By Saysha Mahadevan (’24)
We’ve seen the Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) go through some interesting styles, like his legendary locs ponytail hairstyle during 2014 and the short fro he sported during his “Starboy” era, but never before have we seen bandages take the place of his hair. The Weeknd released his highly acclaimed album, After Hours, in March of 2020, and ever since, we’ve seen his look drastically change. In most performances and appearances the Weeknd has made since then, you may have noticed that he has been wearing the same red suit, black shirt and gloves, and usually something different on his face, like bandages, bruises, and most recently, prosthetics. If you’ve missed all those, you had to have noticed his army of bandaged backup dancers at the Super Bowl LV halftime show that he headlined (which received mixed reviews from both fans and critics alike). We all know that performers can do some pretty wacky and dramatic things both on and off the stage, but many fans have been wondering…is there something more happening with the Weeknd’s latest look?
In fact, there is. The theme behind the After Hours album is the main character depending on a lover that he keeps letting down, regretting it, and therefore consequently going crazy on a wild night. The Weeknd told GQ that he wrote the album from the perspective of “a ‘character’ losing his mind in Vegas”. He said that he felt like this “character” would be the perfect person to execute the vision of the album. This “character” became known to be called “The Character”. The Character always sports a red suit, black gloves, and usually a bloodied or bruised face. The Weeknd’s face injuries seem to get worse with every appearance. He first introduced us to The Character at the VMAs, with a bloody and swollen nose and face. Later, he attended the AMAs with a fully bandaged face that could be compared to a mummy. He then got temporary prosthetics (which some thought were plastic surgery) to exaggerate the theme of plastic surgery and artificial bodily changes in his “Save Your Tears” music video. Surprisingly, he showed up at the Super Bowl halftime show with no changes to his face, but his dancers all had bandaged faces. The reason why the Weeknd sometimes alters his face but sometimes doesn’t is because, as he told Variety, “Why not play with the character and the artist and let those lines blur and move around?” Whether he wears his Character costume or not, the Weeknd is clearly very committed to his album theme!
The famous singer once spoke to GQ about his love of horror films, dark themes, and using symbolism in his songs. Consequently, the look of the head bandages according to the Weeknd symbolizes how Hollywood celebrities and just normal people in general are “manipulating themselves for superficial reasons to please and be validated”. The drastic alteration of his face due to temporary prosthetics can be credited to his affinity to be more fantastical and dark than realistic, and possibly also to his wanting to draw out this point of artificial alterations that people are partaking in a lot nowadays. Many celebrities including teen singer Billie Eilish and TikTok sensation Addison Rae have used their platforms recently to speak out against body shaming and bring up eating disorders. As more people strive to “perfect” their bodies using artificial methods, others are encouraging the embracement of all body types and working to normalize different body types, shapes, and sizes. With his exaggerated use of bandages and prosthetics, the Weeknd seems to be pointing out just how much both normal people and prominent celebrities feel pressured to physically change just to feel “accepted” or “prettier”, or simply to fit the “social standards”.
As we can see, the Weeknd is just as committed to his themes and storylines as his songs, and he isn’t afraid to provide us with the details and reasoning behind his deeds! Fans can’t help but wonder: if bandages, blood, and bruises are what he has now, what is coming next? A wheelchair? A stretcher? A full-on bandaged mummy-Weeknd? Who knows? But while we wait, I encourage you to go check out some of the entertaining memes fans have made about the Weeknd’s new look!