I don’t sit in my bedroom at 11:29 p.m. on a Tuesday night talking about any album, but for one particular album by The Weeknd, it has to be talked about.
I’m talking about “After Hours,” an album, released as the world shut down, that inspired by nostalgic films and Sin City. In turn, this album inspired many.
For Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, this album was a new experience and new sound. It was the beginning of the “dance album” era. Furthermore, the upbeat tempos and pop synths contrasted his preceding album, “My Dear Melancholy.”
“After Hours” was released during the pandemic alongside few other albums that are still popular today, like “Future Nostalgia” by Dua Lipa. The difference is, “After Hours” was the only album that provided a unique experience of both heartache and hope – something people grasped on to when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
To be fair, album sales were also not as strong because of the global crisis. As reported by NME, the “equivalent of 1.52 million albums was sold during the week of March 19.” This number marked a new low since the mid-1960s. At the same time, live performances of all kinds were either canceled or postponed.
“After Hours” wasn’t affected, as it earned 444,000 equivalent album units in its first week.
After that, the rest was history.
To date, the album sold over four million copies in 15 countries. The album and its songs broke multiple records and received several accolades. The hit single, “Blinding Lights” became The Weeknd’s top song of all time on Billboard’s music charts.
There are two reasons why “After Hours” is as successful and significant as it is, and therefore, will not be leaving my rotation anytime soon.
The Roll Out
When you want your audience’s attention and to build hype about something you’re about to release, you sit down with your marketing team to create a roll-out strategy.
Think of a roll-out strategy like gardening. You want to plant a seed, tend the garden and watch the flowers bloom. A roll-out strategy is the same way. Give out the initial idea, continue sprinkling in teasers then throw in the big reveal or product release. A roll-out strategy is important, and so rarely used today, because it gives an audience something to get excited about.
The Weeknd, being a creative genius, is one of the few artists to continue doing roll-out strategies for his albums. With an album like “After Hours,” there was a story to be told. He wanted to tell it a certain way, and it began with a simple social media post to set the tone for the beginning of the “After Hours” era.
Then, came a string of music videos. “Heartless” gave listeners the beginning of the world that The Weeknd was engulfed in. The Weeknd parades around Las Vegas in a colorful display of the “After Hours” aesthetic. This transitions to the “Blinding Lights” music video where The Weeknd has now face full of blood and drunkenly maneuvering through the city. This is where, in my opinion, we really see the “After Hours” aesthetic in all its glory. If “Heartless” is the all-night party, “Blinding Lights” is the 5 a.m. hangover. The next few videos, “In Your Eyes,” “After Hours” and “Too Late” continue to tell the Canadian singer’s story of “After Hours.” This leads to the final part of the story, the “Save Your Tears” music video, where The Weeknd is now sporting botched facial enhancements.
All of this explains a story, that began with just a simple roll-out strategy. The Weeknd explained in an interview with Variety that the head bandages reflect “on the absurd culture of Hollywood celebrity and people manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated.”
When looking to statistics, the roll-out strategy and the way “After Hours” was presented is one way why it’s still significant today.
That being said, there’s also an emotional connection that so many had to the album at the time and even now.
The Emotional Connection
There was not an album like “After Hours” coming out before or even right when the world shut down. As mentioned earlier, the album started a “dance album” era among artists. Typically, you associate a dance album, like “Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa, with positivity and fun. “After Hours” does not have those same connotations.
When the world shut down, there was uncertainty. Eventually, hearing the news became heartbreaking. Somehow, there was still a glimmer of hope. To me, these concepts really play out in “After Hours.” A sense of heartbreak, hope or both is what you get with the album.
I think this is something a lot of people latched on to during the pandemic to try to make sense of the world around them. This is the first time that maybe anyone in our lives dealt with a global pandemic, so it was not easy to find some sort of hope and understanding.
Songs filled with heartbroken lyrics, like “Too Late” and “Alone Again” balance out with more upbeat melancholy songs like “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears.” The heartache brought on by the uncertainty of the pandemic with glimmers of hope of returning to normal in the future is mirrored in the album.
For me, “After Hours” is a personal favorite album because I think parts of the album and certain songs parallel a lot of experiences that happened in my life.
There’s an overall feeling of being alone in the album, and that’s a big thing that I felt for so long growing up. “Alone Again” is the song that really captures that feeling for me.
Oddly enough, another song I connect with that shares this empty, alone feeling is “Blinding Lights.” Besides this song being an all-time hit, it’s a song that I associate with missing and not wanting to let go of the past. Whether that past is me, a person or a memory, I almost always listen to this song to get me through that period of time.
“After Hours” is the album that I started being more of a serious Weeknd fan, though I’ve always liked his music. This particular album, throwing in how hard the beginning of the pandemic was me, will always have a special place in my heart for that reason.
The Weeknd’s “After Hours” album is always going to be relevant as long as “Blinding Lights” is still played on the radio. Besides that, the album’s balance of sad lyrics and melancholic upbeat rhythms will always remain in my music rotation.
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