In October 2021, when I interviewed The Weeknd for his Billboard cover story about “Blinding Lights” being the biggest Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 song of all time, we discussed how the After Hours Til Dawn Tour would cover his two latest albums, 2020’s After Hours and 2022’s Dawn FM, while also revisiting the rest of his catalog.
“So you see my problems? These are great problems. These are the kind of problems you want,” the superstar said assuredly, almost as if he already knew his solution would be the stimulating, perfectly engineered pandemonium that arrived at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium Friday night (Sept. 2) for his first of two sold-out nights in Los Angeles.
The night starts off with risky business and an overblown portraiture of the perks and perils of Hollywood — and that’s just part of the newest trailer for The Weeknd’s upcoming HBO Max show The Idol, starring Lily-Rose Depp, who graces the stage in a billowing white turtleneck gown. “I’ve had a tough year. And there were moments where I didn’t know I was going to make it. But then I thought of you and your grace. Tonight is incredibly special, because I have the opportunity to introduce you to the love of my life, the man who pulled me through the darkest hours and into the light,” she recites to the crowd in what appeared to be a filmed segment of the highly anticipated series before calling out The Weeknd by his character’s name. “Tedros, will you please join us?”
The dystopian skyline on stage suddenly illuminates with a fiery red hue that matches several opera members donned in head-to-toe red veils, who slowly pace toward the front of the stage. It’s ironic how the faceless, underground R&B figurehead who lurked on the internet in the early 2010’s then appears in front of his 70,000 fans while 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 to then re-emerge from the depths of the dark city with the mic stand high above his head like the shattered skyscrapers behind him, eventually taking off the mask and unveiling his devilishly handsome smile that we’ve all inevitably fallen for over time.
This tour is where The Weeknd’s low-profile heyday from a decade ago and his current inescapable superstardom meet in the middle, where the deep cuts for the “OG XO fans,” as he occasionally refers to them, and the chart-topping hits occupy the same space. This is where the culmination of the Canadian-Ethiopian artist’s career — which already received the Super Bowl Halftime Show treatment in 2021 at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and Coachella headliner treatment earlier this year — dominates other massive stages all over the country, and soon, across the entire globe.
Concertgoers can feel the thunderous bass go down their throats when he croons “Kiss Land” from his 2013 debut studio album (with Japanese signs flashing on the fictitious, on-screen buildings that represent how Japan and its city pop music scene influenced his earlier work). The way he hisses “p—y” while singing “Or Nah,” his 2014 track with Ty Dolla $ign and Wiz Khalifa, pierces ears. With nostrils buzzing, hearts thumping and legs shaking during his performance of 2015’s “Can’t Feel My Face” — which might arguably be the only body part that can remain intact during the show — The Weeknd’s spectacle doubles as an out-of-body experience. He makes fans feel whatever he wants them to feel in every single song, orchestrating their melancholy, their misery, their merriness, their madness, their marveling.
The scene-stealing pyrotechnics during “The Hills,” mixed with the L.A. heat wave, make it feel like we’re all in hell rather than purgatory as the Dawn FM storyline suggests. But each attendee’s wristbands light up during the Daft Punk-assisted “I Feel It Coming” and dot the football stadium like stars in the sky alongside the colossal suspended moon at the edge of the stage. Maybe we made it past purgatory. Maybe we’re in heaven since we’re making up the sky and contributing to its glowing magic. One thing’s for certain, though: The Weeknd is our North (pop) Star. Even when he presents himself as this character who’s incapable of loving or being loved in lyrics like “I don’t deserve someone loyal to me” in “Is There Someone Else,” every concertgoer is unquestionably devoted to the man who blends 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” (with Kanye West and Lil Baby) and guides the audience through the heartbreaking outro of “After Hours” as if he was running the show. Because he is. With “Blinding Lights” bringing the show to an excellent close, The Weeknd returns to center stage, dazzling orange light beams and glaring white wristband lights showering him during his stride of pride. He victoriously throws up his fist in a move reminiscent of John Bender during the last scene of the 1985 coming-of-age classic film, The Breakfast Club. But Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” doesn’t need to be cued up to signal the epic finale. The Weeknd is the singer, director, creator, composer and star of his own movie. And Hollywood hasn’t seen all of him just quite yet.
The Weeknd’s SoFi Stadium set list:
“How Do I Make You Love Me:
“Can’t Feel My Face”
“Take My Breath”
“Out of Time”
“I Feel It Coming”
“Die For You”
“Is There Someone Else”
“I Was Never There”
“Call Out My Name”
“Save Your Tears”
“Less Than Zero”