Though live shows have been brought to a halt due to COVID-19, that has not prevented The Weeknd from performing to millions around the world.
Following standout performances at the MTV VMAs and the American Music Awards, Abel Tesfaye and his creative team have collaborated with Vevo to produce a trilogy of cinematic live performances for tracks “Alone Again,” “In Your Eyes,” and “Faith” off his chart-topping album After Hours, released back in March (and controversially snubbed by the 2021 Grammys voting committee).
Check out the video for “Faith,” which just dropped today, below:
“It’s been great working with Vevo to make these pieces come to life; we have been able to create some truly amazing visuals with them over the years. These videos are an important part of the After Hours era, and being able to create such stunning visuals with an open, collaborative environment has been a privilege,” said La Mar Taylor, The Weeknd’s creative director. “We hope everyone enjoys the content and we know that fans of The Weeknd love the complexity and detail of this project.”
Taylor worked in collaboration with Vevo’s Micah Bickham, who directed all three performance videos. The trilogy was shot during a six-hour filming day on Nov. 6, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Although the performance videos are separate from the narrative set in the album’s short film released back in March, they are tangentially associated with the After Hours world. In parallel to his recent public appearances and music videos during the After Hours era, The Weeknd’s face is noticeably bruised and bloody while wearing a custom red suit jacket made by his personal tailor Fresh, which has been a signature look throughout the album’s cycle.
Visual elements, including the white-tiled room that the trilogy is set in, allude to the subway station motifs in the After Hours short film. In the performance video for “Alone Again,” the first video in the trilogy, The Weeknd performs in isolation surrounded by visual lighting elements that shift from bright to dark and flash various colors, which are meant to emulate passing subway cars.
“We want something that is uniquely stylized and something that speaks for itself, but is not too far away from what [Abel and his team] have created,” said Ed Walker, Vevo’s VP of Original Content and Production, who was the executive producer and creative director for the trilogy. “They have created a world that is tonally and creatively in a certain place, and for us, it was very important to live up to that.”
Beyond the COVID-19 safety precautions that were taken while filming the performances, there were relatively high stakes for this project—each video was shot in one take using Kodak film, which significantly influenced decisions made about lighting and composition.
“[Shooting with film] is a much more involved and creatively in-depth process, the end result of which is a much more tangible project,” said Walker. “Obviously, it’s a digital release, but you can see that there is a visceral feeling to the film when it’s used.”
For the performance video for “In Your Eyes,” The Weeknd is joined by legendary saxophonist Kenny G, bringing their collaboration to life in a video packed with mind-bending optical illusions. The video did not come without technical difficulties—during the first take, rotating the camera upside down caused the film to jam, which was eventually resolved during the second take.
“Kenny G was amazing and wonderful… Myself and Micah had been working through [the videos] for so long, but did not ever consider if Abel would be happy being sat in a box in a tiny set or if Kenny G would be able to play his saxophone bent over,” said Walker. “But then they both came in and loved it.”
For the trilogy’s finale, The Weeknd performs “Faith” standing in the middle of the white-tiled room in isolation. During the second verse, blood pours out of wall vents and drips down; this moment of the song was meant to be emphasized, Walker reveals, with the blood acting as a visual metaphor for how The Weeknd is feeling. “There were six stepladders behind the set with one person up each set of ladders, and a rigged system of trays full of blood that was tipped up at a certain point,” said Walker. “We had no ability to rehearse this, and we only had one go at doing it. That was the very last thing we did.”
“It could be intimidating for some artists to step on to a set and remembers everything because if they misstep timing, they could set us back hours,” said JP Evangelista, Vevo’s VP of Content. “Obviously, Abel is a professional, and he came in and killed it.”
Even when the concert industry comes back, Evangelista says live performance videos like these are here to stay and are an effective way for artists to create official videos that extend the theme of an album. “Music videos are usually only done for singles, so you’re not seeing visual representation for a lot of the other tracks on the album that may be a fan’s favorite,” he said.
While strategizing the trilogy of official live performances, Vevo’s creative team worked to capture the most aesthetically engaging elements of a live tour while also implementing the cinematic elements of a professional music video.