By Socratis Santik Oglou,
R&B star and lead persona in the male music industry, Abel Tesfay, who goes by the name The Weeknd, some days before, on January 6th of 2022, he released his fifth studio album, titled Dawn FM. With this as a motive, I thought of taking you back to the first quarantine of 2020, when he released After Hours, his fourth studio album masterpiece, breaking down the lyrical storytelling of Abel’s romantic tragedy. So, here is the lyrical breakdown of After Hours (advised to read while listening to the album, so you can understand the story both visually and aurally).
Starting the album with Alone Again. Another relationship came to an end, and we see Abel covering his hardship in the city of Las Vegas. “In Vegas, I feel so at home…”.
Trying to pull his attention away from grief and living life like the old times, he is only harming himself further, because from what we have seen in his previous works, being romantically unattached seems to do more harm than good to himself.“I don’t know if I can be alone again…”.
And so, we see him going back to who he was and how he was living life, including dangerous behaviors, like alcohol and drug abuse, and speed cars.“I took too much, I don’t wanna die…”.
From lines like these, however, we can deduce that he is on the verge of overdosing, but regrets it. After that, the song plays out like a flashback, recalling the circumstances that brought him to Vegas in the first place.
Next track, Too Late. Something like a little prelude to what led his relationship to an end.“I let you down, I led you on…”.
Filled with sorrow about some of his disloyal actions, Abel realizes that, actually, it might be too late to fix what is broken.“It’s way too late to save our souls…”.
Thus, for his behavior, he blames big city life, as he is living in the city of Los Angeles, California.“I can’t trust where I live anymore…”.
Moreover, the blame for their fallout takes media too.“Sources say that we’re done, how would they know?”.
But in the next track, Hardest to Love, he admits that he is the one that should take the blame for all the hardship. “I been the hardest to love, you tryna let me go…”.
However, at the same time, he admits that he has no feelings for the relationship anymore.“I don’t feel it anymore, the house I bought it’s not a home…”.
He saw the relationships end coming, but his lover was having a difficult time letting him go. I can’t believe you want me, after all the heartbreaks, after all I’ve done…”.
And he selfishly, in the next track titled Scared to Live, held on to her knowing the right path forward.“When I saw the signs, I shoulda let you go, but I kept you beside me…”.
Keeping her near, he might have thought that it would protect her. But, in fact, it only tainted her perception of the romance she genuinely deserved, making him feel even worse. Abel shortly realizes that his girl was staying out of fear of being alone, and so he recedes himself from her while encouraging her not to be afraid of finding someone else. So don’t be scared to live again…”.
At the end of this chapter, The Weeknd realizes that the relationship would not work out no matter what, as we see from his lyrics.“We fell apart right from the start…”.
Snow Child, the album’s fifth song, has Abel remembering his past challenges with intentions of self-harm, which tend to emerge.
“If I didn’t make it then, I’d probably make my wrist bleed, ultimately turn my nightmares into big dreams…”.
Moreover, he admits to the gratitude he holds for his ex-girlfriend.“She never needs a man, she what a men need, so I keep on falling for her daily…”.
Track 6. Escape from L.A.
The Weeknd had a dream of moving out of his hometown, Toronto, to follow his music career in California, but it turns out, after some years, that he wants to go back to his hometown. And at this point in his life, he finally takes the decision to escape from L.A.“Cali was the mission, but now a man leaving…”.
“Your pillow talked to me about the men who try to get between us, they buy you bags and jewelry…”.
The couple’s fame, as most of the times, came with plenty of attention, which concluded to the temptation from the opposite sex. “But this world is such, such an evil place, man, these h**s will always find ways…”.
However, at this turning point in his life, Abel realizes that this lifestyle is truly damaging for his physical and emotional health.“This place will be the end of me…”. And maybe for the first time in his discography, he genuinely seems to not want to lose what he has.“I got everything I wanted, but I be nothing without you…”.
Moreover, at the ending of the song, we see Abel’s character proclivity for corruption. “She pulled up at the studio, nobody’s watching…”. Abel risks it for a one-night stand with someone of no significance to him.
“We had s*x in the studio, nobody walked in…”.
The next song is Heartless, with the first lyric turning to the exact opposite of the idea, the gratitude he was holding for his girl in the song Snow Child.
“Never need a b**** I’m what a b**** needs, tryna find the one who can fix me…”.
Without his significant other, he is only left with fame, money, fast cars, meaningless sex, and drugs. “And I’m back to my ways ‘cuz I’m Heartless, all these money and this pain got me Heartless…”.
In fact, his actions may make him look like the bad guy, or be heartless, but, behind the scenes, he is heartless because he lost the heart of someone he genuinely had feelings for. “I lost my heart and my mind…”.
Even now that he claims that he does not need her, he still accepts the fact that she stood there by his side.“You never gave up on me…”.
Next on the line, beginning to lose Faith. In himself, or over the idea of happiness or finding true love.“‘Cuz I lost my faith, so I cut away the pain…”.
Later on in the song, and when the effect from the drugs he took fades, he is reminded that he is only repeating his past over and over again, always leaving him and who he loves, hurting.
“All my demons wanna pull me to my grave, I choose Vegas if they offer Heaven’s gates…”.
At the ending of the song, we maybe get the album’s most deeply personal line. “When I look inside the mirror and see someone, I love…”.
