November 12, 2012

B. Michael Payne’s favorite trilogy remains the only trilogy worth being your favorite trilogy.

Now that The Weeknd’s three mixtapes are about to see a “proper” release as Trilogy, the Drake-featuring song, “The Zone”, has become the latest Weeknd video (directed by Abel Tesfaye). It opens with a familiarly Lynchian image. We’re in a car driving down an empty highway in the dark. Then: Tesfaye’s eyes, huge, superimposed over the shot as if he’s on the outside looking in at the camera, at us. (Deep.)

Cut to: a film projector’s bulb, then a projection of a blonde on a white set, smiling. Cut to: the blonde on a couch surrounded by balloons, slatternly, mostly undressed, drinking a drink. Big smiles, seduction. Cut to: Tesfaye, film projected on his singing visage. As the video plays on, the sound swells from ambient, prefatory matter — wordless singing and a bare bass line — to articulated drums and the first vocals,

Why you rushing me, baby?

It’s only us.

I don’t want to die tonight, baby.

So let me sip this slow.

The whole video, the whole song, is an inversion. The wildly predatory narrator seen elsewhere in The Weeknd’s oeuvre here is pumping the brakes on the debauchery. Tesfaye provides the voice of reason, saying, “Let me get into the zone” — get drunk, get high, get loose — before he gives her “what she called for”. The song is a black and white negative of “High For This”, which begins in a similar fashion:

Open your hand, take a glass

Don’t be scared, I’m right here

Even though, you don’t know

Trust me girl, you wanna be high for this

It’s almost uncanny.

The video, featuring within it a video, is very cinematic-ish. We’re offered the inside view of seduction then destruction, but nothing in between — the act itself is absent. In its place we have Tesfaye singing his warning, too late, with the film playing back over his mind, literally. I’m not sure to what effect it continually evokes the destruction of the song-narrator’s paramour, but it reminds me of another Lnychian concept: the timeless and ongoing destruction of Laura Palmer, another sexy blonde with a big appetite for debauchery.

But unlike Twin Peaks’s Palmer, who’s shown from every angle as controlling the narrative even in death, the study of “The Zone” is shown only as an image, 2-D, hardly spanning time. She is the memory of someone else, an always-absent with an abrogated story — the sex and violence cut out.

The video actually does a poor job projecting the (I assume) intended idea of sleaze, except for when Drake appears.

Maybe this video is Tesfaye’s guilty conscience. The song itself is fairly tepid, bloodless and ass-covering, like an inter-office memo about throwing out your leftovers. It makes a terrible introduction to the concept and aesthetic of The Weeknd. There could have been an interesting interplay between Drake and Tesfaye (like the intriguing rapprochement seen on “Marvin’s Room/Buried Alive”, with Kendrick Lamar). Instead, Drake’s verse sputters out around halfway through and he seemingly by unavoidable physical reflex starts repping his town and muttering something about OVO and XO.

Call me crazy, but I actually prefer my Drakes and Abels to be out-and-out explicit shitheels because I think it makes for a compelling story. “High For This” manages to squarely capture the feeling of, well, being on drugs and fucking. And I think there’s something to be said for making your intentions clear.

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