Exploring all Kinds of Music in Quarantine — Part 1

By: John Wang (Grade 12)

After Hours — A Journey Through The Weeknd’s Mind

Being confined to your house because of quarantine is not what most of us envisioned our spring to be. It may be boring or even frustrating. However, the lockdown also provided us with an endless amount of free time. Personally, I took this time to discover a myriad of music such as 070 Shake’s Modus Vivendi, Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy, and Lana Del Rey’s Norman F****** Rockwell, as well as to re-explore the artists I loved like Anderson .Paak and Jay-Z. Through this, I encountered so many new records that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Furthermore, I strongly recommend for you to  use this extra free-time to find out more about your favourite artists or to listen to something new, whether it be through your Spotify recommendations, or suggestions from a friend or family member. With that said, I am here to share some of the best new releases of 2020 in the next few issues. In this one, I will start with my favourite one so far.

After Hours — The Weeknd

image.pngAlbum Cover of After Hours

I have been a long-time fan of The Weeknd and his music. However, my adoration for him mostly developed through his popular hits like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “I Feel It Coming.” Sure, I knew every word on “Sidewalks”, but I never really spent too much time digging deep into his backstory or lesser-known/unreleased tracks, like I’ve done with my other favourite artists such as Kanye West. In the past several months, I stumbled upon some of The Weeknd’s earlier works and my love for him was fully ignited. I began exploring every corner of his musical career, from stories behind his album and success to live performances to his remixes like “Drunk in Love.” I would listen to the dark yet beautiful House of Balloons on repeat on the weekends (get it?) and couldn’t stop myself from having my own The Weeknd concerts in the shower (sorry, you can’t listen in). When his new album, After Hours, was teased in November, I was absolutely delighted. 
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The Weeknd by Pari Dukovic

Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd, is a household name today among the younger generation. His heavenly voice and soulful lyrics, combined with his dazzling performances on stage, make him one of the most unique and captivating artists of the past decade.  However, his career hasn’t always been like this. His parents split when he was young and he became homeless at 17. Roaming the streets of Toronto, he dealt with mental health issues and experimented heavily with drugs to cope with his demons. During that time, he adopted his distinct dark and psychedelic style of R&B that can be heard on Trilogy as well as on his debut studio album, Kiss Land. After striking fame, he adapted to a more lively style on Beauty Behind the Madness and Starboy. Through these two albums, the Weeknd achieved superstar status. In 2018, The Weeknd released an EP, My Dear Melancholy, filled with heart-wrenching, dark voices resembling his early days. On After Hours, The Weeknd revisited this iconic sound and combined it with some of the most thrilling instrumentals I’ve heard. From the interestingly distorted vocals on “Too Late,” to his bewitching vibrato on “Scared to Live,” to glamorous driving beats on “Blinding Lights” and “In Your Eyes” that make you want to dance, there is surely something for you to enjoy.  

After Hours is more than just an album; it is a cinematic journey through Abel Tesfaye’s mind. The Weeknd, known for poetically expressing emotions in his songs through both the lyrics and the instrumentals, creates some of the most emotional songs to date here on this record. If you pay careful attention to the lyrics, you’ll find out about the frightening story it tells. Let’s start exploring the fantasy of After Hours.

Part I: Heartbreak
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Photo credit: ABC News

The album begins strongly. “Alone Again” might not feature the richest beat or the clearest vocals, but the way they are mixed together is beautiful. In the track, The Weeknd introduces himself as a character, who narrates the magnificent story of this album (I will refer to this character as “Abel”). In this song, Abel details his struggles with his relationship with fame and his partner: “Take off my disguise. I’m living someone else’s life.” I would rate this track positively. As well, I think the way the beat drops as his processed voice sings about his loneliness and consequently drug abuse is exquisite. 

