"Blinding Lights" is a song by Canadian singer the Weeknd, recorded for his fourth studio album After Hours. It was released on November 29, 2019 as the second single from the album, two days after the release of "Heartless". The Weeknd wrote and produced the song with Max Martin and Oscar Holter, with Belly and Jason Quenneville receiving additional credits.
"Blinding Lights" peaked at number one in thirty-four countries, including the United States and Canada, where it became the Weeknd's fifth number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Canadian Hot 100 for four and seven weeks, respectively. It also became his first number one single in Germany for ten weeks, the United Kingdom for eight weeks, and Australia for eleven weeks. It is his most successful single worldwide to date and currently holds the record for most weeks spent in the top 5 and top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.
Background and promotion
After a five-month social media hiatus, the singer returned to Instagram on November 20, 2019 and posted six days later on November 26, 2019. He previously announced a project referred to as Chapter VI in June 2019. On November 24, 2019, a Mercedes-Benz commercial first aired on German TV featuring a clip of "Blinding Lights". It shows the Weeknd driving a Mercedes-Benz EQC SUV and asking the system to play his new song. The full-length version of the commercial premiered on November 29, alongside the single. In the days after, he took to social media to announce his return to music with the captions "the fall starts tomorrow night" and "Tonight we start a new brain melting psychotic chapter! Let's go!".
During an interview conducted by Jem Aswad from Variety magazine, the Weeknd discussed his experience working with Swedish songwriter-producer Max Martin, saying: "Max and I have become literally the best of friends, but I don't do that with many people. It's not that I can't, but a collaboration is a relationship, it's like a marriage, you've gotta build up to it." In a Billboard interview, the Weeknd expressed his appreciation for music of the 1980s: "I've always had an admiration for the era before I was born. You can hear it as far back as my first mixtape that the '80s — Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cocteau Twins — play such a huge role in my sound. Sometimes it helps me create a new sound and sometimes it's just obvious. I'm just glad the world's into it now."
Lyrics and composition
Throughout the song, the Weeknd sings about the rekindling of a relationship and the importance of his partner. The singer also mentions the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, where he refers to it by its nickname "Sin City" in the pre-chorus.
The song is written in the key of E-flat major with a tempo of 171 beats per minute. The Weeknd's vocal range spans from the low note of F3 to the high note of C5. From its scale-laddering verses to its tension-filled chorus, the song exhibits the polish and "melodic math" for which Max Martin is renowned, according to Chris Molanphy from Slate.
Billboard staff writer Frank DiGiacomo assessed its qualities, "The opening drumbeat is a DeLorean back to Michael Jackson's "Beat It". The amphetamine synth conjures fond memories of leopard-print-era Rod Stewart's "Young Turks" — or maybe that other guy with the avian hairdo, Mike Score from A Flock of Seagulls? And isn't that spooky B-movie organ from Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me"? Abel Tesfaye's Drambuie-drenched vocals bathe you in euphoria as you bop around your home in an N-95 mask, punching your fist to the 'Hey!-Hey!-Hey!''s, making a magical and much-needed tonic for troubled times".
Audio engineer Serban Ghenea says he loved working on The Weeknd's crisp-sounding "Blinding Lights", “It was crossing two worlds to make something new that fits today, sonically. The older folks like it because it’s a throwback, and then the kids love it because it’s a new thing that they never heard before”.
"Blinding Lights" received universal acclaim from critics. It was named one of the best songs of 2020 by Billboard and the best song of 2020 by Consequence of Sound; the former highlighted its nostalgic appeal, and the latter praised its "melodic romance waxed over a blockbuster riff". Variety magazine named "Blinding Lights" the Record of the Year, “The Weeknd’s "Blinding Lights" is indisputably one of the landmark songs of 2020. The piece has a crystalline synth hook straight out of 1985. The record has come to symbolize strength and triumphing over adversity”. "Blinding Lights" was named one of the best songs of 2019 by Stereogum, where editor Chris DeVille complimented the song's '80s aesthetic and vibe, saying that "The '80s will never die ― or, at least, the glamorous neon '80s of our collective imagination".
