Music Analysis

Abel’s Divine Comedy

Originally, I wanted to title this post “The Michael Jackson-ification of The Weeknd” but that would be clickbait. What I am really interested in exploring is the Weeknd’s latest foray into multi-album storytelling with After HoursDawn FM, and a recently announced third album to complete the trilogy (Jones).

Now, that’s not to say that the The Weeknd hasn’t continued to hone his Michael Jackson impersonation skills. In fact, I think the track “Out of Time” from Dawn FM is his closest attempt yet! It’s also the best song on the record.

“Out Of Time” by The Weeknd

But before we dive any further into the idea behind this album trilogy, we have to get a few things straight about The Weeknd.

#1: Trilogy is inherent to his brand:

The Weeknd (or Abel Tesfaye as he’s colloquially known)’s first studio output was actually a collection of songs from three mixtapes titled Trilogy. He then released three more studio albums before beginning a new trilogy with 2020’s After Hours. The old saying that “everything happens in threes” seems to prove especially true with Abel and his music.

#2: He loves nostalgia

While Abel has certainly always had a knack for Michael Jackson and 80s soundscapes in general (Just listen to “Can’t Feel My Face” or all of Starboy), they seem to be much more purposeful on this album trilogy. His obsession with nostalgia not only dominates the instrumental portions of the album but also the inspirations (such as the films Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or After Hours that inspired the album of the same name). The influence of the retro, synth-filled score for the film Uncut Gems has also no doubt been an influence on his latest music, a film in which Abel himself appeared.

Now that that’s settled: why did he dress in a red suit for a year and wear bandages on his face? And what exactly is up with his latest obsession with the afterlife? Let’s start with the first question. The hope is, by the time you’re done this article, you see why these records are not only great but some of the most interesting projects in popular music this decade (so far).

The World of After Hours:

After Hours album cover (source: Genius)

The album begins with the fittingly titled “Alone Again” where Abel confesses that he feels at home in Vegas and he’s falling for “the night”. The night, in Abel’s music, is a concept which has been and will continue to be important. It basically symbolizes the hedonism of night life, a subject matter covered extensively throughout his discography. But here he seems self-aware that it is toxic as he sings “I don’t know if I can be alone again”. The next song details how Abel believes its “Too Late” to save the souls of him and his lover, whom he thanks on “Hardest to Love” and to whom bids adieu on “Scared to Live”. In the aftermath of this relationship, Abel reflects on his life and leaves California “into the night”. In fact, he confesses on “Escape From LA” that he feels trapped by the city, which seems to be a metaphor for his habitual lifestyle, revealed by the act of infidelity he commits in a recording studio at the end of the track. The title itself is also another film reference and the lyrics of the song contain others (Genius Contributors)!

Instead of escaping from this behaviour, Abel doubles down on “Heartless” indulging in pleasure to the point of apathy. The consequences of this are detailed on the next track “Faith” where Abel confesses that he lost his faith and that he’d “choose Vegas if they offer Heaven’s gate”. The song ends with the lyric “I ended up in the back of a flashing car” suggesting that his behaviour has either led to his arrest or a medical emergency (Furtado). This, of course, transitions into one of Abel’s biggest hits: “Blinding Lights”. 

“Blinding Lights (Official Music Video)” by The Weeknd (tw: blood/gore)

While it’s a catchy anthem, it contains somber lyrics such as “Sin City’s cold and empty” and “I’m drowning in the night”. It’s clear that the song is more of a cry for help than it is a celebration. But at least he’s admitting the severity of his condition. This seems to give him the confidence to face his ex, who feels betrayed and has moved on, while apologizing and taking accountability on “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears”. Except, he doesn’t really mean it as revealed on “Repeat After Me (Interlude)” and this reveals the glaring issue: he’s still alone. All of his indulgent behaviour left him isolated from any true connection. He confesses this heartbreak on the title track before the haunting closing song “Until I Bleed Out”. Given the title, it seems to indicate that Abel dies once the song ends or that, at the very least, his hedonistic behaviour is slowly draining his life.

Throughout 2020, Abel appeared in the same outfit, a red suit, with various layers of bandages covering his face. Eventually, he revealed in the Save Your Tears video that his character had plastic surgery to recover from his injuries. While there have been several speculations about the meaning of this, its most interesting interpretation is its extension of the idea of the dangers of his character’s lifestyle.

“Save Your Tears (Official Music Video)” by The Weeknd (tw: blood/gore)

In 2021, Abel announced he was working on a new album, presumably titled “The Dawn”, which would be a companion piece to After Hours. In a feature for Kanye West’s Donda, Abel sings “The dawn is bright for me/No more dark for me” seemingly teasing a hopeful ending for his character in the next chapter. 

The Purgatory of Dawn FM:

Dawn FM album cover (source: Genius)

Before Abel announced Dawn FM at the beginning of 2022, he explained the album’s concept in an interview with Billboard:

“Picture the album being like the listener is dead. And they’re stuck in this purgatory state, which I always imagined would be like being stuck in traffic waiting to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. And while you’re stuck in traffic, they got a radio station playing in the car, with a radio host guiding you to the light and helping you transition to the other side. So it could feel celebratory, could feel bleak, however you want to make it feel, but that’s what The Dawn is for me.”

Abel Tesfaye / Source: Mamo

This is exactly what happens on Dawn FM. It appears that somehow Abel has died, either at the end of After Hours or much later. Abel then is guided through purgatory by a disc jockey (played by Jim Carey) through his past mistakes and regrets, facing his self-destructive behaviour head on. At first, he mourns the loss of his love before admitting he failed to sacrifice for his significant other on “Sacrifice”. From there, Abel embraces fleeting romances on the aptly titled “Here We Go… Again” and “Best Friends” before confessing that he’s afraid to love again. This woman or these women (it’s never confirmed) eventually move on but Abel once again is left alone. This time, Abel takes responsibility for his actions on the happy, nostalgic “Less Than Zero”. While it isn’t much, it is growth. The album ends with a monologue from Carey who says “you have to be heaven, to see heaven”.

Knowing there is one album left in this series, we must assume that the final chapter will deal with Abel’s fate. So, the question is: after reliving his past trauma and repenting of his actions, will Abel end up condemned to the night forever or finally be able to reach the dawn?

Works Cited:

Furtado, Frank. “Breaking Down AFTER HOURS.” YouTube, uploaded by Middle 8, 24 Dec. 2020,

Genius Contributors. “The Weeknd – Escape From LA Lyrics – Genius.” Genius, 20 Mar. 2020,

Jones, Damian. “The Weeknd say ‘Dawn FM’ Is Part Of “A New Trilogy”. NME, 10 Jan. 2022,

Mamo, Heran. “The Greatest Hit: The New No. 1 Song Of All Time.” Billboard, 23 Nov. 2021,

Completed as part of my Business of Music II course at Toronto Metropolitan University in the winter 2022 semester.

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