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In many ways, The Weeknd’s latest album marks the beginning of a new era. “After Hours” strips back the early optimism of fame with a futuristic sound but familiar R&B feel. On top of his famously laid-back synths, the album relays a sonic and lyrical exploration of loneliness. It embraces a distinct sentiment of disenchantment with The Weeknd’s current lifestyle and deviates from the more carefree falsetto on his past songs like “I Feel It Coming” and “Can’t Feel My Face.”
The Weeknd’s previous album, “Starboy,” which carries more of a free-spirit vibe, revolves around his newfound fame. However, he begins to stray away from this excitement in “After Hours,” delving into the darker sides of the success his music has brought him. The lavish lifestyle he has reveled in no longer possesses the same charm — it lacks substance. He repeatedly returns to themes of being blind, alone, and bleeding out, particularly in the tracks: “Alone Again,” “Heartless,” “Blinding Lights,” and the lead single “After Hours.”
In “Heartless,” The Weeknd refers to himself as a cold and empty man who has “lost [his] heart and [his] mind.” He sings, “Low life for life 'cause I'm heartless,” and then “Tryna be a better man, but I'm heartless.” He accepts his failure to hold himself to higher standards, which he accredits to being “heartless.” The Weeknd often returns to this theme of attempting to escape the degrading and vain lifestyle he loses himself in, but being unable to do so. This is especially apparent in the title track, “After Hours.” He articulates, “My darkest hours / Girl, I felt so alone inside of this crowded room / Different girls on the floor, distractin’ my thoughts of you / I turned into the man I used to be, to be.” The Weeknd’s descent into his previous, indulgent lifestyle seems almost involuntary, even though he is aware of it happening.
He also relates this inevitable return to his “old ways” to a failed romance with his ex-lover. This is further illustrated in “Scared to Live,” where he sings, “I am not the man I used to be / Did some things I couldn't let you see” and “I should have made you my only.” The Weeknd blames the collapse of the love he once shared with his ex on his own inability to be loyal, but then again, does not express a strong desire to change this tendency. “After Hours” seems to echo The Weeknd’s recognition of his shortcomings but underlines his lack of will to recreate himself into someone who upholds these standards.
Furthermore, “After Hours” encompasses another theme: desperate dependence on the affection of his lover, whom he ultimately lets down. In the title track, “After Hours,” The Weeknd conveys this vulnerability to his audience. He sings, “Put myself to sleep / Just so I can get closer to you inside my dreams,” and, on the chorus, “Where are you now when I need you most? / I'd give it all just to hold you close / Sorry that I broke your heart, your heart.” The Weeknd keeps finding himself returning to the same broken love that he, in part, credits himself for destroying, and is apologetic for hurting anyone else in the process, particularly his lover.
In his music, The Weeknd often returns to the superficial aspects of life like wealth, sex, and drugs, which grant immediate satisfaction and do not require feeling. In “After Hours'' he sings, “I was running away from facin' reality, uh / Wastin' all of my time out living my fantasies / Spendin' money to compensate, compensate.” In other words, he does not seem to have any particular message for his audience, but instead seems like he just wishes to share his emotions. And although his new album focuses more explicitly on this kind of hollow pleasure, it’s hardly a new theme for The Weeknd.
The Weeknd’s progression as an artist and individual since his debut also makes its mark in his music style, which has strayed from mainstream pop to something more retro, but with a singular, futuristic flare. It is the perfectly-curated, high quality sound and unique flavor that keeps bringing his audience back.
This trust between fan and artist is almost a type of blindness — similar to that The Weeknd himself lives with and infuses into his music. But it is a consenting blindness, one that breaks and defines The Weeknd; and it does not appear to be disappearing from his music any time soon.
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