Rolling Stone columnist Kory Grow named "Blinding Lights" one of the best songs of 2020, “With fuzzy synths and hopscotching drum-machine line, "Blinding Lights" is the best New Wave song this side of Duran Duran. In just three minutes, the Weeknd checks off any number of Eighties pop-song signposts — unanswered phone calls, driving fast just to feel something, lights representing loneliness — but the real magic is how his voice and the song's chiming keyboard line lingers in your head well after he injects new life into the greatest Eighties-steeped lyrical cliché of them all: “I can’t sleep until I feel your touch””, and editor Jon Dolan praised the “europhile synth-pop-steeped” production, “"Blinding Lights" evokes Depeche Mode and the Human League in its lonely-planet luster. David Smyth of Evening Standard also praised the song, calling it a "glorious blast of air punching Eighties synth-pop". Micah Peters from The Ringer selected it as one of the best on the album. The New York Times journalist Lindsay Zoladz named "Blinding Lights" one of the best songs of 2020, “It’s a propulsive, modernized bit of ’80s pastiche. It’s always a blessing when the year’s most overplayed pop song happens to be one you wouldn’t mind hearing a billion and one times anyway”, and editor Jon Caramanica added, “"Blinding Lights" is a sterling song that evokes both an idyllic future and triggers aural sense memories of mega-pop’s glory years. "Blinding Lights" could have been lifted from a found Jazzercise tape from 1986, though the chilly synths have a slightly sinister tinge [and] says a lot about the durability of The Weeknd's early noir — the full commitment to the louche aesthetic he embodied — that even the raging centrist popularity of "Blinding Lights" can't disinter it.”
Ben Beaumont-Thomas of The Guardian named "Blinding Lights" one of the best songs of 2020, “It’s a titanic pop production from backroom genius Max Martin, who seems to pay homage to his fellow Scandinavians a-ha with the peppy gated drums. Abel Tesfaye himself shows he can slip between genres casually as he does the lovers in his songs, notching up another wedding disco classic”. When describing the Weeknd's ode to '80s music, Nick Levine of BBC News named "Blinding Lights" one of the best songs of 2020, “Co-written and co-produced with Swedish songwriting genius Max Martin, it’s synth-pop shimmer manages to feel retro and contemporary at the same time – a tricky thing to pull off. Still, the key to its enduring popularity could lie in its ambiguity. Though "Blinding Lights"’ explosive chorus is one of the year’s most familiar and uplifting, there’s a dash of darkness baked in that keeps things interesting“. Editor Makael Wood from The Los Angeles Times named "Blinding Lights" one of the best songs of 2020, “The Weeknd’s throwback synth-pop smash was so ubiquitous this year that you couldn’t avoid hearing it even when you weren’t going anywhere. One aspect that kept it from wearing out its welcome: a crisp tempo just a few ticks faster than you’re always expecting”.
Sir Elton John named “Binding Lights” as Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
Despite having a successful year in 2020 with the success of "Blinding Lights" and its parent album, the Weeknd received zero nominations at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards on November 24, 2020. The gesture spawned much controversy and was a shock to critics, fans, and Tesfaye himself. He responded via social media calling the Grammys "corrupt" in popular social media posts. Speculation arose that the announcement of his upcoming Super Bowl performance, as well as the confusion as to whether he should be nominated as pop or R&B, contributed to the snubs in all the categories that he was submitted to. Harvey Mason Jr., interim president of the Recording Academy, responded to the backlash by saying:
The Weeknd later made a statement addressing the snub in January 2021, where he said that that it felt like "an attack", saying "Look, I personally don't care anymore. I have three GRAMMYs, which mean nothing to me now, obviously...It's not like, 'Oh, I want the GRAMMY!' It's just that this happened, and I'm down to get in front of the fire, as long as it never happens again. I suck at giving speeches anyways. Forget awards shows."
"Blinding Lights" debuted at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 on the issue dated December 14, 2019, but fell 41 places to number 52 in its second week. In its 12th week on the chart, the song became the Weeknd's tenth top ten hit by rising to a new peak at number ten. On the issue dated March 28, 2020, the song rose two places to reach number two. The song reached number one on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs on April 4, 2020, leading for 11 non-consecutive weeks. The song also reached number one on R&B Songs chart on March 7, 2020, where it became his seventh number one on the chart, making him the artist with the most number ones on the chart's history and also attaining a record-breaking reign of 47 weeks. On March 30, 2020, the song rose to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, dethroning Roddy Ricch's "The Box" on the issue dated April 4, 2020. The single kept at its peak position the following week, becoming the Weeknd's third multi-week leader after "The Hills", which topped the chart five years earlier. "Blinding Lights" spent four weeks atop the Hot 100 and finished 2020 as the year's top Billboard Hot 100 song.
