On March 20th, 2020, The Weeknd delivered his fourth studio album titled ‘After Hours’, which revolves around the idea of emotional relapse. Emotional relapse is a concept in which one goes through drastic and constant changes to their mood, pushing the person going through it to feel nothing at all. After Hours takes the human emotion to its limit and manipulates the listeners mind to envision every single line of the album in vivid detail. The emotion and subject matter in this album shows the rise to fame of a young, depressed Abel Tesfaye. We learn about what he went through to get to stardom, as well as what he faced during it. Here is my track-by-track analysis of After Hours, and how The Weeknd, and Abel Tesfaye, were able to tell a gruesome love story through emotional relapse.
Track 1: Alone Again
The album opens with the song Alone Again and unsurprisingly delves into the topic of loneliness, which is something we can find The Weeknd talking about throughout the majority of his music. Being ‘alone’ in this sense however is interpreted as the death of him and his love. You can hear in the lyrics that he is currently so unwell in his mental state that there might not be another choice but to die.
Lyrics like: “How much to light up my star again, And rewire all my thoughts?” further show his desperation. He is asking for an unknown person in this track, presumably his lover, to save him but to no avail. The relationship he is so eagerly asking to be repaired is not healthy for him, but the attention is enough for him.
When he says "Take me down to your altitude", he is talking about how high he is because of the damage his lover has done, while also asking her to bring him down to her level, a level where he doesn't have to care about the consequences of his actions.
With the last lyrics on 'Alone Again' being "I don't know if I can be alone again", it transitions perfectly into the next track.
Track 2: Too Late
Too Late continues to touch on the idea of death, with the title being an indicator that The Weeknd cannot be saved anymore. This track jumps significantly in mood from the first, with a more upbeat tempo and overall sound. When The Weeknd says “It's way too late to save our souls”, he is telling us that himself and the woman he is speaking to through this song are beyond saving from heaven and repentance.
This is shown more when he expresses “We're in Hell, it's disguised as a paradise with flashing lights”.
He knows that he is already being punished for the lust he desires and creates, stating "I tell myself I should get over you, I said, ooh, I know I'd rather be all over you", but feels no remorse or shame as he reveals he just wants her body. Him giving into these desires may be the very reason their relationship turns sour, and he becomes the hardest to love.
Track 3: Hardest To Love
Hardest To Love is The Weeknd analyzing his past relationships and coming to realizations of where he went wrong. He questions things about himself that he wished he had noticed earlier in his relationship, so that he could prevent his actions from hurting the woman he loves.
“You're cryin' out behind the smiles, And I can see right through the lies” reveals to the listener a perfect example of the toxicity that he created, where his lover will go as far as hiding how upset she is because she just wants to make it work with him.
When The Weeknd says “Together we are so alone” (a line he also says on Alone Again), he tells us that even though they are dating, and go through a routine that most people in love follow, they aren't actually in love and just seek warmth and comfort being with somebody while still feeling an overwhelming sense of being alone, which ironically sticks with him throughout his relationship.
The ending of this songs sees the instrumental transition into the next song, which follows the exact same topic as Hardest To Love.
Track 4: Scared To Live
The opening line of Scared To Live is the first big sign of maturity that The Weeknd shows in this album.
He says: “When I saw the signs, I shoulda let you go, but I kept you beside me” which tells us that he has actually realized his lover was bad for him as well.
Even though he wanted to keep the relationship moving forward, he realizes she is trying to move on but simply can't.
With The Weeknd saying “You always miss the chance to fall for someone else, Cause your heart only knows me”, it becomes clear to him that she is stuck, not necessarily with him physically, but with him in how she loves. This comes into play later in the album as well.
Of course, the feeling of loneliness shows up again, this time in the line “They try to win your love, but there was nothing left, They just made you feel lonely”.
The loneliness she feels is still directly a cause of The Weeknd's actions, and he is beginning to hate himself for it.
So where has The Weeknd gone wrong? Where did Abel Tesfaye learn to love in a way that hurts other? Where did it all begin?
