.
Tesafaye begins the album stating in the first lines of “Alone Again” — “Take off my disguise / I’m living someone else’s life / suppressing who I was inside.” In recognizing this disguise and false life, The Weeknd candidly and in an incredibly self-loathing tone speaks of his own failures and poor coping mechanisms; while many of these pertain to drugs, clubbing and the life of a rock star, his biggest failing is in relationships.
This album speaks frankly of sexual escapades to the point where the language is extremely crude; all but two tracks are explicit, but one could say this vulgarity is necessary for the soul-cleansing candor of the album. To the Weeknd, sex and women are his biggest form of self-medication as he admits in the “After Hours” single “Heartless” where he states he’s “trynna find the one that can fix me.”
Several of the songs in “After Hours” find The Weeknd pursuing these women who he hopes will fix him. He begs them to take his mind off of his demons and to be with him so he needn’t be alone.
However, despite this strong desire for partnership and healing, The Weeknd believes too much of him is selfish and cold to truly be good enough for a partner. In the chorus of “Heartless,” he says, “Trynna be a better man but I’m heartless / Never be a weddin’ plan for the heartless,” and the song “Save Your Tears” finds The Weeknd trying to convince a partner that she’s better off leaving him before he inevitably leaves her.
In the end, “After Hours” is not a particularly hopeful album. While Tesafaye knows part of him wants to live a different life and be a different man, he is also painfully aware that the other part of him is addicted to his self-destructive tendencies and is not yet ready to let go of them.
He therefore remains trapped between two worlds, fighting with himself in the limbo of the LA club circuit at 3 a.m. However, despite the heavy and explicit nature of the album, there is beauty and true integrity in its very real portrayal of the gritty and nasty parts of healing and recovery from sin.