Concerts

The Weeknd Is Our Most Prescient Pop Star

The Weeknd
The Weeknd Photo by Brian Ziff
It’s no secret that the lead-up to the Weeknd’s After Hours Til Dawn Tour was a bumpy one. Meant to support his fourth studio album, After Hours, the tour was initially set for 2020 before getting pushed back not one, not two, but three times due to COVID, arena restrictions, and the release of his newest record, 2022’s Dawn FM.

“Due to constraints of arenas and the demand for more shows I want to do something bigger and special for you,” read a public statement released by the Canadian pop star last October when he opted to change all of the tour’s venues to football stadiums. Mind you: This was all before the tour’s special guest, Doja Cat, dropped out at the last minute, citing a medical emergency, and before he was forced to postpone his Toronto kickoff due to a country-wide internet outage.

Much has already been written about how the music industry has struggled to adapt to modern times, with the pandemic further jeopardizing pure sales and public entertainment as streaming services continue to dominate. As one of the biggest pop stars in the world, the Weeknd (née Abel Tesfaye) certainly isn’t the only artist whose touring plans were postponed, nor was he the musical act most affected by such developments. But with a double-platinum album and 2020’s biggest single to his name, Tesfaye’s After Hours Til Dawn Tour (previously the After Hours World Tour) quickly became one of pop’s most scrutinized what-ifs.
Over the past three years, however, one thing has kept the entire affair from appearing doomed since the beginning: The artist and his creative team’s track record for calculating every artistic endeavor to unique precision. This is especially true for what Tesfaye has done regarding the rollout of these two concept albums and everything superseding them.

From the haunting visual accompaniments on both records to his darkwave approach to R&B and dance-pop, horror and hedonism form the connective tissue between After Hours and Dawn FM. The former is also arguably the pandemic era’s most prescient album, and one does not need to look further than the second single to see why.

“‘Blinding Lights’ is striking for how prophetic it was regarding pandemic life,” culture writer and MTV historian Sydney Urbanek wrote about the song’s accidental encapsulation of lockdown angst. “His character spends most of [director Anton] Tammi’s video physically alone (‘This city’s cold and empty/No one’s around to judge me’), but also lonely (‘I been on my own for long enough’). He isn’t sober, so he’s making bad decisions. He seems to expect each negative development that takes place on his night out.”
If After Hours represents a descent into madness wrought by the overstimulation of fame and fortune, Dawn FM explores the dreaded state of purgatory following his self-destruction. Paradoxically, his fifth album also feels lighter than After Hours, with more upbeat production and a greater embrace of the things that haunted him on that project, from his own self-destructive habits to the ghosts of past relationships. Lyrically, Tesfaye’s fifth studio album sees him accepting and even welcoming the inevitability of death (“Gasoline”) and getting over ex-lovers (“Here We Go Again”) — even if some of the same regretful sentiments remain (“Less Than Zero”).

And so, it’s only logical that the albums’ coherence would result in a tour supporting them both. As you’d expect from someone as dedicated as the Weeknd, the tour has gone smoothly so far, with Tesfaye delivering energetic performances of some of the albums’ greatest material, as well as older hits like “The Hills” and “Starboy.”

Audiences are by now aware of the aesthetics that comprised the artist’s last two records, their horror inspirations honing back to a number of influences from ‘70s slashers to present-day body horror. But as provocative as this era has been, the After Hours Til Dawn Tour sees Tesfaye at his most accessible, retaining the dark mood but saving the creepier elements for music videos and his newly announced Halloween Horror Nights collaboration. It works without tarnishing his brand, because as dedicated as he is onstage, Tesfaye is also a classic performer when compared to his contemporaries. (Think: Justin Bieber and frequent collaborator Doja Cat, who have both flown over their crowds in harnesses.)
The artist is not one to underestimate his vocals — which many consider his strongest asset — making that his main priority through simple set pieces as the lighting and stage direction deliver the brunt of the spectacle.

In this series of concerts, he spends the majority of time on the walkway from the stage, delivering impressive vocals and interacting with fans. As he keeps the choreography and costume changes at a minimum, the elaborate stage décor and light show (which at one point includes pyrotechnics) immerse him and the audience into a hellish rave. The closest thing to backup dancers is a cultish group of hooded figures who appear every once in a while as if in procession, eventually leading him back down the walkway and into the darkness when the show ends. If there’s no encore, it’s because the character he’s playing has finally met his end.

Seeing how trailers for upcoming projects such as Horror Nights and his forthcoming HBO series The Idol have also premiered during the tour, fans can’t help but wonder if his upcoming show at Hard Rock Stadium will yield any surprise announcements. Regardless, the hype for his Miami tour stop is real, and we’re all here for it.

The Weeknd. With Kaytranada and Mike Dean. 6:30 p.m. Saturday, August 6, at Hard Rock Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens; 305-943-8000; hardrockstadium.com. Tickets cost $51 to $276.50 via ticketmaster.com.
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Ursula Muñoz-Schaefer is a freelance writer and critic. Since graduating from Florida International University in 2020, she has covered news and entertainment stories for Xtra, palabra., and more. Her work has been recognized by Florida's Society of Professional Journalists.