"Blinding Lights" spent 50 weeks in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 and 41 weeks in the top five, breaking the record for the most time logged in the region over the chart's 62-year history. On the Digital Song Sales chart, the song peaked at number one for the week of March 23, 2020, and became the Weeknd's fifth Digital Songs number one. The single reached a peak of number one on the Streaming Songs chart on March 30, becoming his first topper on the listing since "The Hills" led five years earlier. On April 13, the song reached number one on Pop Songs chart, where it led for 6 non-consecutive weeks, as it slid to number two on the Hot 100. It later rose back up to number one for the two following weeks. On May 18, the song became his first number one on the Adult Pop Songs chart, leading for 20 non-consecutive weeks. On November 7, "Blinding Lights" became his first number one on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it led for 14 non-consecutive weeks. "Blinding Lights" topped Radio Songs for a record-breaking 26 weeks, passing Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris", which held the record as the longest-running chart-topper for almost 22 years. "Blinding Lights" fell out of the Hot 100 for the week dated January 2, 2021, but it re-entered the top 3 the next week, breaking the three-way tie for the highest song to re-enter the Hot 100. "Blinding Lights" as of the chart issue February 27, 2020, is the 10th longest charting song, logging a total of 63 weeks.
"Blinding Lights" also became producer Max Martin's 23rd Hot 100 number one single as a writer, 21st as producer, and his first in both credits since Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling!" (2016). Martin has the third-most as writer, behind Paul McCartney (32) and John Lennon (26), and the second-most as producer, behind George Martin (23). The Weeknd became the first artist to simultaneously lead Billboard's five primary charts on March 30, topping the Hot 100, Billboard 200, Artist 100, Hot 100 Songwriters and Hot 100 Producers. The next week, he topped the Hot 100, Billboard 200 and Artist 100 once more, achieving the feat for a fourth time.
On the Rolling Stone Top 100 Songs chart, the song debuted at number two, where it was blocked from the top spot by the Weeknd's own "Heartless". The song also became the Weeknd's second entry on the chart. It later rose to number one on the chart following the release of After Hours. "Blinding Lights" sold 5.7 million units in the US during 2020.
In the singer's native Canada, "Blinding Lights" debuted at number two on the Canadian Hot 100, one place higher than "Heartless". It later managed to reach number one after the release of its parent album on the issue dated April 4, 2020, becoming the Weeknd's fifth number-one single in the country. It spent seven weeks atop the chart, tying "Starboy" as his longest-running chart-topper. For the first half of 2020, "Blinding Lights" was the top Canadian song overall, with 484,000 units. "Blinding Lights has been certified 9X Platinum by Music Canada for selling 720,000 units.
Europe, Oceania and Latin America
In the United Kingdom, "Blinding Lights" entered the charts at number 12 in the issue dated December 12, 2019. It eventually reached number one in February 2020, becoming the Weeknd's first number-one single in the UK. After two weeks at number one, it dropped a place number two. However it rebounded to number one the week after, and remained there for three consecutive weeks. The week after it fell a place to number two and also stayed at the runner-up spot for another week. The following week, it once again rebounded to number one, and stayed there for another three consecutive weeks. Overall, the single spent eight non-consecutive weeks atop the singles chart. It dropped to number two on 24 April after The Weeknd used Twitter to ask people to support its close rival, a charity single, "You'll Never Walk Alone", by Michael Ball and Tom Moore, and make it number one for Moore's 100th birthday. As a result, "Blinding Lights" dropped a place to number two and remained at number two the following week, behind another charity single, "Times Like These". According to Official Charts Company data, "Blinding Lights" is the best-selling single of 2020 in the UK with 2.2 million combined sales, including 250 million streams and 195,000 downloads. "Blinding Lights" has been certified 4X platinum by the British Phonographic Industry for selling 2,400,000 units.
