I remember when the world wasn’t sure who “The Weeknd” was, a man completely anonymous, shrouded in secrecy, releasing music from the shadows. There was a swirl of mystery surrounding him – one man, a duo, a group? There was no pictures or videos, just a soft voice that sung about drugs, despair, and debauchery. It’s only been four years since House Of Balloons, that same soft voice that told us about wicked games and glass table girls is now a household name, the world knows his face, he is on the elevator toward pop stardom. If you read his recent interview in the New York Times, what he desires is more than internet fame, The Weeknd wants to be the biggest artist in the world, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized he’s been secretly documenting that metamorphosis in the music videos for his recent singles, “Often,” “The Hills,” and “Can’t Feel My Face,” three videos I’m beginning to believe are telling one continuos story. So strap on your tinfoil hat, it’s about to get real Beautiful Mind around these parts.
“Often” is the song that initially got me excited about the return of Abel after my slight disappointment in his debut album, Kiss Land. The song is audio sin – lecherous, druggy, and devoid of any conscience stricken emotions, the ingredients of all his classics. While the song sonically signifies a returned to the roots of his underground beginnings, the visuals displayed the singer in an orgy of events only suitable for a true rock star. An upscale hotel room, the blurry silhouette of a woman in lingerie, despite being unfocused she could pass for a Victoria Secret model, the camera continues to rotate, The Weeknd and the room doesn’t change but the people do. It’s a glimpse at the often occurrences in his current life, champagne brought by room service, women from the window to the walls but these aren’t the kind of girls that appeared in the Trilogy but debutants and supermodels, women that fit his new found celebrity status.
Despite the debauchery unfolding around him there is absolutely no interaction between The Weeknd and the world. He is both the center of attention and a bystander. His face is without emotion despite everything that is occurring around him. He appears stoned, even failing to lip sync all the lyrics. I think it represents how he’s stuck between worlds, the lonely stoner and the acclaimed song bird. He’s finally reaping all the Hollywood rewards of fame – penthouse suites and a plethora of gorgeous groupies but seems completely unamused. He used to be a private man, now he is getting a taste of fame. The importance of “Often” is to show that his lifestyle hasn’t changed but his surroundings.
“The Hills” could easily be from the same night as “Often,” based on the dim daylight it’s about sunrise, and the first image is of an overturned car, The Weeknd crawling from the driver seat a bloody mess. On the title track from Kiss Land he admitted to not knowing how to drive. There’s two women passengers, one in the front and the other in the back seat, possibly their car. They’re not literally the same women from the “Often” video, but they might as well be, his life a constantly rotating cast of interchangeable models, the type of women that come with number one singles. The car crash represents the crash course his career is on, the explosion signifies his inability to turn back. I think the title is a metaphor for Beverly Hills, more generally Hollywood. Hollywood is known for being full of fakes and phonies, hence why he’s using drugs, to keep from losing himself, the real him. The people that want to “send him to rehab” likely want to remove not only the drugs from his system but from the music.
The house still puzzles me, it seemed like it was always his destination. Part of me believes it’s his home, it’s in that terrible condition due to his consistent traveling. In Kiss Land he also references having a new home he’s only seen twice due to touring. The other part of me believes the house belongs to the man in the red lit room. I believe that’s Lucifer, the man that you sell your soul to for stardom. I have a theory that the two girls in the room are either the two women from the car crash or the two blurry silhouettes that appear at the 1:28 mark. (Be honest, you didn’t notice them before, did you?) Why would Lucifer want the Weeknd? Because he’s at the transitioning point. It plays off the idea that every superstar makes a deal with the devil to reach the highest level of stardom. There’s another possibility that The Weeknd dies in the car crash and makes a deal with the devil to be brought back to life. All of this makes much more sense after watching “Can’t Feel My Face.”
“Can’t Feel My Face” starts with The Weeknd behind a microphone, performing for a packed house at what appears to be a lounge. It’s the first single that strays completely from his traditional sound into a more pop terrain. Pay close attention to the facial features of the onlookers, they represent his old and new fans. The ones that look disgusted, disappointed enough to throw a drink, repulsed enough to throw a shoe, they’ve been around since the beginning. This isn’t the music they want from him. The girl that is completely into it, she is the new-found pop crowd that was born from the popularity and billboard success of “Love Me Harder” and “Earn It.” Artist tend to have this problem when they crossover, it’s a rift between the supporters that been here and the ones that weren’t aware until radio success. A crossroad he’s been struggling with since signing to Republic.
Notice that the same man, the Lucifer character from “The Hills,” also appears in “Can’t Feel My Face.” This is the strongest, clearest evidence that these videos are linked, part of the same storyline. He’s the one that throws the lighter that sets him aflame, another possible reference to him being the devil. I think the fire also pays homage to The Weeknd’s idol Michael Jackson and the legendary Pepsi accident. Once he’s on fire, the entire crowd is won over. I don’t think he sells his soul in a literal sense, to become the hottest possible artist that is able to win over both sides of the spectrum, sacrifices had to be made and new friends brought into the picture. Max Martin, a Swedish producer that assisted in marking Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry into pop sensations, also worked on “Can’t Feel My Face.” Max can be seen as the lighter that helped ignite The Weeknd. The New York Times piece shows the dichotomy of their relationship, two people bringing their expertise to create something that will please fans and conquer charts.
The album title, Beauty Behind The Madness, is one that I like a lot. That’s how I would describe his music, beautiful madness. Its release will be the moment he crosses over, completing the transformation. If you view the tracklisting, “Often” and “The Hills” are placed next to each other, while “Can’t Feel My Face” is separated by a single song, “Acquainted.” I wouldn’t be surprise if that will be the next video released, completing the silent narrative. So when the next video does drop, make sure you watch it closely. The Weeknd’s videos are operating on a far deeper level than I think most realize, including myself. It’s all right there, in the the music, in the visuals, you just have to have the kind of beautiful mind that can make the connections.
[By Yoh, aka Yoh Bounce, aka @Yoh31]