In October 2021 when I interviewed The Weeknd for his Billboard cover story whether “Blinding Lights” is the greatest Billboard Hot 100 None. 1 song through the time we discussed how After hours The Till Dawn Tour would cover his two most recent albums, the 2020s After hours and the 2022s Dawn FMwhile also revisiting the rest of his catalog.
“So you see my problems? They’re big problems. They’re the kind of problems you want,” the superstar said confidently, almost as if he already knew his solution would be the stimulating, perfectly engineered pandemonium that arrived at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium on Friday night (Sept. 2) for his first of two sold-out nights in Los Angeles.
The night starts with risky business and an exaggerated portrait of Hollywood’s perks and perils – and that’s just part of latest trailer for The Weeknd’s upcoming HBO Max show The idol, starring Lily-Rose Depp, who graces the stage in a billowing white turtleneck dress. “I’ve had a tough year. And there were moments when I didn’t know I would make it. But then I thought of you and your grace. Tonight is incredibly special because I have the opportunity to introduce you to my the love of my life, the man who pulled me through the darkest hours and into the light,” she recites to the audience in what appeared to be a filmed clip of the highly anticipated series, before calling The Weeknd by his character’s name. “Tedros, would you please join us?”
The dystopian skyline on stage suddenly lights up with a fiery red hue, matching several opera cast members wearing head-to-toe red veils who slowly advance towards the front of the stage. It’s ironic how the faceless, underground R&B figurehead who stalked the Internet in the early 2010s then appears in front of his 70,000 fans wearing a mask. While performing the first full-length songs from After hours and Dawn FM“Alone Again” and “Gasoline”, respectively. the singer known as Abel Tesfaye descends, then rises from the depths of the dark city with the microphone standing high above his head like the shattered skyscrapers behind him, finally removing his mask to reveal his devilishly beautiful smile that we all inevitably fall for through time.
This tour is where The Weeknd’s low-profile heyday of a decade ago and his current inescapable superstardom meet in the middle, where the deep cuts for “OG XO fans,” as he occasionally refers to them, and chart-topping hits take equal place. It’s here that the culmination of the Canadian-Ethiopian artist’s career — which already received the 2021 Super Bowl Halftime Show treatment at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and Coachella headliner treatment earlier this year — dominates other massive stages across the country, and soon across the whole globe.
Concertgoers can feel the thunderous bass sinking into his throat as he croons “Kiss Land” from his 2013 debut studio album (with Japanese signs flashing on the fictional buildings on the screen, representing how Japan and its urban pop music scene influenced his earlier work). The way he hisses “py” while singing along to “Or Nah,” his 2014 track Ty Dolla $ign and Wiz Khalifa, pierce ears. With nostrils buzzing, hearts pounding and legs shaking during his performance of 2015’s “Can’t Feel My Face” — perhaps the only body part to remain intact during the show — The Weeknd’s act serves as an out-of – the body experience. He makes fans feel what he wants them to feel in every song, orchestrating their melancholy, their misery, their glee, their madness, their wonder.
The scene-stealing pyrotechnics during “The Hills”, mixed with the LA heat wave, make it feel like we’re all in hell instead of the purgatory that Dawn FM story proposal. But each participant’s wristband lights up during the course Daft Punk– assisted “I Feel It Coming” and dotted the football stadium like stars in the sky along with the colossal floating moon at the edge of the stage. Maybe we made it past purgatory. Perhaps we are in heaven as we make up heaven and contribute to its glowing magic. However, one thing is certain: The Weeknd is our north star (pop). Even when he presents himself as this character who is unable to love or be loved in lyrics like “I don’t deserve someone loyal to me” in “Is There Someone Else”, every concertgoer is undeniably devoted to the man who mixes relatable desolation and provocative charm in his catalog.
While hip-hop/pop impresario Mike Dean pulls the strings behind the curtains with all-too-satisfying, seamless transitions between songs à la Coachella, The Weeknd waves his arms during his ferocious verse on the Grammy-winning “Hurricane” (featuring Kanye West and Lil Baby) and guides the audience through the heartbreaking outro of “After Hours” as if he were running the show. Because he is. With “Blinding Lights” bringing the show to a scintillating close, The Weeknd returns to center stage, with blinding orange light beams and glaring white wrist lights showering off him under his stride of pride. He raises his fist in victory in a move reminiscent of John Bender during the final scene of the classic 1985 film, The Breakfast Club. But Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” doesn’t need to be encouraged to signal the epic finale. The Weeknd is a singer, director, creator, composer and star of his own movie. And Hollywood hasn’t seen the whole of him yet.
The Weeknd’s SoFi Stadium Setlist:
“How do I make you love me:
“Can’t Feel My Face”
“Take a breath”
“I Feel It Coming”
“Die for You”
“Is there another”
“I was never there”
“Shout My Name”
“Save Your Tears”
“Less Than Zero”