On November 27, 2019, an era that now feels like a lifetime ago, the Weeknd dropped a new single called “Heartless,” ushering in the rollout for his fourth studio album, After Hours.
Over the next four months, there have been a handful of singles, music videos, late night TV performances, and a short film. In the middle of it all, a global pandemic broke out that changed the way we approach daily life, but the March 20 release date stands. When the clock strikes midnight, we’ll be blessed with a new 14-song project from Abel Tesfaye.
What side of the Weeknd will we find on After Hours? Will it be the global pop superstar who writes radio hits in his sleep, or will we hear the brooding artist who brought us House of Balloons? Will he bring along any surprise guests? What will the overall tone of the album be? While we wait for this thing to hit streaming services, the Complex Music staff put together a quick list of 5 things we hope to hear on the Weeknd’s new album.
It still feels weird typing things like this, but we’re in the middle of a global crisis. Every few hours, we’re hit with new waves of shocking news, dramatically affecting how we approach our day-to-day lives. Suddenly, we’re in a new reality. Cities are on lockdown. A financial crisis is looming. People are dying. It’s a scary time. Everything has become so bleak that it almost feels silly anticipating the release of a new pop album in the same breathless way that we used to. But it’s also exactly what we need right now. Life has been turned upside down, and we need some things to help us feel normal. We’re all looking for something to rally around, and music has always served as a unifying cultural force. The Weeknd’s new album is one of the first major pop releases to arrive while everyone’s in quarantine, and it’s getting here at the perfect time. If, for at least a brief moment tonight at midnight, all the doomsday news on our timelines is interrupted by conversations about a big pop album, After Hours will have served its purpose. Tours and festivals are all getting canceled right now, which makes album releases even more vital than they already were. As Abel told his fans in a Thursday afternoon press, “Let the music heal us all during these dark times.” —Eric Skelton
If you’ve been keeping up with the Weeknd’s album rollout over the past few months, you’ve noticed a consistent aesthetic theme. In press photos, music videos, and late night TV appearances, he plays the same character. With a bloodied nose and a crimson suit to match, this character seems to be making his way through some sort of nightmarish reality. Each of his music videos connect with each other, building a storyline that culminates with an unsettling short film that follows him through an eerily quiet version of New York City (it’s even more unsettling to watch it now, in the middle of a quarantine). We would love to see him extend this storyline to a larger narrative that plays out over the course of the entire album. We need a Weeknd concept album!
Taking a look at the recently revealed tracklist for After Hours, there are some hints this could be the case. The first few songs appear to follow the journey of a recently-heartbroken protagonist: “Alone Again,” “Too Late,” and “Hardest to Love.” Then, he seems to spiral out of control on the next three: “Snowchild,” “Escape From L.A.,” and “Heartless.” This is followed by a possible come-to-God moment in the next stretch: “Faith,” and “Blinding Lights.” Finally, the album ends on a dramatic note, laced with themes of mortality: “In Your Eyes,” “Save Your Tears,” “Repeat After Me,” “After Hours,” and finally, “Until I Bleed Out.” Does the narrative arc end in a death?! Honestly, this wouldn’t be the most comforting storyline in the midst of a global pandemic, but an immersive story like this would provide the escape so many of us are looking for right now. —Eric Skelton
Both sides of the Weeknd
The Weeknd has flexed very different sides of his artistry throughout various projects, but it would be interesting to hear him bring those many facets together on one album. If he could take the heartbroken, drug-induced intensity from the Trilogy series and mix it with the upbeat and hopeful energy from mainstream pop albums like Starboy and Beauty Behind the Madness, Abel could end up with a classic album that satisfies all of his fans. In addition to revisiting Old Abel, he has also alluded to the possibility that fans will see a new side, as well. In a recent interview with the CR Fashion Book, he explained, “I feel confident with where I’m taking this new record.There’s also a very committed vision and character being portrayed and I get to explore a different side of me that fans have never seen.” It’s nothing new for an artist to explore different sides of themselves on a new album, but seeing how Abel incorporates all of those sides into one project is particularly exciting. —Jessica McKinney
Surprise Drake and Future collabs
There weren’t any features listed on the album’s tracklist, but the possibility of a few surprise appearances shouldn’t be ruled out just yet. Remember how JAY-Z ended up on eight of Jay Electronica’s A Written Testimony songs, even though he’s not listed on the tracklist? Should the Weeknd have some more tricks up his sleeve, we hope Drake and Future collaborations are two of them. A Drake reunion would be the most rewarding, considering their history. After gifting fans with hits like “Crew Love,” “The Zone,” and “The Ride,” the two distanced themselves from one another, suggesting a possible beef. While they haven’t appeared on wax together since their heyday, Drake revealed that the two had squashed their past disagreements on 2019’s “War,” rapping, “OVOXO link up, mandem drink up, me in the drillers/You know that’s been my nigga, yeah/We just had to fix things, family, 6 tings, we can’t split up.” He also addressed their situation on a two-hour interview with Rap Radar. So with that drama aside, an OVOXO collaboration could be coming sooner than later. A Future collaboration would also be nice to hear. Although it wouldn’t be quite as “groundbreaking” as a Drake and Abel track, Future and the Weeknd have a way of making peak dirtbag and drug-infused trap soul records like “Low Life,” “All I Know,” and “Six Feet Under.” They also have a history of surprise, unlisted collaborations (see: Future’s unlisted vocals on “Six Feet Under.”) We wouldn’t mind another surprise. —Jessica McKinney
When the Weeknd first emerged a decade ago, he was a shadowy figure who wrote dark tales about sex, drugs, and other late-night debauchery. But over the years, as he’s become a massive pop star, he has smoothed out some of his rough edges and made albums like Starboy that appeal to more widespread audiences. Honestly, in some ways, this has been a positive change. Some of his old material could teeter on the edge of being offensive, and it sounds like he’s in a better and overall more healthy place, emotionally. During his interview with CR Fashion Book, he explained, “I don’t like to leave my house too much. It’s a gift and a curse but it helps me give undivided attention to my work. I enjoy being a workaholic, I think, or I’m just addicted to it. Even when I’m not working I’m always somehow still working. It distracts from the loneliness, I guess.” It’s nice to see this growth in Abel’s music (and in him as a person), but we can’t deny the fact that some of the early appeal came from his unique way of channeling a tortured lifestyle into art. At times, his newer work suffers from the feeling that he’s attempting to channel this old energy, while still sanding off some of the danger. On After Hours, we’d love to hear a little more of that old Weeknd edginess. —Eric Skelton