In the next two tracks, Abel can be heard reminiscing all his wrongdoings in his crumbling relationship with his partner. The grievance in his words, accompanied by buzzing synthesizer sounds on “Too Late” immersed me in his universe. The vocals are very distorted in this song, almost as if “The Weeknd” is losing himself (spoiler alert: he is). This song is a “hit or miss”, but personally, I enjoy the electropop/synthwave feel of it, especially towards the ending. “Hardest to Love” directly contrasts with “Too Late.” In contrast to  the muffled voice and heavy instrumental of “Too Late,” Abel’s voice is crystal clear over the liquid drum & bass beat. The lyrics once again reflect his regret over his turbulent relationship, and his recognition that it will soon come to an end: “‘cause I’ve been the hardest to love. You’re tryna let me go, yeah. And I can see it, I can see it.” This song gives off late-night-drive vibes, so if you’re into that kind of music, you’re in for a treat.

“Scared to Live” is a soothing ballad that lets you forget all your troubles. When I first listened to this track, I thought that it was a good song, nothing more. It wasn’t until I revisited it later that I understood the beautiful juxtaposition between the sweet melody of a love song and the sad lyrics of a break-up song. Abel sings about accepting the end of his relationship and hoping that his ex-lover won’t “be scared to live again.” I think this, aided by Abel’s angelic voice, makes this track one of my personal favourites on the album.

“Snowchild” is the perfect song for all the hip-hop lovers out there and, in my opinion, another stand-out track on After Hours. “Snowchild” sounds like a hybrid of two of Abel’s previous rap hits: the chilly narration of his life sounds similar to “The Morning”, and the flexing in the second verse reminds me of “King of the Fall.” The lyrics contain lots of clever wordplay and deep, sad stories. For example, “Not to mislead, turn my nightmare into big dreams.” Here, Abel references his mental health issues in his youth and how he used self-harm as a tool to scare himself to work hard to turn his nightmares of failure into big dreams of success. Additionally, he sings “Cali was the mission but now a n**** leaving,” hinting that he is tired of the life of fame and flashing lights. The rich stories behind the lyrics made this song really special to me; the more I listen to it, the more I love it. I strongly recommend checking this song out.

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Photo Credit: GetWallpapers

“Escape from LA,” a dreamy song that displays Abel’s egotistical side, is a reference to his two relationships, both of which stemmed from LA. In it, he uncovers the secret disloyalty of his aforementioned lover. This was a big blow to him, and combined with his struggles with fame, made him decide that it was time for him to leave the hills, hence the title “Escape from LA”. However, it was not that simple — part of him still loved the glares of the City of Angels — and I quote, “I’m in the Spyder Porsche cruisin’ down the street, black on black venom covered seats.” This internal conflict causes Abel to slowly descend into madness, seeking revenge against women and abusing substances, his escape. Although I found this interesting, I didn’t enjoy the song as much because it’s a little lethargic.

The lead single, “Heartless,” is probably the catchiest song on the album. This is hardly a surprise with the distinguished Metro Boomin and Illangelo as producers of the track. It has a boomy beat with lots of reverb, a signature young Metro trap beat. It is interesting to see The Weeknd sing on a more vibrant, more powerful beat. Here, this combination works out great — his fast-paced verse over the bass and hi-hats is guaranteed to make you dance. (It certainly made me) 

“Faith” is another fast-paced track that once again features a beat produced by Metro Boomin. Its instrumentals, a blend of synths and trap, reminds me of music from the 80s — specifically new wave — and I absolutely love its vibe. This song also begins a segment of songs all sounding like the 80s. 

Lyrically, both “Heartless” and “Faith” are quite similar. They both illustrate Abel losing his mind after heartbreak and returning “back to [his] ways ‘cause [he’s] heartless.” In these tracks, he repeatedly mentions his party life (“Hundred models gettin’ faded in the compound”) and drug use (“Tesla pill got me flying like a cockpit”). While I do not endorse drug use, I have to admit that some of these bars are super clever. For example, “I took half a xan, I still stay awake” is a subtle dig at Drake’s, whom The Weeknd had a rocky relationship with, line on “Sicko Mode,” “I did half a xan…Had me out like a light”. Towards the end of the song, Abel’s distorted voice sings over the dreamy background about “end[ing] up in the back of a flashing car.” This refers to the consequences of his high life: ending up in an ambulance from an OD and his arrest back in 2015. 

