Beauty Behind the Madness: The Weeknd’s Eternal Dance with the Horror Genre ‘Wilderness’: Overlooked British Slasher from the Angriest Decade of Horror [Horrors Elsewhere]
The Weeknd (Abel Makkonen Tesfaye) is no stranger to the horror side of music video production. Tracking back to some of his earliest tracks, the singer and his team have consistently used the iconography of the genre to convey twisted tales in collaboration with his chilling lyrics.
With the release of his newest album “Dawn FM,” The Weeknd once again presents a nightmarish video storyline. In celebration of the new tracks, let’s take a deep dive into The Weeknd’s history with horror and all things macabre, album by album.
One of The Weeknd’s first terrifying visual stories was in the video for “Twenty Eight.” The singer solemnly sings through the track as he spaces out during an interview and later while attending a strip club. Meanwhile, a ghostly apparition of a mourning woman sits in an empty bedroom watching the interview on TV. It’s clear this female character is someone from the singer’s past, haunting his mind despite all the success and glamor in front of him. In the video’s conclusion, The Weeknd walks home amongst desolate streets, finally arriving at an apartment building where the silhouetted woman looks out. He can’t help but return to his haunted past…
“The Zone”depicts The Weeknd singing about a woman who sits in an eerie, brightly-lit room filled with colorful balloons. As the song progresses, the visuals get darker and the balloon room shifts to strobe lighting. The woman cries as the camera pulls back, ending the video with a terrifying shot of two white eyes peering out over a stretch of dark road.
“BEAUTY BEHIND THE MADNESS”
In this new album era, The Weeknd kicked things off with a video set to “Can’t Feel My Face”(Directed by Grant Singer). The narrative follows the singer as he enthusiastically performs at a small club. As the track reaches its climax, Abel is suddenly set ablaze by a malicious man in the crowd. As the flames rage over his body the singer continues to power through the performance. In the video’s final moments, the singer succumbs to his situation and collapses out of frame.
In “Tell Your Friends” (Directed by Grant Singer), The Weeknd literally buries his own plastic-wrapped body. As the singer dances around with a shovel, his corpse begins to also belt out the lyrics to the track. Later on the video, he murders a man with a pistol.
“In the Night”(Directed by BRTHR)sports one of the coolest visual aesthetics of any The Weeknd video. Intercut with a twisted narrative involving an abusive mob boss and singer’s signature melodies, this video feels like a short-grindhouse film. Rapid VHS-style cuts and distorted coloring provide an unpredictable, unhinged atmosphere to the video. Extensive gore in the form of blood-splatter, stabbings, gun wounds, and throat slits douse the video in a Tarantino-like violence. The narrative comes to a close as the victims of the malicious antagonist band together to dispose of their abusers in extremely violent fashion.
Moving into this next era, The Weeknd kicks things off by suffocating his “old” self with a plastic bag in“Starboy” (Singer). The singer then goes on to trash a luxurious home using a menacing saber in the shape of a cross. The track“False Alarm”stirred up quite the controversy with its high-octane, extremely violent first-person style music video from Hardcore Henry director Ilya Naishuller. Depicting a bank heist gone wrong through the perspective of the gunman, the video features endless bloodshed imposed on innocent bystanders, police officers, and criminals. As an added horror bonus, some of the crooks sport menacing skull masks that would make the folks at Silver Shamrock proud.
In the video for“Mania”(Singer), the singer unleashes his inner panther when he viciously lashes out against an antagonizing man in the bathroom of a club. Afterwards, The Weeknd shares a chilling dance with a love interest while still covered in the blood of his recent prey.
In the distorted, VHS-style“Party Monster”(BRTHR) video, The Weeknd descends into a hellish trip where extreme color-usage and psychedelic lighting turn a party into a disorienting nightmare. Flashes of blood, glowing-eyed women, and menacing panther imagery make the video live up to its title. In“I Feel It Coming”(Directed by Warren Fu), The Weeknd goes full Medusa in a storyline where a woman he dances with suddenly turns to stone after an eclipse. In the video’s haunting final moments, The Weeknd too turns to stone and cracks apart on the ground.
“Die For You”meshes the worlds of the singer with E.T. and Stranger Things as a younger version of himself escapes from an ominous science lab. The fleeing child takes up a relationship with a young girl he finds in a nearby neighborhood. As scientists struggle to get their experiment back, the young character fights for his and her safety. As the narrative ends, the alien character floats up in a beam of light, presumably to his home world.
“MY DEAR MELANCHOLY”
Things get darker and even more ominous with“Call Out My Name”(BRTHR).
The singer parades around a vacant street belting out the catchy track. Flashes of a jungle-like environment begin to mesh with the world of the video. During one of the high notes, the singer vomits out a barrage of flying bats. Later on, The Weeknd is tempted by an animal-woman-hybrid that eerily sits on a hillside.
With“After Hours,”The Weeknd and team brought one of the most intriguing and cohesive storylines of his music video career to date.“Heartless”(Directed by Anton Tammi) kicks things off with a dizzying trip as the singer goes wild at a casino after licking (?) a mysterious toad. As the singer succumbs to his bender, flashy lights and the use of red convey a rising ominousness. A quick blink and you’ll miss it shot seems to show the Devil himself peering out at the tripping singer from the shadows of a fancy car.
