After Hours’ by The Weeknd: A Genre-Bending Reinvention

Credit...Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

By Aadit Manyem, age 16, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, West Windsor, N.J.

When the world reflects on the tumultuous year that was 2020, music will function as a light in the darkness. The bearer of this light revealed himself to be Abel Tesfaye, also known as The Weeknd, who released his glistening fourth studio album “After Hours.” Despite the Recording Academy’s failure to recognize the glory of “After Hours,” — apparent after it received zero Grammy nominations last November — The Weeknd’s latest project is a testament to his unparalleled artistry, brilliantly blurring the lines between pop, R&B and hip-hop.

The Weeknd’s genre-bending abilities are put into full force on “Blinding Lights,” a record-breaking retro sensation. Traces of ’80s influence are heard throughout the album, primarily due to producer Max Martin’s heavy use of synthesizer keyboards and kick drums. Despite these vintage elements, The Weeknd maintains a fresh, contemporary sound via hip-hop-influenced instrumentals in tracks such as “Heartless” and “Escape From LA,” courtesy of producer Metro Boomin.

Moreover, The Weeknd strays from industrywide crutches such as partying and sex, previously explored in his past albums “Beauty Behind the Madness” and “Starboy.” He instead reminisces on past relationships and heartbreak, crooning over an atmospheric instrumental: “Where are you now when I need you most? / I’d give it all just to hold you close,” on the album’s title track. The Weeknd delves deeper into heavier subject matter on “Faith,” a personal favorite, singing: “I’m losing my religion every day / Time hasn’t been kind to me I pray.”

The Weeknd has undoubtedly made stylistic and auditory changes from his previous albums. However, were all of these changes beneficial? “After Hours” is The Weeknd’s first full-length album without a single feature. Although the project is not particularly long, hearing one voice for nearly an hour could have created a tedious listening experience, leaving the listener longing for variety. Instead, I found intimacy in this simplicity, by the end feeling as if I knew The Weeknd on a first-name basis.

Since his 2011 debut, The Weeknd’s discography has had many ups and downs, but “After Hours” reaches an unprecedented high. The overlap of seemingly incompatible genres is a testament to The Weeknd’s versatility as a musician. Nevertheless, I cannot say I am surprised — what else do you expect from an artist who can bring Metro Boomin and Tame Impala to the same record?

This album is a cohesive blend of fragility, vanity and bravado all in one. Only The Weeknd can bring you to tears on one track and make you get up and dance on the next. “After Hours” is undoubtedly a blinding light in the pitch-black shadow cast by 2020.