Track 5: Snowchild
With ‘snow’ being slang for cocaine, and ‘child’ referring to his youthful start in drug abuse, Snowchild has The Weeknd reveal why he loves the way he does, a way he now sees as improper.
The first half of Snowchild has The Weeknd melodically talk about his past when he was just a teenager known as Abel. Stardom was the only way that the young talent was staying motivated, which he expresses through the first line of the song, saying:
“I used to pray when I was sixteen, If I didn't make it, then I'd probably make my wrist bleed”.
The young Abel Tesfaye was heavily depressed, so he used drugs to cope with his depression and boredom.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2016 he spoke on this, saying “When I had nothing to do but make music, it was very heavy. Drugs were a crutch for me.”
He felt like he had nowhere else to go, so he turned to using substances, making him feel whatever he wanted to.
For the first four lines in his second verse he continues to talk about his past, the most important lines stating:
"She never need a man, she what a man need, So I keep on falling for her daily".
The Weeknd reveals that he had been chasing after women who simply had no interest in him, and to combat this, for years he has been doing the same thing to people who are actually interested in them while he thinks nothing of it.
There is a very short instrumental break, which brings us up to speed with The Weeknd's more recent celebrations. He boasts about headlining Coachella, rocking various designer brands, making money and living life on the road. All seems well when he can distract himself with a lifestyle that many people crave, but it gets to him.
In his last bridge, The Weeknd says he has never lived in the $20,000,000 mansion he's bought, has never dipped in his pool and that he only feels like he gets away from it all when he goes on tour. Living life on the road and not being able to settle down hurts The Weeknd. So he leaves, and even though Cali was the mission, he has to get out.
Track 6: Escape From LA
Escape From LA is a song about the women The Weeknd encounters during his fame, with the first line of the song being:
“You pillow talk to me about the men who try to get in between us”, making The Weeknd feel like he has some sort of competition. He goes so far as telling her that he will give her space and do what he can for her, as he forces himself to believe she thinks of him the same way he thinks of her. He knows she is using him for the flattery, saying:
"But you just wanted my attention, You just wanted my affection, You got me tattooed on your mind, You just want me all the time".
He reinforces that he thinks she does want him, but as the he later reveals, in the lines:
"She's all mine for the night, She's all mine until he calls her line", it is nothing more than a quick fix for her before somebody better calls her phone.
Materialism does not seem to satisfy his needs for affection and attention like he stated in Snowchild, but he doesn't feel like he can cover up his feelings anymore.
The lyrics “'Cause I got everything I wanted. Got the money, got the cars, got the ceiling with the stars, Got everything I wanted, But I'd be nothing without you” show that even though he has and can obtain everything he can realistically want, he feels he cannot be complete without the romantic and intimate love from this woman he chases. So after showing this woman his dedication to her and being shut down time after time, The Weeknd turns to his old ways.
Track 7: Heartless
On Heartless The Weeknd completely changes the tone of the album, with an upbeat, braggadocious, living the high life type track.
“Never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch needs”, is the opening line on this song, showing how far gone he is, truly giving up on love until he finds somebody that can fix him.
He describes the life he lives with constant sex, and drugs to distract himself from the woman he loves so dearly. He tells us that he is just selling them a false reality and that he doesn't really love them like he'll tell them. He has gone back to his old ways.
He almost has a moment of redemption during what is assumed to be a comedown (he hints towards this on the next track as well), indicated through the shift of mood in the track when he says:
“You never gave up on me, I'll never know what you see, I don't do well when alone". He realizes he is being selfish (as the song title suggests), but very quickly jumps back to his narcissistic attitude in the chorus again, ending it off by saying he is Heartless.
Track 8: Faith
Unlike what the title suggests, this track is not about having faith, and is actually The Weeknd expressing how badly he feels for losing faith. He recognizes that he has lost his faith, stating it over and over throughout the track, but still continues distracting himself until it becomes unbearable and almost kills him. Throughout the verses on this track, he starts to break, telling his lover that he wants her back even in his current state and that he wants to 'OD right beside her', and for her to follow in his footsteps.