Elsewhere in Europe, the song topped the charts in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland. It also reached the top 10 in Belarus, Hungary, Malta, North Macedonia, Russia, Romania, Spain and Ukraine.
In Australia, it topped the ARIA Charts for eleven non-consecutive weeks. It is the sixth longest-running number-one of all-time in the country, tied with songs such as Spice Girls's "Wannabe", Drake's "God's Plan" and Bryan Adams's "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You", as well the fifth longest by a foreign act. "Blinding Lights" has been certified 6X Platinum by the Australian Recording Industry Association for selling 420,000 units. In New Zealand, it topped the singles chart for four non-consecutive weeks.
In Latin America, "Blinding Lights" topped the charts in Bolivia and Mexico. It also reached the top 10 in Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, Puerto Rico and Uruguay, as well as the top 20 in Argentina, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru. It also charted in Brazil and Colombia, peaking at numbers 51 and 66 respectively.
The music video for "Blinding Lights" was directed by Anton Tammi, assisted by Kenneth Taylor, and filmed in Fremont Street, Las Vegas and Downtown Los Angeles, during a four-day shooting that took place until 6 AM every day. It was produced by Sarah Parker and executive produced by Saskia Whinney for Somesuch, with production design by Adam William Wilson. Olliver Millar served as the director of photography, assisted by Devin "Daddy" Karringten on the second unit, Niels Lindelien on the steadicam operation, Nizzar Najm on the gaffer and Marlow Nunez on the key grip. The video was edited by Janne Vartia and Tim Montana, and included VFX by Mathematic, post production surpervision by Alec Ernest, color by Nicke Jacobsson, sound design by Akseli Soini, title design by Aleksi Tammi and 3D effects by Oscar Böckerman.
During the filming, the roads were not completely shut down, hence random cars and pedestrians were passing by while the Weeknd danced in the street. Also, someone got arrested in a tunnel during the filming, holding up the production for a few moments. The shooting required at least three vehicles driving through the nighttime streets. The Mercedes-AMG GT roadster was specially equipped towing vehicle that allowed the Weeknd to act and lip-sync inside the moving convertible without needing to drive, and a chase SUV with a crane camera strapped to the top. Director of photography Oliver Millar said that he loves the music video format and talked about how intense it is to try and create iconic images during high-pressure shoots that don't last very long. He said that since the Weeknd's previous videos had a dark and gritty vibe, he used generators powering banks of LED lights and a Sony Venice full-frame digital motion picture camera system to try to re-create the look, ending up with the video's vintage, 1980s style.
Release and synopsis
On December 2, 2019, a commercial video containing footage from the Weeknd and Mercedes-Benz commercial, and the song's audio video, was released. The lyric video for "Blinding Lights" was released on December 6, 2019. Its official music video was shot in and was released on January 21, 2020. A behind-the-scenes music video for the song was released on February 28, 2020. On May 5, 2020, a music video for the Chromatics remix of the song was released.
The video follows the After Hours videos sequence, starting where the "Heartless" premise ended, and presents the Weeknd as a lonely and psychotic guy walking and driving with no destiny around the streets in Las Vegas, and passing resemblance to jazz musician Herbie Hancock, circa 1978's Sunlight. The singer also sports the same visual combination of the previous video, adopted for the album promotional material, with a red suit, specific hairstyle, mustache and sunglasses.
The visual opens with the Weeknd laughing as blood drips down his face, then jumps back in time to show the mayhem that led to this gruesome end — the pop star speeding around a deserted city, dancing gleefully in the streets. The visual follows the events of the music video for "Heartless" and sees the Weeknd go on a hallucinated joyride after waking from a trance. It concludes with the Weeknd having flashbacks to a club he attended earlier during the night, where he was serenaded by a mysterious woman, played by Japanese actress Miki Hamano and beat up by a duo of bouncers, uncredited, who had forced him to be on the run. The video depicts various actions performed by the singer amid a story inspired by the films Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Joker, and Casino.
