The Dark Side of Stardom in The Weeknd’s “After Hours”

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Arthur Phan

Contributing Writer

At the time of writing this article, The Weeknd’s featureless After Hours has stood proudly on top of the Billboard 200 for three weeks straight. The album is being praised as his best work since the Trilogy mixtapes, and I think that’s deservingly so. This album is not Tesfaye’s first reflection of his hedonistic lifestyle, but After Hours is a surprisingly fresh dive into his mindset of debauchery, self-destructiveness, and his perspective on perpetually hopeless relationships. 

Fans have been anticipating After Hours since 2018 when Tesfaye hinted at the album eight months after the release of My Dear Melancholy,. After Hours was predicted to follow the divisive gloominess of the EP after Tesfaye tweeted in January 2019 that there would be “no more daytime music.” After briefly disappearing from social media in the middle of the year, Tesfaye returned to the spotlight in November with a steady stream of single releases and TV show performances. 

Between live performances, Tesfaye played as himself in “Uncut Gems,” where he collaborated with producer Oneohtrix Point Never (OPN) to write and produce songs for both the film’s score and After Hours. OPN’s background in electronic music is drawn forth in After Hours — the entire album is filled with soothing synths and addictive electronic beats with ethereal accents layered under Tesfaye’s melodic voice, which contrast the poppy yet self-damning lyricism.  

While the entrancing beats and production were what enticed me to turn my speakers up to 11, Tesfaye’s storytelling on After Hours provides for a story about the hypocrisies of being a “Starboy,” specifically in the field of debauchery and love (or the lack thereof). The story starts at the album cover: After Hours shows Tesfaye’s head tilted back, smugly satisfied, with a bloodied mug from a night of doing drugs and getting into fights (or from symbolic self-cannibalization).

After Hours opens with “Alone Again,” wasting no time with electronic sounds that mimic ripples of drippiness. Tesfaye takes off his “disguise” and parties it up in a Las Vegas strip club, throwing up thousands as he’s “finally” single again. The lyrics signify that deep down, Tesfaye knows that his debauchery and unwanted loneliness are intertwined in an unhealthy fashion.   

“Hardest To Love” and “Scared To Live” are undisputedly the top two songs of the album; the unforgettable choruses in both of these songs are impossible not to sing along with, no matter the state of your relationship status. “Hardest To Love” starts with soothing synths and harmonies that rapidly transition into a dancefloor beat and Tesfaye’s confession of being the “hardest to love.”   

The song then fades to black, transitioning softly into the iconic organs of “Scared To Live.” Tesfaye exclaims from the top of his lungs alongside the emphatic kick drum that his lover should not be “scared to live again,” and should start living a new life with someone better for her. 

Being “blinded by the lights” and glamor of stardom, Tesfaye changes it up in “Snowchild,” “Escape From LA,” and “Faith.” In these songs, he reflects on his path to stardom, points blame on his past lovers, and alludes his loss of faith to his drug addiction — all attributed to the glimmeringly fast lifestyle of LA. Despite his $25 million mansion and luxury cars, Tesfaye says it straight: “This place will be the end of me.”  

His facade of selflessness comes up short: despite calling for his lover to leave him for good, “Heartless,” “Save Your Tears.” and “Repeat After Me (Interlude)” show the selfishness that is The Weeknd. He doesn’t want his lover to leave (“Repeat after me / You don’t love him, you don’t love him”) but refuses any promise of faithfulness for her (“I’ll make you cry when I run away”).

Tesfaye knows that the fast lifestyle of being a “Starboy” is not healthy for him, but that’s not enough to overcome the fact that his relationship pains are dimmed by the drugs and partying. What awaits is one evergoing cycle of heartbreak and temporary relief.  “Alone Again,” Tesfaye is bound to continue to live it up to avoid missing his lover by his bedside, but only until he bleeds out in LA or Sin City.

Author’s Recommended Songs:

“Hardest To Love,” “Scared To Live,”  “Save Your Tears,” “Until I Bleed Out,” “Too Late,” and “Heartless.”

For those who want more electronic production, check out the remixes, the “Saturday Night Live” edition, and “Final Lullaby.”

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