The bender continues in the video for“Blinding Lights”(Tammi) as the party-going singer now parades as blood pours from a wound on his face. The glitzy atmosphere of fame and fortune provide a chaotic backdrop to the wounded character’s determination to party on. In the“After Hours”(Tammi) video, things turn supernatural as the singer is dragged through an underground subway system by an invisible force. A red beam of light shines down, signaling a shift in the genre of the “After Hours” album story. The video ends with The Weeknd shambling into an elevator with two unsuspecting bystanders.
That brings us to“In Your Eyes”(Tammi) arguably the most obvious riff on the horror genre The Weeknd has ever created. Picking up moments after the ending of “After Hours,” The disheveled Weeknd reveals a shiny butcher’s knife as the elevator doors close. The now-menacing character makes his move, sending the female character in the elevator running for her life in a sequence straight out of an 80s slasher movie. The red lighting of a raging club and menacing shadows of an eerie boiler room serve as the setting for this slasher-victim chase. Visual references to films like Psycho, and Nightmare on Elm Street help paint The Weeknd’s red-suit wearing character as a slasher of his own. The chase culminates with the victim gaining the upper hand and decapitating the popstar with an axe. She goes full Texas Chainsaw as she swings her axe around while silhouetted by a hopeful sunset. The video comes to a close as the woman dances with The Weeknd’s severed head in the club.
“Too Late”(Directed by Cliqua) follows up the decapitating narrative as two post-plastic surgery celebrities stumble upon The Weeknd’s severed head in the hills of Hollywood. The bandaged-duo take the head and decide to party with it in their luxurious mansion pool. “Too Late” is filled to the brim with disturbing imagery, as the celebrities grow more and more obsessed with the head. Things move to the next level when the duo slit the throat of a male stripper and proceed to stitch The Weeknd’s head onto his body. At this point, the video moves into full on body-horror territory, exploring another sub-division of the horror genre.
“Save Your Tears”finishes off the video-storyline of the “After Hours” story. Now sporting frighteningly exaggerated plastic surgery, The Weeknd performs at an Eyes Wide Shut style party to an audience of masked individuals. In Joker-like fashion, the singer dances around the tables of the elegant affair in his eye-catching red suit. Strobe lights illuminate the various masked individuals and their ominous blank stares. The video wraps with The Weeknd holding a pistol to his head, smiling with ghoulish delight. As he pulls the trigger a flurry of confetti discharges from the weapon and flies around the venue. Where’s Batman when you need him? (The singer previously dressed as Nicholson’s Joker for Halloween in 2019).
Prior to the release of his newest album, The Weeknd collaborated with Swedish House Mafia for the moody“Moth to a Flame”track and video (Directed by Alexander Wessely). A gaggle of nude models contort and lay on one another in a dimly lit black void. As the track reaches its climax, the lighting reveals the stone-like, cracked texture of these creatures. Strobe illuminates a dizzying nightmare as the bodies climb and crawl all over one another while Swedish House Mafia glide through unharmed. Meanwhile, The Weeknd seems to be connected to some science fiction, Matrix-style machine.
Leaving the blood-splattered, high-octane world of “After Hours” behind, the singer finds himself navigating a purgatory-like plane while guided by a mysterious radio-personality (Jim Carrey) from a station titled Dawn FM.
“Sacrifice”(Cliqua) kicks things off with, well, a good old fashioned sacrifice. Continuing to party amongst the club from “Take My Breath Away,”The Weeknd is taken captive by a black-cloaked ensemble. As the track powers on, the group drags the singer against his will to a strange circular mechanism. He’s locked into the device and strobes illuminate his apparent sacrifice. The cloaked members begin performing an elaborate dance, all as the Weeknd starts to accept his fate. A red-cloaked member emerges from the crowd, revealing her identity to be that of a beautiful woman. The red woman eyes The Weeknd seductively before transforming into a corpse-like hag right before his eyes. The transformation of a beautiful model to a ghastly corpse feels reminiscent of Jack Torrance’s infamous encounter in Room 237. Now literally chained to a microphone stand, The Weeknd is painfully drained of his essence in a burst of light. Afterwards, his hands become freed from the microphone prison but now they are shriveled and decayed. As the sacrifice concludes, the dazed Weeknd stumbles off the platform and into the shadows.
The recently-releasedremix video(Directed by Manu Cossu) features performers levitating off the ground with blackened eyes.
“Gasoline”(Directed by Matilda Finn) starts with a weathered, aged The Weeknd (presumably the outcome of his soul-sucking sacrifice) driving down a dimly lit road. His radio station struggles to find a signal while a flurry of flies bounce around his hearing aid. Distracted by the onslaught of insects, the old man accidentally crashes into a sign, shattering his window. Upon exiting the vehicle, the radio finally cranks on with the album’s first song. As bugs swirl on the pavement, lightning strikes in the sky, and as the beat powers on from the car, the elder character somehow finds his way into a mysterious, dark club environment.
As the party and song rages on, The Weeknd transforms into his former youthful self. Now jazzed with confidence and swagger, The Weeknd powers through the crowd. Several dancers briefly transform into disfigured demonic creatures before returning to their “human” appearances in a flash. As the atmosphere heats up, the youthful Weeknd comes face to face with his elder version. Hands burst out from the ground and grab at the elder character, all while the youthful version maniacally smiles and laughs. Their tension comes to a climax when the youthful Weeknd brutally beats his elder doppelganger. As the song finishes off, the elder Weeknd lays in his own blood while the clubbers party on.
With more music videos destined to come for tracks on “Dawn FM,” “Gasoline” surely won’t be the last time we see the singer dive into the darkness of horror. And we can’t wait for more.