Perhaps Abel’s inability to love others is due to his lack of self-love and past trauma. When he acts impulsively, he repeatedly abuses his body and emotions, just because he does not respect himself. And that is why this line in his songs attracts attention. By the time we get to the end of the track, we realize that because of his behavior, he will end up in a cop car or an ambulance.
“I ended up in the back of a flashing car…”.
Plus, by showing to the world this persona of the heartless, “made it” man, he has been able to protect his inner emotions. It is like a cover-up, that nowadays most of us can understand. But, from doing that throughout his career, he has trapped himself in a vicious circle of constantly having numb feelings.
Blinding Lights. This song may be, at least sound-wise, the album’s high.
“I’ve been on my own for long enough, maybe you can show me how to love, maybe…”.
The Weeknd almost begs for his ex’s love, although he is up and down in emotions throughout this album. He may do something like a parallel connection with the song Hardest to Love to further highlight his fault and his inability to love all the way.
The Las Vegas nightlife left him further cold and empty, while blinded by his fame and all that comes with it.“This city cold and empty…”.
He still needs her, and from what we can understand, he is ready to do whatever possible on his part to take her back. No, I can’t sleep until I feel your touch…”.
But on In Your Eyes, the album’s 10th song, he finds out that his ex-girl has been having a hot girl summer, and that fills him with envy.“I could tell what you’ve done, yeah, when I look at you in your eyes…”.
At this point in the album’s storyline, while listening to this song, it seems like the tables have turned, and now, Abel is the one who does not let her go and strives for this relationship. After trying to find love in other women, he finds himself alone, recognizing that he just cannot go on, and she is the one and only.
“But I hope you know I mean it, when I tell you, you’re the one that’s on my mind…”.
The Weeknd, however, overlooks her “naughty” life because he has no right to do so. Just because he is just as guilty himself. But every look in her eyes constantly reminds him of his own frequent betrayals that he has deeply regretted.
“I’m ashamed of what I’ve done, yeah, when I look at you in your eyes…”.
Late in the couple’s story, they decide to take separate ways for good, but life crosses their paths one night at a club in NYC. And there comes track 11, Save Your Tears.
“I saw you dancing in a crowded room, you look so happy when I’m not with you…”.
Abel still feels awful about what he did to her, but he hoped that she, at least, should not be so heartfelt about it. It turns out that she wants nothing to do with him anymore, making him further disappointed in himself.“But you walked past me like I wasn’t there…”.
“I realized that I’m much too late, and you deserve someone better…”.
This, however, depicts a reality. Lyrics like “But then you saw me, caught you by surprise, a single teardrop falling from your eyes…”, relate to the actual story, where his ex-girlfriend was caught by the paparazzi, leaving the club crying, minutes after The Weeknd showed up.
But even if he still has not given up on the chances that they will be again together, later on in the song, he admits that he is too late for that to happen, while he encourages her once again to find something — and someone — better, because she deserves better. Or he just wants us to think so… because, after that comes Repeat After Me.
“You don’t love him if you’re thinking of me…”.
He tells himself, without actually believing it, that he is okay with his ex-love moving on in her life, but jealousy and toxic behavior get the best of him. The paranoia that a lover may have just made him believe that she does what she does only to make him jealous, in order to get him back. But that is not the reality. It looks like he is having a hard time accepting the fact that she is moving on; he is needy for her affection and refuses to accept the relationship’s over.
“But it ain’t right if you f*** him out of spite…”.
Track 12. Album’s titled track. After Hours.
“My heart belongs to you; I’ll risk it all for you…”.
In Heartless he said that he tries to be a better man, but, in this song, he realizes that all his attempts have been a failure. After accepting the fact that the relationship is over, once and for all, he tries to cope with the hardship by the “eternal sleep”, so that he can dream and feel her in his dreams forever. The sad part of this is he would attempt suicide to stop it all for good.“Put myself to sleep, just so I can get close to you inside my dreams…”.
Finally, after all these ups and downs on how he feels about the situation, it sounds like he decided he cannot move on, he cannot numb his feelings for her, and almost begs for her affection. The song closes with The Weeknd singing lightly, almost promising “This time, I won’t break your heart…”.
Album’s outro, Until I Bleed. The weight of his overthinking and emotional baggage falls on him, leaving him paralyzed. He is tired of the vicious circle that follows him, that haves him always letting down and hurting the ones he loves. Hoping that all of this would leave him stronger and more integral, it only makes him sink deeper in his self-discovery. Looking himself through the mirror once again, he takes a look into his mind’s darkest parts, trying to love himself. Furthermore, through thought he tries to convince himself that he does not need money, fame, drugs, and love from others to be genuinely happy with himself, striving for self-love.“I keep telling myself, I don’t need that anymore…”.
So, it should come as no surprise, when for one more time, he is Alone Again…
After Hours consists of a great example of using music as a way of expressing emotions and storytelling. I could write way more if, for example, talked about the way music sounds because this plays a role too in storytelling; or analyzing his music video clips from this era, explaining all of it and getting deeper into the connection to the lyrics, while further understanding Abel’s mind. Although, this is my interpretation of the story, as a fan, from my readings too, plus the “theories” that are made up now, two years after the release of this album, some fans, of course, may not have the same idea of the narrative or just vibe with the music. Regardless, no one can deny the beauty of this dark, synthpop, the 80s inspired R&B masterpiece by The Weeknd.
- The story within The Weeknd’s new album “After Hours”, theculturednerd.org, Available here
- The Story of The Weeknd’s After Hours, medium.com, Available here
- Breaking Down AFTER HOURS, youtube.com, Available for watching here