The Weeknd's Bloody And Bruised Face At The VMAs Explained

"I said, ooh, I'm blinded by the lights, no, I can't sleep until I feel your touch," sang Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (aka The Weeknd), kicking off the 2020 MTV VMAs from a dizzying stage above New York City, framed by fireworks, a helicopter circling overhead, and (of course) flashing, blue and orange blinding light fixtures (via MTV). "I said, ooh, I'm drowning in the night, oh, when I'm like this, you're the one I trust," he belted out. In a confirmation of the track's almost irresistible je ne sais quoi, Tesfaye collected the Video of the Year awards for Blinding Lights at the VMAs, or that fans chose "Blinding Lights" as the best R&B single during in the fan-voted show (via The New York Times).

You recognize the song, of course. You probably know it by heart. In August, Billboard reported that "Blinding Lights" broke the record for most weeks (19!) spent on the top of its Radio Songs airplay chart. Maybe, more than paying attention to its lyrics, you noticed that The Weeknd's face was bloody and bruised? We sure did.

The internet has been buzzing about The Weeknd's bloody face for months

On Thursday, August 27, the internet had a mini heart attack when Tesfaye was spotted, leaving rehearsal for the VMAs with a face that looked like the living manifestation of a bloody mary. Don't worry, reported Metro, the cuts and bruises were fake, and it was "all for show." It was, of course, more or less the same makeup that Tesfaye wore when he performed his hit song on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in January (via Kiss 95.1). 

Slate noticed the look in April 2020, when it pointed out that on his hit album After Hours (in which "Blinding Lights" figures as the ninth track), Tesfaye appears similarly bruised and bloody. He's smiling up at us from the album's cover art, with a defiant, satisfied expression that is a confusing mixture of admirable and haunting. It's approximately the same face that he donned when he performed "Blinding Lights" on the March 7 episode of Saturday Night Live, although, on March 7, The Weeknd wore a bandaged nose. For the VMAs, the open gash on his nose gave a rawer, more vulnerable, throbbing, and immediate feel to his performance. 

You know the lyrics. The song itself never mentions blood. But by now, The Weeknd's bruises are as much a part of "Blinding Lights" as is its rhythm. So what's behind the face?

Why The Weeknd has a bloody face in Blinding Lights

We'll direct you to his music video. As The Weeknd told Esquire, "Blinding Lights" is all about "how you want to see someone at night, and you're intoxicated, and you're driving to this person and you're just blinded by streetlights, but nothing could stop you from trying to go see that person, because you're so lonely." His music video is the dramatization of this story and the drunken desperation that permeates it.

The bloody, beaten up face? In the video, that's literally the result of after wandering through Las Vegas in a drunken haze, and for no apparent reason, getting into a fight with two, black-suited men. (We think they're security guards or bar bouncers?) His bloody face is probably the manifestation of his anguish. The Weeknd sings, "Ooh, I'm drowning in the night." We look at his face, and we feel him drowning in it.

Of course, there's another level to the Weeknd's bloody and bruised face: the times we're living (or surviving) today. Is it really a surprise that the song did so well? Slate thinks not. The song and its accompanying music video, after all, is the perfect midpoint between "danceable and dark," observes music writer Chris Molanphy, it's "'Good Times' for the baddest of bad times." That the Weeknd can keep singing despite his bruises? In today's world, it's a visceral and poignant reminder to persevere.  

The Weeknd looks to horror films as inspiration for his looks

Remember the time the internet went wild after Tesfaye dressed as The Joker for Halloween? Or that time when he went as Beetlejuice, accompanied by then-girlfriend  Bella Hadid, who dressed as Lydia? (via Metro). The costumes speak to a part of Tesfaye that may not immediately be apparent in his song. There's another reason that The Weeknd can't resist a bloodied face, and it has everything to do with the fact that the singer is drawn like a magnet to Hollywood horror (via DJ Booth).

His albums aren't just collections of songs, they're storylines, and their accompanying videos are often terror-scapes, inspired by The Weeknd's self-professed fascination with "dark, psychologically disturbing films" (via DJ Booth). Take Kiss Land, The Weeknd's debut album, for example. If you listened to it and got chills, you were supposed to. As the Weekend told NME, the album as a whole was meant to embody "an environment that's just honest fear." In making it, he drew inspiration from Hollywood horror directors David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and Ridley Scot. "When you hear the screams in the record and you hear all these horror references and you feel scared, listen to the music because I want you to feel what I'm feeling," Tesfaye directed listeners of Kiss Land.