“Blinding Lights”… Man, how should I begin this? I love this song. This is THE BIGGEST hit on the album, and I can totally see why. The bumping beat is incredibly groovy and The Weeknd’s voice is infectious. This song got me singing “Ohh, I’m blinded by the lights” on random occasions. It incorporates 80s-inspired new wave feel with the vibrant synths, dynamic drums, and upbeat tempo. In fact, it sounds a little like Aha’s “Take on Me.” Combined with his extravagant outfit and acting in his music video, “Blinding Lights” gives off strong Michael Jackson vibes. Lyrically, “Blinding Lights” picks up right where “Faith” ended. While intoxicated and “blinded by the lights,” Abel reflects on his miserable situation and continues to think about his dependence on his ex-girlfriend: “I can’t sleep until I feel your touch.” If, by some miracle, you haven’t listened to this track yet, make sure to go enjoy it the second you finish this article. I promise you won’t regret it.

Part III: Pain 

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Photo Credit: IllRoots

If I had to pick a favourite song from the album, it would probably be “In Your Eyes.” The lively beat, composed of sparkling synths, pitch-shifted hi-hats, spirited drums, and driving reverberating bass, is one of best I’ve heard in 2020. The Weeknd’s angelic voice on this track, yet again, is very lovable. The song also features an euphonious saxophone solo, which honestly needs to happen in more mainstream songs. Other than the slightly awkward transitions between the verses and chorus, I thoroughly enjoyed it. With the famous songwriter Max Martin’s help, the lyrics are very emotional. Abel is infatuated, saying that he is willing to ignore all his ex’s problems just to feel her love once again. I find how he sings the chorus “in your eyes, I know it hurts to smile but you try” especially touching. 

“Save Your Tears” is the last of the 80s sounding songs, and much like the previous track, the lyrics sharply contrast the cheerful beat. I’m usually not interested in celebrity gossip; however, after researching the meaning of the lyrics, I found them very depressing. It is about the time when The Weeknd’s ex-girlfriend Bella Hadid left the club in tears after seeing him enter. Here, Abel recollects the memories in his relationship and apologizes once again for his actions. My reception for this track is positive, I think the melody, especially the refrain, is very pleasant. The chorus, though, is a little bland. 

“Repeat After Me (Interlude)” is creepy. There are no other words to describe it. Abel seems to still be in denial and he’s attempting to brainwash his ex-lover to get back with him. The psychedelic beat is very eerily pleasing, courtesy of Tame Impala. 

“After Hours” is another lead single, and it is super groovy. The Weeknd’s enchanting falsetto addressing his apology for the end of his relationship sounds great here and is reminiscent of his earlier works. The constant house music type beat throughout the entire song, combined with samples from Gesaffelstein’s “Opr,” takes you on an emotional roller-coaster ride. The chorus is another highlight–super catchy and pleasing. I genuinely liked this song, my favourite part being the transition from the first verse to the second. 

The outro track, “Until I Bleed Out,” features The Weeknd’s hazy vocals on top of a mixture of ambient synth background and a deep bassline. The lyrics are, again, quite sad. Abel narrates how the life of blinding lights is slowly killing him inside. He sings, “I keep telling myself I don’t need it,” the “it” referring to drugs and love. He’s “bleeding out” both physically and emotionally from them, but he knows he can’t live without them. And if he ever escapes from this life, he’ll feel “alone again,” thus starting the whole cycle of the album again. I view this track as an underrated one on this album. It’s so tranquilizing and grows on me every time I listen to it. If you’re a fan of slow r&b, I think you’ll enjoy it too.

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Photo credit: HRBooking

The Weeknd’s ability to convey his emotions through his songs is extraordinary. Here on After Hours, he again demonstrates it by making some of the best songs he has ever made. The Weeknd combined the best of his dark R&B era and his lively pop era into something amazing, both musically and lyrically. The infusion of the 80s style into the music of today is epochal. Even more remarkably, he mastered using music as a platform and as a tool to tell mesmerizing stories. Overall, I enjoyed this album very much. The stand-out tracks are delightful, and it’s difficult to call any other tracks lackluster. This album is another gem of an artistic feat, which makes a fine addition to The Weeknd’s already impressive discography. 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

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