I don’t often dissect an artist and make a greater observation of their music — well, nowhere besides in my own head. Few care to listen to my gushing over a rare talent or my deeper musings about what makes an artist so endearing to me. I then remembered I have a blog that won’t judge me (but you might, hah).
Abel Tesfaye, or as he’s better known, The Weeknd, has been around for a little while. His hit, I Can’t Feel My Face came out in 2013, and it sparked many jokes from people who didn’t understand it’s meaning — I included. I wrote it off like everyone else as another silly pop song, but the years passed and he released new music that caught my ear. It was accompanied by dark, dreamy music videos with a strange style that spoke to my equally strange tastes, and I began to listen deeper.
I started listening to him regularly this year, although I’d had a few of his songs starred in Spotify for a while. Starboy and Secrets were fresh and addicting additions to my playlist, and I became obsessed. I watched more of his videos, which ranged from erotic to hazy and abstract. Party Monster stuck out to me because of the classic Goosebumps font used in the title.
I was into vaporwave/retrowave at the time and always have been, which is a nostalgic and often depressing aesthetic focusing on 90s and 80s themes, imagery, and cassette tape or VHS effects. Abel Tesfaye has a retrowave vibe in his later videos, and with his new album, After Hours, there’s more of that same retro vibe in the instrumentals. It’s been a comfort to me during the rough start of 2020.
Today, I watched what I’m assuming was the last video in his After Hours series. It sparked a lot of thoughts and admiration for him as an artist.
As a whole, the videos follow the journey of Abel’s new character who is a total train wreck. Although dapper and with (assumed) riches, he’s fueled by highs and strange drugs — even going as far as to lick a poisonous toad in Heartless. He proceeds to go on a reckless drive in Blinding Lights, speeding until time itself warps, although we’re pretty sure it’s just the drug’s influence at this point. It’s great cinematography to show just how gone Abel’s character is while providing an awesome, surreal visual effect.
He’s beaten by body guards at a club, but not before reflecting on a beautiful woman who beckons to him, her magic lifting his body through the air to draw them close. Again, the cinematography here is very dreamy and odd, and it adds to my love for the vibe of the series. Abel is dancing among the cars on a highway after all of this, his face bloodied with an unstable look of humor twisting his expression into something more akin to emotional pain.
In my personal order of viewing the series, he then makes his way into a party (Until I Bleed Out), although the drugs still have a strong hold on him. He’s barely bandaged and a colossal mess, crawling around on the floor as the room spins like a merry go round. Nothing is as it seems, and he doesn’t seem to know what’s real or what’s influenced by substances anymore.
To make a long story short, he makes his way into the underground after a performance, clearly in great emotional pain and trying his damndest to control it. It’s clear at this point that while the lyrics paint him as a horrible human being, a womanizer, and a heartless asshole, there is a lot more to the picture than that.
He ends up in an elevator with a couple, and as the last video in the series begins, he produces a knife that shines with malice. The man in the elevator is soon dead and the woman runs from Abel, who follows her throughout a club. They end up in a boiler room below, but the woman eventually overpowers him and cuts his head off with an axe. She proceeds to dance with his head in various environments through the rest of the video — oddly happy to do so and unnoticed by anyone else.
As I read through the comments, curious about what others thought, I began to form my own theories. These are solely my own speculations that may or may not be far off.
Abel has painted us a portrait of an awful person, a man who is on his last breath by his own choice through self-destruction. He’s been hurt by someone dear to him and is doing everything in his power to fight the melancholy inside him, and in doing so, he has become the very thing his ex-lover(s) implied he was. A womanizer. A heartless asshole. He’s completely broken and is having one last crazy night to erase the pain.
Finally succumbing to everything tearing him apart inside, he snaps and goes after the first couple he sees, rather it be the person who hurt him or a reminder of the situation itself. When the woman finally cuts his head off at the end, we see a different side to the story. It seems that, metaphorically speaking, the woman celebrated his pain and made the deepest cut. She toyed with him and killed him inside. Cheating is heavily implied in more than a few of Abel’s songs, so it could be assumed that was the message here as well.
Throughout a lot of The Weeknd’s videos and music, we see a similar theme of sex and drugs among different characters — or rather, the evolution of one character. It would be extremely interesting if that were the case. If it was one guy going down a steep slope into self-destructive territory because of heartbreak and substance abuse. It could also be three separate caricatures that connect with a central set of themes.
With a creative soul and a unique style such as Abel’s, he’s an amazing artist with a beautiful voice who deserves the fame he’s earned. His lyrics may be unsettling for some and even a bit offensive, but underneath it all there is a story that means so much more than what’s on the surface. I learned this years ago when I joined in on the jokes about I Can’t Feel My Face. Sometimes you have to look deeper and not judge a book by it’s cover.