The Weeknd released his first studio album in over three years and reclaimed the throne he left vacant for several years.
After the release of his third studio album “Starboy,” Abel Tesfaye took a short hiatus after experiencing a bit of overexposure. Aside from the short promotional period for his 2018 EP “My Dear Melancholy,” Tesfaye had remained primarily low-key and only gave an occasional feature appearance on songs.
The Weeknd, without a doubt, is one of the top acts of the 2010s. Tesfaye started this decade being a staple in the underground R&B scene. His dark-wave style instrumentals and frankly honest lyrics led him to build a cult following. After experiencing immense success with his 2015 album “Beauty Behind the Madness,” it’s easy to say the singer was in danger of being labeled a sell-out in future releases.
However, the new album by The Weeknd, without a doubt, is one of his best releases in recent years and shows both an evolution in the singer’s sound and image while also remaining true to the qualities that made him famous from the start.
Thematically, “After Hours” portrays the villainous character of the Weeknd with the promotional material often going for a cinematic and mature direction. The singer’s toxic traits -- overindulgence, promiscuity, self-hatred -- are given a spotlight and a pedestal in the self-contained universe in this album.
The album’s lead single “Heartless” is a return to Tesfaye’s R&B and trap roots and became a smash hit after reaching the top spot of the US Billboard Hot 100. Lyrically, the song is about The Weeknd’s promiscuous behavior after his tough and public breakups with celebrities such as Bella Hadid and Selena Gomez.
The second single “Blinding Lights,” produced by pop music icon Max Martin and Oscar Holter, features a unique 1980s pop sound. This track’s rise to the top of the charts took several months and escalated faster after both the release of the album and the song’s viral internet fame.
“In Your Eyes” is the most recent single and sonically follows a similar lane to “Blinding Lights” with its heavy 80s influence and saxophone solo. The Weeknd sings about his regrets of cheating on his partner and features a more melancholic aesthetic in the lyrics.
Other album tracks such as “Save Your Tears” “After Hours” and “Faith” show different sides of the artist and exhibit his sheer prowess as an album artist. The Weeknd continues to innovate on the sound he created over a decade ago.
What’s most notable on this album is the lack of features in the standard edition. In the age of streaming, singers often use a feature verse from a rapper to achieve crossover appeal. However, with “After Hours” being a completely solo project, The Weeknd shows his ability to stand on his own and captivate his audience with his truth.
No other mainstream artist today can write lyrics as haunting or graphic as Tesfaye without it coming across as trying too hard. If “After Hours” is any indication of what’s to come in the next decade from The Weeknd, it looks like music will stay exciting for a long time.