The Weeknd’s videos “The Hills”, “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Tell Your Friends” form a trilogy that tells a disturbing story. Through symbolism, the videos describe a dark and occult path to fame.
The Weeknd is a Canadian R&B singer who has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity in the past few years. However, in 2015, his career truly took off with a hit album, a number one single, music awards appearances and even tabloid action (with his 18-year-old girlfriend Bella Haddid). As if narrating his meteoric rise to fame, the videos released for his album “Beauty Behind the Madness”, depict The Weeknd’s rise to fame in a rather dark fashion: It is indeed represented as the result of a deal with the devil himself.
Although the videos The Hills, Can’t Feel My Face and Tell Your Friends are quite simple and not exactly “action-packed”, the action that actually takes place is highly significant. The videos are also connected through the recurrent appearance of a shady character with supernatural powers who appears to be following The Weeknd around and who happens to share attributes with the biblical “devil”. Do the videos tell the story of a man selling his soul to the devil for success in the music industry? Let’s look at the meaning of The Weeknd’s videos.
The Hills is the first video released in the trilogy. It begins with a shot of a car that is upside down. A wounded The Weeknd emerges from it.
Two girls then get out of the car and start pushing The Weeknd around, as if they are blaming him for what happened. However, the singer seems unfazed. He keeps steadily walking towards a house as if he is magnetically, or magically, attracted to it. The car behind him then explodes.
The Weeknd then enters a creepy house and starts looking around.
The Weeknd then climbs some stairs – very slowly – as if emphasizing the “ascending” nature of initiation. He then enters a room that is very, very red (the symbolic color of initiation and sacrifice).
The strange looking person is holding an apple. This most likely refers to the proverbial snake in the Book of Genesis who pushes Adam and Eve to bite the forbidden apple. While the snake is usually associated with the devil who convinced humans to disobey God, the occult elite considers the snake to be Lucifer, the light-bearer, who gave humans the gift of knowledge.
The two girls laying on the bed are the same two girls who were in the car with The Weeknd. How did they arrive there so fast … and when did they have time to change? The viewers are meant to understand that there is something supernatural going on here and that perhaps these girls were sent by the shady character to cause the accident and lead The Weeknd to that room.
Then the video ends. At this point, one might understandably wonder what this video has to do with the song, which is about The Weeknd telling a girl from “the hills” (who is cheating on her husband with The Weeknd) that he doesn’t really care about her, among other things.
As it is the case with most videos with a ritualistic undertone, the true story of the video is in the details. First, the title of the song, “The Hills”, is often a reference to upper-scale neighborhoods, the most famous one being the Hollywood Hills. In one line of the song, The Weeknd refers to rolling into a “gated residential” to meet the girl. The song and video both convey a sense of moral corruption in “high society” (as he’s singing to a girl that is committing adultery).
When The Weeknd enters the house, we hear him singing:
The Hills have eyes, the hills have eyes
This can refer to people in closed communities knowing about each others’ lives and gossiping their afternoons away. However, in the context of the video, it can also refer to the elite monitoring their people, especially newcomers, such as The Weeknd.
The video bears a resemblance to the beginning of the movie Mulholland Drive, which also begins with a car accident in Los Angeles, and a wounded and confused actress walking towards civilization (the entire movie is one big, enigmatic look at the dark side of Hollywood).
In short, the video is about The Weeknd reaching “the hills” or, in more accurately, the occult elite. And, if you are not part of the privileged bloodline, you need to take an oath and bite the proverbial apple. Conveniently, the next video of the series describes what happens when you are initiated.
Can’t Feel My Face
Can’t Feel My Face is probably the hit single that led The Weeknd to worldwide fame. Interestingly enough, the video is exactly about him becoming a big music star … with the help of the devil.
The reaction from people in the club ranges from intense indifference to annoyed boredom.
Then, the devil (the same shady looking character we saw in the first video) comes to see The Weeknd perform. He sees that people are not enjoying The Weeknd’s music, but he has the power to make all of that change.
The devil then throws his lighter at The Weeknd, who literally catches fire.
This surreal series of events describes rather aptly how the entertainment industry works. At first, you work hard, but you get no recognition. Then, if you’re chosen by the elite, they set you on fire, meaning that they get you working with the right people and put you in the spotlight. Immediately after, the masses follow suit and start dancing to the hit that is playing on the radio. Notice that, in the video when people got on their feet, the song didn’t change. It is the same song they were hating seconds ago. Why do they love it now? Because, by catching on fire, The Weeknd became an elite-sanctioned star and a celebrity – and that is what truly turns people on (well, the people who are subject to mass culture, anyway).
