Since the November 2019 release of the music video “Heartless,” The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye a noted cinephile who has cited David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese as inspirations in the past, has crafted a deep cinematic narrative throughout the video elements of his fourth album After Hours. Along with the lyrical and visual narratives of the album itself, which tracks a man dubbed The Weeknd through a bad break-up, a hard look at his hedonistic lifestyle, and in the end some wistful wisdom as he starts to maybe group up a bit, the videos and live appearances to promote the album are also chock full of cinematic references. Take the title itself: After Hours evokes late night clubs, but from a cinematic point of view it immediately brings up visions of Martin Scorsese’s 1985 cult classic of the same name about a word processor named Paul who takes a late night trip to SoHo in New York City and can’t seem to ever get himself back home.
Much like Paul, the videos find a man dubbed The Character (played of course by The Weeknd) in an endless journey through the darker parts of himself - and through a myriad of film references.
The Weeknd debuted his now signature red suit in the video for “Heartless,” directed by Anton Tammi, which itself is a reference to a suit worn by Robert De Niro in Scorsese’s 1995 film 'Casino'. The video, shot in Las Vegas, features The Character and a friend (played by Metro Boomin) as they gallivant around Sin City, stumbling in a drug-induced haze like Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He even worked this stumble into his performance at the Super Bowl LV Halftime Show.
The video for his next single “Blinding Lights,” also directed by Tammi, there are even more film references. We see The Character steal a car and head back to Los Angeles, where, among other things, he dances in the 2nd Street Tunnel. This landmark of Los Angeles has been featured in countless films, including Ridley Scott’s 1982 film 'Blade Runner.' An adaptation of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (side note: the author is also referenced in the lyrics of "Snow Child," with the line “give her Phillip K Dick”), the film is set in Los Angeles in November 2019 - the same month the video was released - and references to it will show up in a later video.
Much has been made of The Weeknd’s dancing throughout the promotion of After Hours being reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker,' but in fact these videos are peppered with references to many cinematic Jokers, including the moment in Christopher Nolan’s 'The Dark Knight,' where Heath Ledger gleefully hangs his head outside a stolen police car he’s driving.
Much of the vibe throughout the music videos and live performances for After Hours have a Lynchian feel to them and in “Blinding Lights,” there is a direct reference to David Lynch’s 'Blue Velvet,' where Dennis Hopper’s psychopath Frank Booth watches tormented torch singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) croon the titular song. In “Blinding Lights,” The Character is mesmerized by the musical stylings of an unnamed singer played by Miki Hamano, whose voice literally lifts him off the ground.
We even get another hint of the Red Room from 'Twin Peaks;' in fact much of the eerie instrumental music that accompanies The Weeknd in the moments between videos and throughout the 'After Hours' short film have an Angelo Badalamenti vibe to them.
Perhaps the most obvious reference in the video is his dancing, sometimes in the 2nd Street Tunnel, sometimes elsewhere throughout downtown Los Angeles, appears to be directly lifted from Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker as he dances to Gary Glitter’s "Rock and Roll Part 2" as he makes his way to make his late night debut in Todd Phillips’ 'Joker.'
The After Hours short film, again directed by Tammi, takes place shortly after The Weeknd's performance of "Blinding Lights'' on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The video begins as his set ends, The Character grinning like Rupert Pupkin at the end of Martin Scorese’s 'The King of Comedy' - itself a huge influence of Todd Phillips’s 'Joker.'
Tesfaye has stated influences on the short film also include Adrian Lyne’s psychological horror film 'Jacob's Ladder,' which includes a scene where Tim Robbins is menaced by unknown forces in an empty subway station, Roman Polanki’s 'Chinatown' (the bandage on his nose), Claire Deni’s 'Trouble Every Day,' Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, and Brian De Palma’s 'Dressed to Kill.'
The video with possibly the most film references is "In Your Eyes," in which The Character wordlessly stalks a young blonde woman à la Michael Myers in John Carpenter's 'Halloween.' The horror movie infused video has nods to everything from Wes Craven’s 'Scream' to Dario Argento’s Suspiria to Alfred Hitchcock. At one point the woman takes refuge in a phone booth - à la 'The Birds' - and dials for help. Tammi, uses an ultra close-up of the keys, an homage to 'Dial M For Murder,' in which Hitchcock blonde Grace Kelly’s husband Ray Milland has hired someone to murder her.
The woman then flees to a club titled After Hours - which uses the exact same lightbulb font as the Tech Noir club in James Cameron’s 'Terminator,' an idea that came early in the creative ideation for the video.
The horror vibes continue in the video for “Too Late”, directed by Cliqua. After being decapitated at the end of the previous video, The Character’s head is found by two models on the side of the road. The world they inhabit feels akin to Nicholas Winding Refn’s psychological horror film 'The Neon Demon,' where the Los Angeles modeling scene is depicted as so bleak the models are literally eating each other alive. Tesfaye is a noted friend of director Refn.
When the two discover that the head belongs to The Weeknd, they concoct a nefarious plan to bring him back to life. Laying newspapers on their floor and donning clear plastic rain gear à la Mary Harron’s adaption of Bret Easton Ellis’s yuppie black comedy American Psycho, the girls lure an unsuspecting male stripper (Ken XY) to their home in order to murder him and place The Character’s head on his body. Spooky.
In the most recent video, “Save Your Tears” again directed by Cliqua, The Character is now performing for a masked crowd straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s 'Eyes Wide Shut.' After appearing at the American Music Awards with a fully bandaged face like the models, his face has now clearly been marred by plastic surgery (looking quite a bit like Jocelyn Wildenstein aka the Tiger Woman of NYC).
As the video ends, there is one last Joker reference - this time with Jack Nicholson’s iteration. In the climax of Tim Burton’s 'Batman,' he pulls a gun on himself after forcing Vicki Vale (Kim Basigner) to dance with him. Like Nicholson’s Joker, when he pulls the trigger there's no bullet; The Character's gun shoots confetti, just like the Joker's gun pops out a flag.
Since these are just a few of the many references found throughout the music videos for After Hours (and in fact most of his music videos going back a decade), it’s only a matter of time before The Weeknd makes a feature film himself, or at least drops a link to his Letterboxd profile.