Five Burning Questions: The Weeknd Scores a Double No. 1 With 'After Hours' & 'Blinding Lights'

While the rest of the world’s headlines get drearier by the day, The Weeknd just keeps winning. The artist born Abel Tesfaye scores his fourth consecutive No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart this week with his After Hours set, moving 444,000 first-week album equivalent units — not only a career best, but the best first-week numbers of any artist in 2020.

What’s more, The Weeknd matches that with another No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, as After Hours single “Blinding Lights” replaces Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” atop the chart — making it his fifth song to best the listing, and second off After Hours (following “Heartless” last December). Throw in the singer-songwriter also ascending to the top of Billboard‘s Artist 100 chart, and it’s a rare triple-crown victory for Tesfaye this week.

What does The Weeknd’s tremendous performance tell us about the state of music consumption at this precarious global moment? And will he be able to score a third No. 1 smash off After Hours? Below, Billboard staffers debate these questions and more.

1. The Weeknd scores the best first week of the year (and of his career) this week with After Hours‘ 444k performance, while he also notches his fifth No. 1 single in the past five years (and second off After Hours) with “Blinding Lights.” Which of the two achievements do you consider more impressive?

Trevor Anderson: I wanted to say the former, given the magnitude of the sales volume, people’s faith that this tour may still happen and that the After Hours leadups hadn’t captured pop culture in the same ubiquitous way as “Can’t Feel My Face” or “The Hills.” But, now, it’s gotta be the latter: “Blinding Lights” arrived in the shadow of “Heartless” in timing, fan interest and initial chart success — the “Diplomatic Immunity” of the pair, if you will. But once the mystique of “Heartless” faded, people found “Blinding Lights” was a solid song: A different sound for Abel, enjoyable if not an outright bop and friendly enough to appeal to his die-hards and those who only know his pop projects. No one would’ve called “Lights” the bigger hit when it dropped, now it’s leading by lengths.

Josh Glicksman: Since 2010, only seven artists have five or more No. 1 hits: Rihanna (9), Katy Perry (8), Bruno Mars (7), Drake (6), Justin Bieber (5), Taylor Swift (5) and The Weeknd. That’s some pretty impressive company, and it’s also worth noting that of the names on the list, only Drake has more chart-toppers since 2017. The Weeknd isn’t a hitmaker flying under the radar by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m not sure how many people realize just what a high level his production has been at over the last five years. But the 444k performance certainly deserves a tip of the cap, as well.

Bianca Gracie: Hm, this was tough to choose. But I’m leaning more towards his incredible singles run. After Hours’ numbers aren’t too far off from The Weeknd’s second-best feat, 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness with 412,000 units. Yet if you told me nine years ago that the mysterious guy who only sung about drugs, women and loneliness would become one of the biggest pop stars of our time, I would’ve never believed you. The fact that he’s been able to earn five No. 1 singles that all stay true to his despondent nature shows that his impact was always there. The rest of the world just needed to catch up.

Jason Lipshutz: While “Blinding Lights” reaching the top of the Hot 100 chart is an impressive feat — especially when considering that the first track released from After Hours, “Heartless,” also hit No. 1 — The Weeknd scoring the best album debut of his career represents an incredible achievement in the year 2020, when very few established stars are one-upping their previous first-week totals. The Weeknd has been a major star for a half-decade now, and a career-best bow of 444,000 equivalent album units shows that he could actually still be getting even bigger.

Andrew Unterberger: It’s pretty close to a tie for me. It’s pretty absurd that after being one of the 10 or so biggest artists of the entire 2010s, The Weeknd is starting the next decade with bigger numbers than ever — in the middle of a global crisis, no less. But man, whenever you can notch multiple No. 1s off the same project in 2020 — particularly with one as a slow-build — that really shows that you’re on another level. I’ll lean towards the first-week numbers, but it’s really 50/50.

2. While countless other artists are rescheduling release plans in our country’s post-quarantine landscape, does The Weeknd having the year’s biggest first week this week tell you anything about the logic behind releasing an album now? Or is it just a testament to how big the dude is right now? 

Trevor Anderson: Eh, 75/25? Most of us are now settled into our new quarantined realities, and with little reprieve in sight, are itching to find something interesting to occupy our time. So, a major superstar releasing an album this quarter (it’s March 31, so I can safely confirm that statement) is fortunate timing for everyone involved. Even bored streams count as streams! And, likewise, it’s no coincidence that ESPN moved its anticipated Chicago Bulls special from June to April, or that Disney yanked up Frozen II’s release by weeks, too. Why miss out on a captive audience?

