Last weekend was big for The Weeknd (I know, I hate myself too). On Friday, he released his fourth studio album called After Hours, and it’s been receiving generally positive critical reception. According to Pitchfork, The Weeknd “finally delivers on his long-running vision, leveraging a self-loathing villain into an irresistible, cinematic narrative.” Yesterday, a deluxe version was released along with the video for one of the album’s singles, “In Your Eyes”.
If you’ve been following The Weeknd’s recent music videos, “In Your Eyes” continues where the story left off, matching the look and character of the previous three. If like me, you haven’t, “In Your Eyes” will make zero sense. Here are the first three in sequential order:
I’m a sucker for music videos with story arcs, and an even bigger sucker for narratives that span several videos. I’m also bad with horror. Like really bad. Like I haven’t seen Get Out even though it isn’t even horror. So, it was surprising to me that I was super into the music video for “In Your Eyes”. The video picks up where we left off in “After Hours”, right when The Weeknd murders a couple in an elevator. Or at least murders the guy. Is anyone else curious how the girl escapes with only blood streaks on her face?
The art direction is exquisite, and it’s reminiscent of slasher films from the 70s and 80s, a sentiment that’s echoed by the synths in the track. Although most of the video follows familiar tropes, the ending is weird as f-ck. Like decapitating a killer is one thing, but taking the head onto the dance floor and carrying it around like it’s a Prada purse is another.
All of The Weeknd’s performances and videos for After Hours are visually consistent, credit no doubt to the videos’ collaborators, Alexsi and Anton Tammi. The elements are all there: Red suit. Bloody, bruised nose. Black serial killer gloves. Red lighting. They do a good job at evoking the feelings that I think The Weeknd wants us to experience, feelings that align with the “dark R&B” sound that launched his career.
So now I’m trying to figure out an explanation for all of this. Watching “In Your Eyes” is like going to an art museum, seeing a piece, and knowing that although there’s probably a significant meaning, you can’t for the life of you figure out what it is. Is the frog a symbol for something or is that just what the kids are doing these days?
Through the four videos, we see the degradation of someone who first comes to Vegas seeking excess, and slowly descends into a madness fueled by drugs, adrenaline, and an insatiable appetite for sin. The tweaked, hyper, insane Weeknd finishes a performance on Jimmy Kimmel and as he walks away, quickly loses the fake smile revealing an emotionless, ice cold expression. Eventually possessed by a new desire to consume and kill, the climax of this story occurs when his victim, despite all best efforts to run and save herself, decides instead to take up arms against her killer. She then celebrates and even shows intimate affection with his severed head.
My Liberal Arts education is working hard to make sense of it all, digging through a long forgotten list of symbols and motifs. The head represents ego. The knife suggests power. One that despite murdering someone, is completely clean. Maybe it’s a commentary on the entertainment industry and how it takes you from the consumed to the consumer. Or perhaps its representative of The Weeknd’s own experience with drug abuse.
What I like about this new album and the new music video is that it’s foremost an artistic project showing evidence of careful thought and creativity. With all art, there isn’t a right answer to what it means, and The Weeknd has created work that allows us to stretch our imagination and derive meaning ourselves. That’s the best kind of work there is. Abel hinted that there would be more videos for the album. Think Mr. Red Suit can recover from decapitation to make another appearance?