When Variety interviewed the Weeknd over the weekend about the Grammys’ decision to eliminate nomination-review committees (more on that here), we naturally slipped in a question about the new music he recently hinted at in social media posts, which presumably will be the follow-up to his blockbuster 2020 album, “After Hours.” To our surprise, he answered the question — and in characteristic, slightly enigmatic fashion, no less.
“If the last record is the after hours of the night,” he said, “then the dawn is coming.”
On April 27, amid a slightly cryptic series of tweets, he wrote, “Made so much magic in the small quarantined room … now just piecing it all together … it’s so beautiful.”
There are several things to unpack there. The Weeknd has always been a monumentally prolific musician, and has dropped a long string of videos, remixes and guest appearances in the 13-odd months since “After Hours” was released, including duets with Rosalia, Lil Uzi Vert, Sabrina Claudio, Calvin Harris, Juice WRLD, Doja Cat, Maluma, even Kenny G, and one with Ariana Grande on “Save Your Tears” that made “After Hours” only the second album in history to spawn No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 in three consecutive years — not to mention livestreamed concerts, multiple performances on awards shows and, of course, the Super Bowl Halftime show. When Variety spoke with him just after the album’s release, he said that quarantine had not changed his daily routine all that dramatically, because he’s usually inside, working, anyway; the “small quarantined room” probably refers to his home studio in his Los Angeles condo.
Each of his albums has represented a dramatic change from the one that preceded it, and as he told Rolling Stone last fall, the next one will probably be no exception. “I might have another album ready to go by the time this quarantine is over,” he said. “I’m guilty of wanting to outdo my last album, but it’s never like, ‘I’ve got to do the same type of song.’ I’m so happy I’m not like that. My palette is so wide.”
He also tends to bring in a few new collaborators on each album, and in addition to the duet partners above, he also has been working with avant-electronic musician Oneohtrixpoint Never, who came in toward the end of the “After Hours” sessions and has performed and recorded with him regularly over the past few months.
The Weeknd has always been big on symbolism, too, and the most telling tip about his new music could be in his statement to Variety over the weekend. There’s no question that “After Hours” is a dark album — all one needs to do is watch some of its videos, which basically add up to a horror film — and his statement that “the dawn is coming” naturally suggests that at least the subject matter of the songs will be brighter, and could provide him with a next chapter for the “After Hours” narrative, one that he could expand during the tour that has now been postponed twice due to the pandemic.
It’s also probably no accident that dawn was a favorite metaphor of one of the Weeknd’s biggest influences, Prince. It is referenced in dozens of his songs, perhaps most famously in the phrase “May U live 2 see the dawn,” which first appeared around the time of “Purple Rain” and popped up again multiple times over the following decades.
A brighter, Prince-flavored album that scatters the demons of “After Hours”? Sounds like a solid way to usher in the Weeknd’s next decade …