Josh Glicksman: Total on-demand streams week over week actually dropped 3.5% for the week ending March 19, so I’ll chalk this one up as a testament to The Weeknd’s star(boy) status. Though it seems intuitive that since people are home, they’ll have plenty of time to stream all the new music that comes out, that hasn’t proved to be the case so far. That could be due to any number of reasons — including an obvious drop-off in listening while commuting — but regardless, it’s clear that monster streaming numbers aren’t a given in this landscape. A number of underperforming albums released during the past few weeks can tell you as much.

Bianca Gracie: It’s a mix of both. While many artists have delayed their album releases due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, The Weeknd chose to fill that void by satisfying his fans after weeks of an in-your-face rollout. “Let music heal us” he tweeted just as the quarantine rulings were growing stricter. And with J Balvin and (eventually) Childish Gambino as the only other major artists to compete with that week, After Hours had a healthy share of the spotlight to itself to earn those record-setting numbers. As seen with the near-inescapable anticipation that surrounded the now-lauded album, it’s obvious that The Weeknd’s star power shows no sign of fading.

Jason Lipshutz: The Weeknd’s first full-length since 2016 was always going to make waves, and while some of that massive total can reasonably be chalked up to more people being home and ready to peruse his new album, releasing a project while everyone is at home during this strange national moment does not guarantee a major debut (see: recent album bows from J Balvin and Childish Gambino). The conclusion that the debut of After Hours presents is that an album can be successfully launched as the country is under quarantine — if it’s the right album, from the right artist.

Andrew Unterberger: I think it’s a pretty clear indication that if you can release an album right now — with the machine already largely in place, and with a built-in core audience that’s guaranteed to care at a minimum — you shouldn’t run from doing so. For artists at a lower commercial level who really depend on touring and old-fashioned promo to get the word out about their new music — and who might not even see the commercial returns from a new project unless they can immediately hit the road to support it — it’s probably a different story. But if you can capture a cultural moment while external distractions are at an all-time low, why not take your shot?

3. The only two artists to score three No. 1 singles off an album released in the last five years are Justin Bieber and Drake. On a scale from 1 to 10, how likely do you think it is that Abel becomes the third straight Canadian pop star to do so — and what song off After Hours has the best chance of getting him there?

Trevor Anderson: 5. Being hella analytical here — “In Your Eyes” presumably has the best shot with its No. 16 start on the Hot 100 this week; the highest non-single, and thus, the one resonating the best with the streaming audience. But with the video out, all its streaming cards are already on the table, save an unlikely remix. The track is off to a quick start at top 40 radio, but given that it’ll take a few months to kick in there – and with “Blinding Lights” also still growing, I’m not sure that it can maintain healthy streaming levels long enough for the radio reinforcements to arrive.

Josh Glicksman: Let’s say 4. As for which song would be most likely to do so, my heart is torn between “Scared to Live” and “In Your Eyes” — but as a rule of thumb, I’ll trust the single and go with “In Your Eyes.” Of the songs currently ahead of it on the Hot 100, only three have been on the chart for fewer than 15 weeks, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that fans will flock to some fresher content. Plus, during a time when we’re searching for moments of bliss, it’s hard to top a minute-plus blazing saxophone outro that demands a socially distanced dance party several times over.

Bianca Gracie: I’d go for a solid 8, based on his fast-growing No. 1 trajectory that we discussed earlier. While I think “Save Your Tears” is the poppiest moment on the album, it seems like “In Your Eyes” will be the one to bring forth Abel’s crown… or maybe a Stanley Cup is more appropriate here? Anyway, out of all the not-previously-released After Hours songs, “In Your Eyes” currently holds the highest Hot 100 position, and it fits right into the ‘80s pop revival happening at the moment (all thanks to co-writer/co-producer/pop god Max Martin’s magic), which could help it soar up the chart .

Jason Lipshutz: Shout-out to Canada for producing a steady stream of multi-smash full-lengths! I’ll give this possibility a 5: a song like “In Your Eyes” from After Hours could certainly grow into another major hit for The Weeknd once “Blinding Lights” dims a bit, although No. 1 singles are hard to come by, especially as the Song of the Summer race heats up. The Weeknd has been such a consistent radio presence that I’d give him 50-50 odds for collecting another chart-topper with this project, but wouldn’t go higher than that.

Andrew Unterberger: I’ll say a 4 — which is still pretty high considering how rare an achievement the No. 1 hat trick is for new albums in 2020. But he’s got the songs to make it a possibility at least: “In Your Eyes,” of course, and I can’t quite shake just how much “Save Your Tears” feels like Post Malone’s “Circles,” another late-arriving radio champ that eventually climbed its way to No. 1. If one of the two ended up being unavoidable this summer, can’t say I’d be shocked.

4. A quick au revoir to “The Box,” which after leading the Hot 100 for nearly the year’s entire first quarter, finally slips to No. 2. Now that the chart appears to be a bit more open again, shine a light on a song a little lower on the Hot 100 that you think could be eventually follow to No. 1 once Abel abdicates the throne. 

