In late 2019, The Weeknd pulled a star move by playing himself (though the 2012 version of himself) in Josh and Benny Safdie's film Uncut Gems. A key scene involves Adam Sandler's hard-luck character taking a swing at the pop star, though things get broken up before they escalate too wildly. Around that same time, The Weeknd released his vision for indefatigable new single "Blinding Lights," which chronicled him on a death-wish bender through Los Angeles; he ends up bloody, beaten, and flashing the biggest smile you've ever seen. It felt like a sign.
Now, that omen has been made clear: "Blinding Lights" just won Video of the Year at the 2020 VMAs. And The Weeknd, who also opened the show with a stratospherically dizzying rendition of the song from 1,100 feet about Manhattan, accepted the award with makeup that made it look like he'd actually been hit in the face.
But his brief acceptance speech was not about that kind of spectacle or even his music. Instead, Abel Tesfaye offered brief thank yous to the people involved in making the video (including director Anton Tammi), then dedicated the bulk of his platform to two simple calls to action: "Justice for Jacob Blake. Justice for Breonna Taylor."
The pop superstar's win acted as a fitting bookend to the evening, which began with his performance. But even as he picked up his first award of the night earlier, for Best R&B, The Weeknd made sure to amplify his same message: "Justice for Jacob Blake. Justice for Breonna Taylor."
The Weeknd's entire After Hours era has found him rocking a red suit, which has become his latest trademark, and dancing with abandon, often in the middle of the street as the world spirals around him. For his part, the artist is actually quite meticulous, crafting the After Hours album with high-energy pop bravado, R&B flourishes, and the kind of joie de vivre only the gorgeously icy synth-pop of a track like "Blinding Lights" can provide.
But as his two calls to action tonight demonstrated, in his words, "It's hard to celebrate."
Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old, was shot multiple times in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23 in what protestors and activists are calling a clear case of excessive violent force. Blake is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of his wounds. Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old, was shot to death in her bed by police who had entered her apartment on a so-called "no-knock" warrant in March. Taylor's death — along with the similar police killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, and so many others — helped spark large-scale global demonstrations against racism, police brutality, violence, and systemic injustice earlier this year. Activists have protested in Blake's honor, calling for justice, since his shooting.
In June, The Weeknd donated $500,000 to three racial-justice nonprofits and voiced support for Black Lives Matter.