The line “When I’m coming down is the most I feel alone” is a direct insight into The Weeknd's breaking point on Heartless, where he is having a moment of vulnerability.
He tells us that he's "losing his religion everyday", meaning he becomes more desperate with every waking second after leaving and disappointing the woman he loves.
The outro to this track is a slow piece with ambulance sirens blaring in the background as he is being taken to the hospital. He is being escorted out of the city, with the glass on the ambulance doors being the only reminder of the city and it's blinding lights.
Track 9: Blinding Lights
Blinding Lights is an extremely upbeat track with more sorrowful undertones, where The Weeknd expresses his vulnerability to his lover.
When he says "Maybe you can show me how to love, maybe, I'm goin' through withdrawals, You don't even have to do too much, You can turn me on with just a touch" he is expressing that he would like to re-learn how to love, ditching his past mindset that he described in Snowchild.
When The Weeknd mentions 'going through withdrawals', he is cutting back from his drug use after his overdose, but he is also talking about from love, as he says that his lover doesn't 'have to do too much' to get him excited. The excitement also double's back into drugs, and since he is feeling so poorly without them, he doesn't need that much of a hit to get him feeling good.
In the line “Sin City's cold and empty, No one's around to judge me, I can't see clearly when you're gone”, he mentions being alone again, and that since nobody is beside him, nobody can stop everything he does from going horribly wrong. He is blinded by the light of his love and so lost in said light that he will harm himself to feel better.
This track truly feels like an attempt to recreate a high that you are so upset throughout, but have to put on a face for those you love as to not scare them away.
The Weeknd says "I'm just calling back to let you know, I could never say it on the phone, Will never let you go this time", which is seemingly ironic at first. Why would he call his lover to tell her something he could never say on the phone? It's because he is so blinded, that he resorts to telling her something so passionate over a simple phone call for a chance with her again. What he says gets her attention, and he finally has a chance to look her in the eyes once again.
Track 10: In Your Eyes
In Your Eyes sees The Weeknd confronting his emotions with the woman he loves in an optimistic yet self-destructive manner. The Weeknd knows that she is hiding something, and what she is hiding but decides to 'look the other way' because he loves her and is scared to let her go no matter how much her actions and deceit hurt him.
In lyrics like “You always try to hide the pain, You always know just what to say, I always look the other way” The Weeknd shows that he is not one to push something out of somebody, but continues to acknowledge that she is hiding something, when she 'knows what to say' and he 'looks the other way'.
He explicitly says “I just pretend that I'm in the dark… I'd rather be so oblivious, I'd rather be with you” meaning that he is willingly ignorant towards her lies, just to keep her around.
When she is finally able to let it all out, at her complete breaking point, he doesn't want to hear it because it will only hurt her more. He walks away, so he doesn't have to learn about her faults, and to not see the tears in her eyes.
Track 11: Save Your Tears
On Save Your Tears we see The Weeknd indecisively fighting himself and his lover, questioning if he is or isn't good enough for her. He openly admits that he doesn't know why he runs away and abandons her, but also feels like he isn't good enough to maintain their relationship, saying things like:
"You look so happy when I'm not with you" and "I realize that I'm much too late, And you deserve someone better".
We get some insight into what his lover is thinking in the remix of this song with Ariana Grande, where she says:
"I kept my distance 'cause I know that you, Don't like when I'm with nobody else, I couldn't help it, I put you through hell". She tells us that The Weeknd easily becomes jealous, and she is trying to move on and stay away because she doesn't want to go back and hurt him.
They both sing "Take me back 'cause I wanna stay, Save your tears for another, I realize that I'm much too late, And you deserve someone better", emphasizing that they both feel the exact same way. They are deep in love but have to leave each other for the way in which they harm one another.
The Weeknd is still very jealous and wants her to know his exact thoughts, and say them out loud so that they mean something. He wants her to repeat after him.
Track 12: Repeat After Me (Interlude)
Repeat After Me is a song that’s main purpose is to push doubt onto how The Weeknd's lover really feels about him.
He sings “You don’t love him if you’re thinking of me”, trying to convince this woman that she still loves him, hoping she feels the same way she does.
