Music by VICE

We Are All Dead Inside, Just Like The Weeknd

His headlining Coachella set proved the darkness is certainly real, but the deeper meaning remains questionable.

by Jeff Weiss; photos by the1point8
Apr 14 2018, 9:45pm


One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy. – Aristotle

All my hoes are trained, I make all of them swallow
All of them swallow
All of them swallow
All of them swallow
I make all of them swallow
All of them swallow
All of them swallow
All of them swallow
I make all of them swallow
All of them swallow
All of them swallow
All of them swallow
I make all of them swallow
All of, all of
All of them swallow
All of them swallow
I make all of them swallow – The Weeknd

Someone shouts “Caitlyn” and 12 girls whirl around. The preferred Caitlyn is wearing an American flag hoodie. Her hair is the color of fluorescent sand. Everyone is talking about Syria.

I’m inside a makeshift bar with framed polo trophies that serves as an equine oasis during the 3.2 weeks a year that aren’t Coachella or Stagecoach. Independently of one another, a Caitlyn and Kaitlin start grinding into sentient H&M tank tops as Ginuwine roars. The bourbons are $14, but “Pony” is forever.

The festival feels eerily quiet and vacant. Half the tents are deserted, but once you’re on the deliriously expansive fields, somehow there is no space to navigate. It’s overcrowded and desolate at the same time. I attempt to muscle through the columns of floppy wide-brimmed hats, but accidentally mar at least four IG stories.

“Don’t worry, bro, nothing’s uploading for me right now,” a Kellen consoles me.

“The Weeknd is coming,” someone shrieks, which is more or less the thesis of The Weeknd’s music. I look at my phone to find out the set’s start time, but flashing news updates momentarily distract me:

“Trump orders strike on Syria in response to chemical attack….Criminal investigation into Trump lawyer’s business dealings began months ago…Blogger says she was stopped from taking photos in a bikini despite getting permission…Ex-Disney star Orlando Brown arrested in his underwear by bounty hunters.”

I’m near the entrance to the VIP and a piercing voice cuts above the din: “Is that Yodel Boy?!?!” A man can dream.

The Weeknd won’t start for another 12 minutes, so there’s time for another thimble of Jack Daniels and club soda. I’m cut in line by a swarthy 22-year old year old with a black card and marine blue bandanna, surrounded by a gaggle of glitter and midriffs, who attempt to bribe a tank-topped blonde bartender with a full sleeve of a Japanese woodcut and a Pegasus.

“Dawg, $500 for a bottle! Please?” The black card begs.

“I would if I could, bruh, but if I do that I could get fired, and I’m gonna make 6 grand this weekend.”

Wrinkling his face with disgust, the black card grabs his nine drinks and tips the bartender the iPad minimum. It’s time for Starboy.

“I’m always ready for a war again,” The Weeknd caterwauls the opening lyrics from “Pray 4 Me.” Epileptic blue and yellow lights pulse from the stage. 30,000 phones simultaneously start filming. I’m nearly clubbed by a 6’3" Hulk in a Dodgers hat and a bandanna. He’s trying to film, but suffers from the constraints of his hand encased in a claw cast. I turn around and blankly gaze at a Kodachrome obelisk on the Coachella grounds—an art installation constructed for festivalgoers to loop around in concentric circles.

The chorus prostrates: Who gon' pray for me? Take my pain for me? Save my soul for me? 'Cause I'm alone, you see.

Someone next to me asks whether The Weeknd will bring out Kendrick, who already popped up at Vince Staples and SZA’s sets. Agnosticism prevails. The Weekend is the headliner of Friday night’s Coachella, a capstone achievement for Canada’s most celebrated consumer of narcotics since Rob Ford. A full seven years have elapsed since House of Balloons anointed The Weekend the de facto soundtrack to regrettable decision-making across all countries in the NAFTA pact. And barring the occasional pivot to robot disco-pop, The Weeknd has carved a singular lane as the foremost purveyor of after-party music for when you feel dead inside.

