Courtesy of Ryan Frank and Republic Records

November 10, 2021

The Weeknd’s Ancient Allusions

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Teaming up with EDM group Swedish House Mafia, The Weeknd released “Moth to a Flame,” premiering just after midnight on Oct. 22, 2021. While The Weeknd asserted that “the dawn is upon us…” in his Instagram bio, I can assure you that it was most definitely not dawn for those of us up late enough to catch the music video’s release.

A part of his highly-anticipated fifth studio album The Dawn is Coming, the single feels strangely reminiscent of a past era in more ways than one. Classical elements stitched between the song’s lyrics and the video’s imagery weaves “Moth to a Flame” into the greater tapestry of The Weeknd’s discography. This newest release calls upon details previously seen in the music video for “Belong to the World” from his 2013 album, Kiss Land

“Moth to a Flame” opens with a mass of bodies clothed in nothing but an aurelian aura. The center focuses on a pair of bodies assuming a sort of Yin-Yang form, complimenting each other in opposite fetal positions. As one of the few spaces unlit, darkness fills the gap between the couple. As the music video continues, we see these bodies engaged in bacchic ecstasy with the camera focusing primarily on their unblemished skin, perfectly lit under a golden light.

Countering this, The Weeknd himself is then shown to preside over a dark, barren land where unspecified matter falls all around him. Marking a turning point in the imagery, we begin to see these masses of previously gilded bodies depicted as flaky, statuesque figures. 

Mimicking the appearance of Pompeiian mummies, the figures in the last half of “Moth to a Flame” resemble the same bald and alabaster complected forms seen in the video for “Belong to the World.” Evoking dueling images, the figures at once appear to be the dancing undead covered in layers of ash and soot while also seeming to be a grand collection of forgotten marble statues waiting to be unearthed. 

While the two videos serve as sigils to channel images of the ancient Pelopponese, the lyrics impersonate incantations chanted to revive this archaic period.

While seemingly irrelevant, except in the context of “Belong to the World,” “Moth to a Flame” references “a kamikaze pilot” in its lyrics.  This reference to the Japanese air corps serves as a poetic parallel between the two songs given that the music video of the Kiss Land track takes place in Japan and opens with an eerily Grecian speech spoken in Japanese. 

This prelude to “Belong to the World” acts as an invocation of the muse. A traditional practice in Greek literature, the invocation is an appeal made by the poet to obtain divine assistance in the composition of his art. 

Following tradition, the music video begs “the wind in the sky,” to “please gather the clouds and close the way of the wind” so that this voice can “make the beautiful dancer like a muse.” The voice later “swear[s] by God” that he and this dancer “will be together forever.” Not only do the lyrics make a direct reference to the classical muse, but the phrasing of the speech itself begs for the aid of a higher power such as the wind or, more directly, God. The invocation is a testament to The Weeknd’s artistic prowess and a first example of his ability to connect to themes from the musical past whether it be his own or that of three millennia ago. 

Concluding the speech, The Weeknd explains that his “love and thoughts of [the dancer] burn in the night and fade into the sun.” Here, his “love and thoughts” resemble the story of Icarus and Daedelus, where the ill-fated Icarus falls from the sky as he becomes caught up in “flying too close to the sun” — a common idiom and also a lyric from “Moth to a Flame.” This colloquialism braids ancient tradition and tales with two modern pieces of music also connected across time — albeit across a couple thousand years fewer than the former. 

Through creating the illusion of a bygone era, The Weeknd has repeatedly alluded to a former period of his own. For those of us fans still not over his debut album, these subtle nods to “Belong to the World” give us something to “Live For.” After all, nothing beats the classics. 

Ashley Koca is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].