Trevor Anderson:  Welp, we all live in fear of the “Toosie Slide” — the result, I guess, of Drake learning of TikTok’s power from the #FlipTheSwitch challenge soundtracked to his “Nonstop” last month. So, a fully conscious Drake and TikTok combo will be the most fearsome fusion since Goku x Vegeta. Brace yourself. Shout-out second to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” itself the welcome beneficiary of the #SavageChallenge, which seems ripe for summer if we’re ever allowed to exit our abodes again. Take the goodwill that Megan has built in the past two years for her talent, add to that the support she’s gotten from her recent label turmoil — and if it gets close, she’ll revive the same grassroots hype that helped initially thrust Cardi B to No. 1.

Josh Glicksman: Maybe it’s because I spend too much time on Twitter, but doesn’t it seem like everyone is posting videos of themselves joining TikTok recently? I’ll go with Doja Cat’s “Say So,” which cracks the top 10 for the first time this week, both for that reason — as of this morning, more than 19 million TikToks have been created using “Say So” as backing music — and because of its insanely catchy bubblegum pop vibe. Expect the numbers for this one to continue to rise from day to night to morning.

Bianca Gracie: I know my fellow pop lovers want to see Dua Lipa take over with “Don’t Start Now,” but honestly it’s time for Doja Cat to shine! “Say So” marks her first Top 10 hit on the Hot 100, as it currently sits pretty at No. 9. She’s consistently showcased her immense talent at rapping, singing and bringing her creative ideas to life — which is all encapsulated within the dreamy video adored by TikTok fanatics and disco-pop lovers alike.

Jason Lipshutz: Do not underestimate Doja Cat’s “Say So,” which cruises into the top 10 of the Hot 100 this week and is still my best bet to rule the next few months. Could Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” sneak into the top spot with her new album out? Maybe. Could Harry Styles’ “Adore You” keep climbing and hit No. 1 for a week? Possibly. But in terms of a multi-week run at the peak, “Say So” remains the smart bet.

Andrew Unterberger: Too late to opt for “RITMO (Bad Boys For Life),” improbably still climbing the Hot 100 (at No. 26 this week) 18 weeks into its run? Probably, so I’ll opt for one that debuts this week instead: the Imanbek Remix of SAINt JHN’s “Roses,” which bows all the way at No. 55. That’s a mighty debut for an artist with limited chart history to his credit, so it probably won’t shock you to learn that it’s TikTok-assisted. But look at these TikToks: the bit with this song isn’t even that good! It must just be that people can’t get enough of moving to this song, an actual dance song, the likes of which we haven’t had atop the charts in some years now — but which we finally appear to be trending towards again.

5. Speaking of shining a light — give a shoutout to another favorite song of yours about the bright “Lights,” blinding or otherwise. 

Trevor Anderson: Let’s relive Donna Summer’s “Dim All The Lights,” from 1979’s Bad Girls, which follows the usual Summer disco formula of a midtempo ballad that explodes into a four-on-the-floor pattern about a minute in. Hidden here, though, is possibly Summer’s career best vocal showoff, as she introduces the uptempo section with a with a wild 16-second long note (!), a moment that commands attention and perks your ears up just as the song’s punch takes off.

For the chart-watchers: a shame it peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100 in a sea of Summer-mania — immediate predecessors “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls” topped the chart, and just a week after its runner-up showing, the singer was back on top with the Barbra Streisand duet, “No More Tears (Enough is Enough).” No doubt, it was a success by any means, but “Lights” was the one blemish that spoiled what would have been a perfect Summer (heh), fall and winter for the singer’s chart fortunes.

Josh Glicksman: Why choose just one lights-themed song to shoutout when you can pick “All of the Lights?” The fourth single from Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy served as the last from the decade-defining LP, and still, ahem, lights up any room from the moment that first “all of the lights!” resonates from the speaker.

Bianca Gracie: The 1999 remix of Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” with Lauryn Hill has long remained a childhood favorite of mine. The song’s warm lights may not shine as brightly as other picks here, but the way they slowly dim lower as night falls makes for the most artful seduction.

Jason Lipshutz: Here’s a left-field choice: Death Cab For Cutie’s “Northern Lights,” from their underrated 2018 LP Thank You For Today. Solid, slightly muscular alt-rock with a dash of piano and some evocative Ben Gibbard lyrics — it’s like chicken soup for the aging-hipster soul.

Andrew Unterberger: Let’s get vision-impaired one more time with The Streets’ “Blinded By the Lights,” the U.K. alt-hip-hop outfit’s captivating mid-’00s jam about being overtaken by insecurity (and drugs) while rapper Mike Skinner tries to meet up with his girl and a mate in the club. Whether the synth stabs are the panicked thoughts racing through his head or just the strobe lights going off on the dancefloor remains unclear — likely both.