Who is Starboy? It remains obtuse. Mystery is another way of never having to say you’re interesting. Here are some facts that I have acquired about the Weekend: Used to date Selena Gomez, used to date a Hadid, had cool hair, has done the drugs, is a guy who unquestionably fucks. Potential aliases include: Carvel Bolivia, Abel Tesfaye, Starboy, Stan Sniff.

Cue “Party Monster.” Wearing a canvas designer military jacket and backwards hat, Weeknd croons lines like “I just need a girl who gon’ really understand,” like a supplication to a deity he knows that doesn’t exist. Imagery of a giant volcano explodes behind him. A massive tragedians mask that vaguely resembles his own face idles behind him on-stage. It looks like it was just excavated from the arid wastelands that sprawl in every direction as soon as you leave this lucrative oasis. The Weeknd’s electronic razor is meticulously set to five days of stubble.

There is that voice, of course. If the Weeknd broke through by summoning a sleazy and silvery soundtrack to dissolution and slow decay, he’s become a Coachella headliner for acquiescing to the demands of the industry. He’s picked the right songs from the right songwriters and has a stunning levitative cant to his voice that can make the empty seem almost sacred. His most striking gift is to transmute the beatific wails of ethio-pop godheads, Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse, and Aster Aweke, into something that can command the void at the permanent midnight of the Coachella main stage.

At several junctures, he holds the microphone to the crowd for them to sing the words. All the melodies are memorized but the actual syllables leave them confused—at least until he gets to his hit song about cocaine, and then crowd chants along with a numb euphoria. No one will feel their face until next weekend, when the Weeknd will perform the same songs at Coachella Weeknd 2. I’m sure it’s sold out.

He wakes up with several girls whose names he doesn’t know. Jets of flames and a red laser show lift into the chilled desert air. The girls in front of me triumphantly wave their glow sticks. The Weeknd sings, “Goddamn bitch, I am not a Beach Boy.” No one argues. He sings with intense emotion about being emotion-less. There is the song from the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack. It’s Nate Dogg on “Ain’t No Fun” if no one actually ever had fun. 50,000 people paying $2000 apiece for the privilege of spending a weekend on a polo field are mesmerized by a pop song about overdosing. The Weeknd belts into oblivion: "The night's too long / I took too much and I've gone too far. And I might not make it.”

Computer…are we having fun yet?

“Crew Love” kicks in. I have never figured out if it’s about friendship or orgies, and I suppose that’s the point. He tries to get the crowd to sing the words again, but they’re shy. It’s still a little early. He conveys a deep feeling of torture, rooted not in pain but in ennui. He coos cash transaction pop into the crowd’s ears then pauses to mention: “I can feel the energy, you guys are beautiful.” The song with the robots plays. There are more fireworks and white sparklers and according to the Weeknd, it is the perfect time to get you high. With extreme polity, he asks “Are y’all having a good time yet?” The crowd mostly agrees but the toxicology report remains inconclusive.

“All that money is the motive…all that money is the motive.”

I remember when I first heard this song and all the things that happened to the people I knew since I first heard that song. It’s better to forget. Seven years feels like 70. The Weeknd tells us about an anonymous girl, whom he’ll never love. I don’t know if she was Selena Gomez, but this morning Elle Magazine told me that he was crying on-stage about her. Maybe they’re better at lyrical analysis than I am.

“The Hills” finishes the set. A blockbuster hit named after a Laguna Beach spin-off. All the Heidis and Spencers and Caitlyns are high for this. Pills are popped. Lines become dust. So it glows. The Weeknd sings the line, “You the President and I’m Biden.” Memories. It gets to the final bridge, “Hills have eyes, the hills have eyes, who are you to judge?” I guess he has a point. The darkness is certainly real, but that doesn’t give it any meaning.

Jeff Weiss is a writer based in LA. Follow him on Twitter.

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