He knows that even if a man who isn’t him treats her right, she will still think of him because of the extent to which they loved and the damage The Weeknd did. She doesn’t want him to know this obviously, because she is trying to get away from The Weeknd, a man who is internalizing all of his inner hatred from past relationships only to take it out on her. He mockingly asks “Why you gonna even try to hide?”, insinuating she is not great at masking how she feels, then offering to wipe her eyes of the tears he is the reason for.
She resists him though, and for the last time. We head into the late night with The Weeknd, where he is alone during these after hours.
Track 13: After Hours
On After Hours, The Weeknd falls further into his grave as he admits every fault of his in great depth. He makes the track about both himself and his lover, without placing fault on her. He expresses how low his actions have brought him and how driven he is to have another chance with her, while also recognizing that the way he treated her before was massively wrong. Though he has expressed these same feelings to her before, he is pleading on his last legs for an opportunity so that he can show his lover that he is capable of change. He expresses a lot of how he feels through manipulative sentences, saying things such as:
"Without you, I can't sleep", "Talk to me, without you, I can't breathe", and "I'll treat you better than I did before". These lines look like the same old Abel Tesfaye saying the same phrases he has before to be with the same woman that has tolerated him for long enough. As it always does, The Weeknd's lust seeps into even his most meaningful apology at his lowest moment, when he says "I be livin' in heaven when I'm inside of you". From his lovers perspective, this one sentence could be the entire reason she doesn't take him back, as he just looks like he misses the sex and that everything else he said has no motive besides getting in bed with her. While The Weeknd most definitely misses the sex, there is much more behind how he feels.
For the last minute and twenty seconds of this song, The Weeknd goes over a minimal yet powerful instrumental where he lets his voice fully express how he feels. The change in the instrumental from a full orchestral like piece, to a stabbing glass sound, is fully intentional. He goes from putting his everything into the words he speaks, with every effort draining him and becoming more intense, to giving up. His repetition of the chorus at the end is a blatant cry for help, where he can do nothing more than whisper into the void of what was once filled with his brimming intense love. He lies alone as he gets closer to detachment, and closer to death.
Track 14: Until I Bleed Out
In the fittingly titled finale, Until I Bleed Out has The Weeknd pleading for help as he falls farther away from the love he has been working towards this whole time.
The opening lines of this song; "I can't move, I'm so paralyzed... I can't explain why I'm terrified" showcase the physical reaction he is having. He is scared of life without his lover, and cannot move because he cannot even attempt to accept a life without her.
He is scared of dying and doesn’t necessarily want to, but he does want the feeling of overwhelming loneliness out of his every thought.
The lyrics “I wanna cut you outta my dreams, I wanna cut you outta my mind” tell us that he hates thinking of this woman now, yet she appears in every waking and sleeping moment.
Throughout the entirety of the album The Weeknd shows that he has nothing but love for her, despite his actions and decisions that have molded her into somebody who can no longer be with him. Unfortunately he can't accept that, as he pleads for to come back, and for her to leave his thoughts. He has a back and forth game with himself throughout this entire album, fighting his love for her and hatred for himself, but this is the track where he ends up accepting that there is nothing he can do to bring her back to the person she used to be.
The song ends with the repeated phrase "I keep telling myself I don't need it anymore", The Weeknd attempting to convince himself he doesn't need the love or drugs anymore. The more he tells himself, the more it feels forced for him, and he can never really accept that he will be happy without her.
Emotional relapse is the highs and lows of this album. You can sense and feel multiple emotions throughout every song, with an exception being made for Until I Bleed Out, when The Weeknd has given up. There are times during these songs in which you are sobbing and finding yourself in the same position a 30-year-old Abel Tesfaye found himself, and there are points in which you know life gets better, and finding somebody new isn't so out of the question. You all of a sudden have a newborn confidence in yourself. The detailed expression of human emotions and even inhumane feelings are perfectly portrayed and masterfully crafted in every single song and the album as a whole.
I hope you enjoyed reading my first article. Thank you <3
cover by @shutupant