On his latest mixtape, Echoes of Silence, Abel Tesfaye gives us a great song, pulsing with evil.
Written by Touré (@Toure)
“Initiation” is a song pulsing with evil. The Weeknd has lured a naïf into his web of iniquity and is taking her innocence, turning her out, and practically taking her soul.
It starts with an ominous, haunting, dangerously sensual vamp that makes me feel like we’re in a dimly lit, seedy hotel room littered with drugs done and undone, and bottles half-drank, and ashtrays filled with cigarettes, and minds that have long been completely blown.
The Weeknd’s aggressive vocal attack—the way he barrels through the verses, intense and relentless, barely stopping for breath, rhyming as much as singing—adds to the creepiness as it signals his devilishly aggressive assault on this girl, plying her with substances, guiding her past her limits, taking her over.
The vocal manipulation, the kaleidoscopic aspect to his voice throughout the song, gives us her perception of him as she struggles to deal with the drugs and the alcohol and the hormones skewing her perception of reality. It also gives us a sonic symbol of his devilish shape-shifting as he moves in for the kill.
And the vocal manipulation, the kaleidoscopic aspect to his voice throughout the song, gives us her perception of him as she struggles to deal with the drugs and the alcohol and the hormones skewing her perception of reality. It also gives us a sonic symbol of his devilish shape-shifting as he moves in for the kill.
The Weeknd’s a great writer who paints pictures artfully and economically. The first words of the song “Got you” give me the sense that she’s captured, that she’s being taken over. We start the story in action—in Latin, in medias reas, into the midst of things, without preamble, a great way to begin a story.
She’s already drinking and smoking and past her limits. He drops a few references that let us know she’s out of her depth—“All this shit sounds foreign to you.” And that he’s the teacher here: “Baby get familiar with the order.”
She could be anyone—we get no specific details about her as we do in "XO," from the same mixtape. The cascade of drug and alcohol references tell us he knows this world well and knows exactly what level he wants her at as if he’s a demented chemist who’s drugging and drinking her to a specific level of impairment—“Heart rate’s low/ Put that rum down you don’t wanna die tonight.” He’s not into necrophilia.
My favorite line of the song—my favorite line in a while—is “For my niggas out tonight, and they high off Shakespeare lines.” I envision a well-dressed wolfpack roaming a city in expensive cars, their antenna up high as they search for weak women while high off of long, profound lines of cocaine.
I also see something else—maybe this is too much but I want “Shakespeare lines” to be more than a cocaine reference. I see Weeknd’s friends, a decadent, sinister, licentious gang of intelligent hipster reprobates so detached from society that they’re speeding through the post-midnight hours quoting Shakespeare at each other—“and thus I clothe my naked villany,” one says. Then, “frailty, thy name is woman.” Then, “the world’s mine oyster!” Perhaps.
The great writer in the Weeknd is in full force in this section giving us two beautiful and forceful visuals that elegantly and precisely describe how we’ve left the real world behind: “And the clocks don’t work, you don’t gotta check the time/And the blinds don’t work you don’t gotta check the sky/We’ll be going all night, till light.” She’s crawled her way into this spider’s web so he can cocoon her with mind-benders and serve her up to… his boys.
Yes, it’s a shocking moment when you really visualize the dark, vice-ridden hotel room, the suave, experienced, devilish Weeknd, the no-longer-sweet girl who parted ways with her faculties hours or days ago being introduced to the crew who’ve got designs on her.
I see the devil telling her that she can have what she wants most, if only she’ll do something horrific for him. What? “Meet my boys.” That’s not metaphoric... Her initiation test is about her sleeping with the crew.
Like Denzel in Training Day, they’ve been planning this all week. Here’s the moment of truth: the chorus, where he slows down, adding dramatic weight to the fiendish proposition. “I got a test for you,” he says, no longer rhyming.
He knows she wants his heart—she wants to be his girl, that’s why she’s going along with this indoctrination into his ways. She already loves him—or digs him very much—so he’s got her trapped. That, combined with her messy state, should be enough to push her over the edge. He says, “Well, baby you can have it all.” I see the devil telling her that she can have what she wants most, if only she’ll do something horrific for him. What? “Meet my boys.”
That’s not metaphoric. He’s not talking about his balls. He’s not talking about his drugs. He’s talking about his aforementioned homies who are high on Shakespeare lines. Her initiation test is about her sleeping with the crew. “I got a lot of boys. And we can make your right.”
Does she pass? Yes. The next lines: “You’ve been going hard baby.” She did it. “Now you rolling with some big boys baby.” She’s in—she passed the initiation. He succeeded in corrupting her. Next thing you know he’s trying to expand his reach: “Call one of your best friends.”
That 2nd verse shows him after he’s taken her over—she’s barely mentioned. Now he’s all about himself and how he’s been zoning for a week without leaving his room, “trying to concentrate to breathe,” because the weed’s so potent it’s killing his ability to sleep.
No actual women were hurt in the making of this song as far as I know. Art made from the point of view of villains and monsters is compelling. Loving it does not equal condoning horrific behavior.
In the next verse they go deeper down the rabbit hole as their drugging continues and the sex gets nastier and her people come, trying to save her from him—“Girlfriend screaming that I’m creeping out /If they’re not down, better keep em out/Ex-man hollering, keep out.”
A key line is next: “Hard to let go, I could teach you how.” It’s hard to let go of life and responsibilities and just fall back into a sort of drug and sex coma but he’s all about that stuff: he can teach you how to do it. But of course he’s not actually giving her his heart—she’s not going to become his girlfriend as she wants. The last line is “Just one night, trying to fucking leave you out.” He’s off to find another woman to corrupt.
Some things that must be said. I don’t condone gang rape. No one should ever do that. It’s horrible. This is a song. No actual women were hurt in the making of this song as far as I know. Art made from the point of view of villains and monsters is compelling. Loving it does not equal condoning horrific behavior. Also: The Weeknd is at the start of what should be an extraordinary career.