While the song appears to be about a foul relationship, it doesn’t take much of an in-depth analysis to understand that it is mainly about a drug, probably cocaine, which is known to numb one’s face.
And I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb
And she’ll always get the best of me, the worst is yet to come
But at least we’ll both be beautiful and stay forever young
This I know, yeah, this I know
However, in the context of the video, the foul relationship described by The Weeknd might be about the music industry.
Being on fire might be good for The Weeknd’s career, but there is one attribute we need to remember about fire: It consumes what it burns. By representing The Weeknd’s career blowing up as him catching fire, the video also represents the ephemeral and destructive nature of fame. In short, it is a sacrifice.
The subject of the video becomes even more significant when we take into account the clear Michael Jackson influence of the song. Indeed, the vocals of Can’t Feel My Face (and even The Weeknd’s dance moves) are a blatant “homage” to Michael Jackson who is, not-so-coincidentally, the ultimate example of a pop star being fatally burned by the industry. Is the video showing The Weeknd following his footsteps?
The video ends with The Weeknd still on fire and looking somewhat concerned about what is happening.
Tell Your Friends
The third video of the series begins with the same element with which the second one ended: Fire.
Not unlike the devil holding an apple in the first video, the viewers are treated again with biblical imagery. In Exodus 3, Moses encounters a bush that is on fire but that is not consumed by the flames. By approaching the burning bush, Moses ends up in a discussion with God.
In the video, however, The Weeknd passes by the bush but does not engage in any kind of conversation. Is he symbolically turning his back on god? Has he become a god himself?
We then see The Weeknd burying himself in the ground.
A rather creepy detail of that scene: The version of The Weeknd that is wrapped in plastic and being buried is the one that is singing the song. We see his lips moving through the plastic.
The singer then encounters a familiar figure.
The Weeknd does not feel like having a discussion with the devil either.
He then walks away towards a brand new car that is waiting for him.
So … What’s the Story?
If we follow the chronological order in which these three videos were released, we understand that The Weeknd encountered the devil who offered him a deal he didn’t refuse (represented by the apple). The devil then lit up the singer’s career and made him a big star, with legions of fans (represented by the people at the club). However, in the third video, The Weeknd appears to have realized that the deal with the devil was a bad one. He, therefore, buried alive the part of him that sang hit songs (the corpse was singing while being buried). He then killed the devil and drove away in a brand new car. The Weeknd is therefore free, alive and happy. Right? Maybe not. After all, The Weeknd is deep in the music business and all of its trappings.
A few visual clues might indicate that the order these videos were released might not be the order in which they should be viewed. Indeed, Tell Your Friends ends with The Weeknd driving away in a black car (towards the hills) and The Hills begins with a black car (although it is not the exact same car) upside down. Therefore, if we follow these visual clues, the order in which the videos should be viewed is as follows: Can’t Feel My Face (which ends with fire), Tell Your Friends (which begins with fire and ends with a black car) and “The Hills” (which begins with a black car).
By following this order, the story of the videos become much darker.
The story begins with a struggling The Weeknd trying to get people to notice him at gigs. The devil then lights him on fire and kick-starts his career. The Weeknd then realizes that the deal is awful so he buries this new singing creation and shoots the devil. However, the devil is not human and therefore cannot be killed. Furthermore, he is rather vengeful. Although The Weeknd believes he is alive and free, he finds himself in a car accident that nearly kills him. As he walks into the red room, he realizes that he cannot escape the devil. The devil holds an apple reminding him that the deal is non-voidable. The two ladies that were with The Weeknd were actually the devil’s minions and the near-fatal accident was actually a warning: Any further transgressions will result in death.
Although the devil brought him fame and success, The Weeknd is stuck in a loop where any attempts to break free lead him right back to the devil and his apple.
The Weeknd’s video trilogy uses simple yet powerful symbolism to tell a story the singer probably identifies with. It is the classic and timeless Faustian tale where fame and success come at a great price, an eternal and spiritual price. When viewed in the order they were released, the videos appear to be showing The Weeknd emerging victorious from his encounter with the devil. However, if we look at what is currently happening in The Weeknd’s career, he is just entering the great circus that is the entertainment industry.
Re-arranging the videos according to the visual clues placed at the beginning and the end of the videos shows The Weeknd attempting to free himself, but finding himself forced to deal with the devil and accept his fate. It is the devil who has emerged victorious while a wounded The Weeknd realizes that you cannot simply kill something that is not even human.
This series of videos, therefore, represent The Weeknd’s initiation into the industry … an industry that loves to brag about how it controls its subjects. Let’s see where his career will lead him. Remember, however, unlike the burning bush, human flesh cannot stay on fire for long. Just ask Michael Jackson.
Oh, wait, you can’t.