Another year, another chaotic and unpredictable string of nominees to read across the screens of music fans, lovers, and critics as they hear the nominees for this year’s Grammy Awards. Pleasant surprises and shocking oversights were to be expected, but the biggest surprise this year is The Weeknd’s complete shut out. Receiving 0 nominations in a year when the artist is at what many consider his peak, After Hours‘ failure to be recognized is baffling. The first smash album to come from the pandemic, After Hours is the cinematic escape from reality that listeners could latch on and relate to. Where it didn’t literally relate to the year at play, it thematically weaved together concepts like isolation, grief, and loneliness in an extremely profound way. It’s just one of many shockers to come from one of the most baffling lists in Grammy history yet.
Take a look a look at the snubs, surprises, picks and predictions for this year’s ceremony:
No one pumps out consistently strong new music as frequently as pop sensation Ariana Grande. In the past two years, the singer released a whopping six singles and two albums, both debuting at No.1 on the Billboard 200 with Top 10 Hot 100 debuts for each track. Even for a pop star of her echelon, this feat is extremely impressive.
What’s more, Grande accomplished these rare milestones in the midst of some of the most painful, public tragedy imaginable. A tumultuous, grief stricken break-up went from tabloids to the studio, and thank u, next was born.
To that fans and music lovers alike said thank you, but what’s next?
Positions, the singer’s sixth studio album, attempts to answer that question. Helmed by her newest relationship, the album largely draws from the sound Grande mastered with thank u, next. Where the former had a jaded, morbid attitude, Positions reveals a more aloof, cautiously optimistic Grande. She’s more mature, more calm, and more self-aware when it comes to her approach to love.
Conceptually, Positions is one of the singer’s more interesting works. It amply tackles its titular theme in compellingly abstract ways. She looks at love and her life through the lens of various vantage points, interestingly relating her experiences and woes with her increasingly mass audience.
She stews in self-doubt and uncertainty on “off the table (feat. The Weeknd)” and “motive (feat. Doja Cat),” reflects on her life, past and present, with confidence on “just like magic” and opener “shut up,” and imagines herself in her partner’s shoes on closer “pov.”
Regardless of perspective, gone are bonafide hits like “7 rings” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” and replacing them are softer, more laid back Kehlani influenced novellas.
One of the most prominent examples of this deeper R&B tinged aesthetic is brought forth in the long teased cut “nasty.” With a lethargic trap drum, ambient atmosphere and relaxed vocal performance from Grande, the single shows the singer in deeper, more sexual territory. Drawing influence from early 2000s R&B and current artists like SZA, this continues on the effortlessly sultry “west side.”
Grande even dips her toes into disco on “love language.” One of the more experimental tracks on the record, it’s the perfect kind of disco for the bedroom. Grande has never sounded cooler or confident, especially on the commanding outro.
The former tracks considered, each song on Positions has a flighty sense of weightlessness. Credited to the joy Grande’s found in her newest love perhaps, this aspect is as much a strength as it is a fault. Upon the first few listens, listeners will fail to latch on to a song or songs that bolster the album. The 14 track record is decidedly slight at 42 minutes.
This dearth of longer or more fully produced tracks may leave many listeners wanting more to the point of dissatisfaction. Positions often plays like the thank u, next b-sides. There are many songs strong enough to warrant a spot on a studio album, namely standouts “just like magic” and “obvious.”
Others like “my hair,” however, lack the conviction and individuality that made thank u, next such a smash. Whether Positions was meant to make waves and redefine Grande or not, fans will find gems on the tracklist to carry them through the indefinite remainder of quarantine.
Grande likely would have benefited from a longer wait before releasing a thank u, next follow-up. With Positions, though, she evidently does as she pleases. At the end of the day, 7 years into her career, she gets everything she wants ‘cus she attracts it.
It’s 2011. The 2010s have brought new artists, new sounds, and new ways of listening to music. From the depths of the underground comes a shiny new artist: The Weeknd. Cryptic and mysterious, but all the more interesting, the Canadian R&B songster presents a juicy blend of Michael Jackson and The-Dream.
It’s now 2020. Nearly a decade has passed and The Weeknd has had one of the most transformative careers of men in pop music. From his experimental debut studio album narrating a life on tour in KissLand to his first foray into provocative bubblegum pop in Starboy, to a headlining slot at one of the biggest music festivals on the planet, The Weeknd has constantly reinvented himself. With each new project, he’s peeled back a layer of himself for the world to see. Something, though, has always been left to mystery.
Enter After Hours.
His first album in nearly five years, After Hours is a raw, precise, and enlightening glimpse into The Weeknd as he is today – flaws and all. Over 14 tracks dipped in glossy production and pristine vocal delivery, the singer opens the door to a new world.
The record exists in the same universe as Starboy. The reputation to his 1989, the Blackout to his In the Zone, After Hours is Starboy‘s darker, more emotionally indulgent sequel. The 80s synths and Max Martin presence are still present, but the largest change is a well established theme of loss and increased concession of honesty.
It’s not that he discusses topics left unexplored in past efforts, it’s instead The Weeknd’s willingness to speak from a place of deeper vulnerability. Perhaps a product of age, time or growth, this newfound sense of integrity is a welcome evolution.
Take the comparison of Starboy hit “Sidewalks” and After Hours highlight “Snowchild” as an example.
“Homeless to Forbes list,” he boasts on “Sidewalks.” It relates to his rags to riches history, not unlike many Hollywood success stories. It’s a very surface-level head banger.
With “Snowchild,” The Weeknd goes deeper.
He paints the unfiltered portrait of that life on the streets, with drug-dealing friends and near suicidal times illustrating the world around him. The artist’s newfound ability to shape a compelling narrative is what sets this album apart from Starboy and much of his other work.
To add to the successful narrative streamline is an expertly crafted album structure. Songs bleed from one to the next, trickling down as The Weeknd opens one wound after another. These transitions are most impressive in moments like “Hardest To Love” and “Scared To Live,” as well as in “Faith” and “Blinding Lights.”
Not only in production but in subject matter and lyricism, these songs grip the listener and provide an immersive listening experience. The Weeknd’s consciousness has never sounded more fully realized. He pays homage to his earlier days with the beat-switching ambience of tracks “Escape From LA,” “Faith,” and album opener “Alone Again.” The latter acts as an immediately engaging introduction into the world of the album.
Though there are many highs and layers worth exploring, the album is far from flawless. Towards the back half of the album’s run is a slight rough patch through which The Weeknd drags listeners. Pandering to the masses in a way that discredits the work as a piece of art, the radio inclined “In Your Eyes” and “Save Your Tears” take the album off the map and onto the Top 40.
Though the former has a sticky enough hook and saxophone loop to bypass its obvious ploy for streams and radio play, the latter falters. “Save Your Tears” isn’t a bad song, it just doesn’t have a reason to exist or a storyline that hasn’t already been covered on the record (i.e., “Scared To Live”).
One of the most pleasant surprises on After Hours is the Kevin Parker-assisted interlude that brings the album back on track after it’s wrong turn. One of the more experimental tracks from a production standpoint, the interlude provides the necessary relief before the final set.
After Hours is perhaps The Weeknd’s most cohesive body of work to date. With a singular vision in terms of aesthetic and visual scope, harmoniously weaved together sound, and candid sincerity, The Weeknd extends his already impressive career with the ease of a veteran.