After Hours: Uncomfortable Subjects

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Music is an essential part of our lives, especially for teenagers. I know that without music, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. My family always tells me that I came out of the womb singing and dancing! However, recent music in today’s society has become desensitized, no longer focusing on expression and delivering a message, but on creating smash hits that rake in the most profit. Although, this is not the case for The Weeknd’s, or Abel Makkonon Tesfaye, new album “After Hours.”

“After Hours,” a mix of new wave, R&B, and dream pop, uses 80s themed neo-psychedelia and synthesized beats to transport us to the world of a self-loathing villain. The album delves into the true meaning of loneliness, as well as toxic relationships’ effects on the participants. Us Gen Z-ers, being caught up on all of the latest celebrity gossip, have our minds immediately drawn to the three-time Grammy Award-winning artist’s relationship with supermodel Bella Hadid. Their relationship is evidently fickle, having broken up and getting back together numerous times over the past five years. 

Yet, despite most knowing the specifics of his dating situation, the album connects to all of its listeners. Focusing on universal concepts like loneliness and regret, as well as the struggle to love yourself and others, our generation deeply connects to the lyrics, the majority of which Tesfaye himself wrote. As we come of age, I don’t believe there is a single one of us who doesn’t struggle with finding our identity. On that journey, we test out the waters, experimenting. Sometimes, we fall, stumble, or spiral into a black hole of self-hatred. We don’t like the way we look, talk, act, or feel. It seems like you’re floating in the deep, dark sea, utterly alone. Just like Tesfaye writes in “Faith,” it seems as if all hope is lost, and the attempt of redemption and rebirth seems too far out of reach. However, when listening to an artist that shares the same pain as you, the world seems a little less lonely.

The reason this album remains unique is the light that it shines on important issues that society has decided are too “uncomfortable” to discuss. Life-threatening matters that affect our generation greatly, such as drug abuse, depression, and unhealthy relationships, have been simply deemed as “too complicated” or “too difficult” to properly address. The music we hear on the radio are all the same formula, inoffensive and neutral songs repeated fifty times a day. So, the fact that “After Hours” has already received 221 million streams, 275,000 copies sold, and the biggest debut week of 2020 has a huge impact on the music industry. Seeing success in an unconventional artist using unorthodox methods of production will no doubt pave the way for more novel, young artists to break the mold of conformity we’ve seen for so long.

Tesfaye discusses heavily the subject of child drug abuse, something that is pushed into the back of our minds. When we belong to a generation that is labeled the “ultimate pot consumers” and estimated to use twice the amount of the national average, looking over the topic is no longer an option. Today, almost 53% of marijuana users confess they started from the ages of 12-17. For Tesfaye, his marijuana addiction started at the age of 11, then moving on to harder drugs like ecstasy, cocaine, oxycodone, ketamine, psilocybin, and Xanax. As written in his fifth song of the album, “Snowchild,” “when I was sixteen / If I didn’t make it then I’d probably make my wrist bleed.” We dive headfirst into these “uncomfortable subjects” in an easily transmittable vessel: music. Tesfaye and his team effectively used this album to share his message.

 In a survey I conducted amongst my peers, most said it was their favorite album of the year, and almost all said it was not the typical music genre that they listen to. When asked what makes this album special, most commented on the fusion between beats and lyrics as well as the issues behind the songs. However, surprisingly, every single surveyed person stated that “After Hours” made them happy, even though it covered extremely serious and heavy topics. Tesfaye has turned the education of serious and dark concerns into something that inspires joy. Not only are we willing to listen and talk about these important matters, but we achieve serenity. That is a true artist’s job, which the Tesfaye completed flawlessly.

On a lighter matter, “After Hours” also opened up a lot of doors to Gen Z: the music of the 80s! Predominantly, on the second half of the album, the new wave beats had my mom and I jamming together to “Blinding Lights!” We have never shared the same taste when it comes to music, but I was able to bond with her over “After Hours,” and I’m sure this is the case for many American teenagers. The album opens up the music of Gen X to our own generation and shortens the gap between a parent and their child. This is extremely telling of how the Weekend’s album tackled difficult familial conversations as very few other pieces of pop music have been able to.

All in all, the Weeknd’s new album was a smash hit, despite its unconventionality in all aspects. With fantastic production, lyrics, and narrative, it is easily looked at as one of the best albums of this year for our generation. I look forward to his new music, and to writing more music and entertainment articles!

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