Last year, The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, alarmed fans by showing up to both the American Music Awards and the Video Music Awards with a bloody, swollen, bandaged face. It looked like he'd been beaten or in some sort of accident—and it's pretty alarming, if you didn't know that he's totally fine (promise!). His bloodied and bandaged look has been a thing since March of 2020, and it's a reference to both his single Blinding Lights and its parent album After Hours. You can expect him to continue wearing the stage makeup and bandages for as long as he's promoting and accepting awards for that album—so, well into 2021.
Here's the look at the VMAs in August of 2020:
And here he is at the AMAs in November. This look is an escalation of his VMAs look, as though it's a more serious injury—we'll get to that in a sec:
Then, in January 2021, nine months after the debut of his bloody face, The Weeknd released the music video for "Save Your Tears," which advanced the story by showing his face in what appears to be the aftermath of plastic surgery (and this new look, like the others, isn't real—it's just prosthetics).
Here's a closer look at his face in the video:
He also posted an Instagram with the same look:
So, what's going on? Basically, The Weeknd is telling us a story through his music and this stage makeup, and one part of it is the idea that the bloody face and bandages were a side effect of the surgery he'd gotten to remake his face. Which caused many, many fans to wonder if his face really looks like that now. (Spoiler: It does not!)
All of this started almost a year ago, when The Weeknd appeared on SNL with the original bloody makeup. Fans quickly realized it was a reference to his recent work, specifically his "Blinding Lights" music video, in which he's beaten to a pulp by bouncers, drives drunk, and finds himself covered in blood and worse for wear. "I don’t want to ever promote drunk driving, but that’s what the dark undertone is," he told Esquire.
But even more so, it seemed to be a reference to a short film The Weeknd made for After Hours. In the short film, which was released alongside the album, he walks around a city with what looks to be a broken nose and swollen eyes.
He's wearing a red suit in the short film—and he also wore a red suit jacket to the VMAs and the AMAs, so it was all clearly part of the same theme. (In the music video for "Save Your Tears," the red suit jacket is bedazzled. Make of that what you will!)
So, what story is he telling? And why? Well, um, that part is less clear. The Weeknd hasn't explained in detail why he's been wearing this makeup for almost a year, but he did reference it in an interview with Variety: "I forget that I have it on sometimes."
And it's possible that the "Save Your Tears" video was the last we'll see of the look, if his Super Bowl teaser trailer is any indication. In the video, we see The Weeknd pulling up to the Super Bowl—he's scheduled to perform at this year's LV show—and his face looks reassuringly ordinary, not a bandage or trace of blood in sight.
As with the rest of this saga, it's not clear why he's decided to call it quits on this theme—or even if he has—but it's probably at least in part because the Super Bowl is a family-friendly show that's watched by millions and is strictly regulated. Maybe he'll go back to the bandaged look afterwards...?