Chase Ichiki from Revolt spoke highly of the music video, sharing "The Weeknd crafts a world fans have eagerly waited for. Donning his staple red suit, he showcases his acting abilities in his latest video. Beginning with him hysterically laughing in a borderline psychotic way, we then see The Weeknd dance the pain away while wandering the city". Michael Cube from Nylon magazine wrote that "the video for "Blinding Lights" is appropriately cryptic for the famously elusive artist", and praised the presentation's alluring mystique. HITC columnist Christopher Weston assessed the film as "a burst of neon perfectly complimenting the gorgeous electronic sound. The 'Blinding Lights' visual accompaniment is one of the most stylish videos we've seen, packed with color, fast cars, nocturnal cityscapes and luxurious locations". Insider editor Callie Ahlgrim praised the visual, "'Blinding Lights' embodies everything that's made The Weeknd's newest era so successful. The video maintains his mysterious, slightly menacing aura — yet manages to create a cinematic, retro, exhilarating experience that's unlike anything he's done before". Starboy meets Sin City for this Anton Tammi–directed bender. Bianca Gracie from Vulture named the music video one of the best of 2020, “It’s a wild mix of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Casino, and Joker that only Abel could pull off”. USA Today editor Gary Dinges named the visual one of the best of 2020. The clip was nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards, and won two including Best R&B Video & Video of the Year. The visual was nominated for four UK Music Video Awards, and won Best Pop Video – International.
The Weeknd performed "Blinding Lights" for the first time on December 6, 2019 during The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a day after he performed "Heartless" on the same show. He brought a neon-lit cube with mirrored walls to the stage to sing through his brand new single. Filmed in black and white and from different perspectives on the stage, The Weeknd made the most of his mirror-cube before stepping outside of it to face the crowd. They sang the chorus of the track back to him, and some members of the audience raised mirrors of their own to flash The Weeknd's glow right back on him.
The song was performed on January 22, 2020 at Jimmy Kimmel Live!. The performance picked up right where the "Blinding Lights" visual left off, as the Weeknd remained in the red suit and his face was still bloodied with a bandage over his nose from the beatdown he vaguely remembered in the music video. He bounced around the stage for the lively performance, as thunderbolts and lightning strikes at his back filled the darkness in the venue. Appearing once again in a red suit, black gloves and bloody-faced with a bandage over his nose, he performed the single alongside "Scared to Live" on Saturday Night Live on March 7, 2020.
"Blinding Lights" received a special performance during "The Weeknd Experience", an augmented reality, interactive livestream held on TikTok on August 7, 2020. It featured 3D visuals and several interactive components, including virtual back-up dancers appearing behind The Weeknd, who also traveled through hyperspace in a red convertible, surrounded by lasers in the virtual world. The Weeknd kicked off the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards with "Blinding Lights", described in advance as a “keyed-up, dazzling” showcase. He performed a rooftop version of his hit single from the observation deck at 30 Hudson Yards in Manhattan, New York City, complete with a background of fireworks.
The single was also performed live in the 2020 Time 100 primetime event and the Z100 Jingle Ball of 2020.
The Weeknd performed "Blinding Lights" as the closing track for the Super Bowl LV halftime show. On the field, he was surrounded by hundreds of Weeknd-alike dancers. In the beginning, he moved with them in lock step. But as the song swelled, and the dancers began to swarm in odd patterns, the Weeknd moved in his own rhythm, holding the camera’s gaze, alone amid the chaos
A remix of the song featuring Spanish singer and songwriter Rosalía was released on December 4, 2020, six hours after its announcement to celebrate the first year since the release of the solo version of the song, which was named "the best-selling song of the year" by Billboard the day before. A lyric video featuring behind-the-scenes footage of the single's photoshoot was released the same day.
Starting from October, both artists started to comment on each other's social media posts. In November, some insiders reported that a "Save Your Tears" remix featuring the Spanish singer would be released on the 20th. This, however, never happened. However, on December 1, another insider reported that a duet version of "Blinding Lights" would be released on December 4. Both artists shared a picture of them on set a couple hours prior to the single's release without specifying the project.
YouTube metal cover artist, Leo Moracchioli, released a version in April 2020 playing all instruments and the vocals himself. On July 1st, 2020, quintet vocalist group Pentatonix released a video for their rendition of "Blinding Lights." In the clip, the group is seen in their respective homes. On July 3, 2020, Christine and the Queens released her studio cover of "Blinding Lights". "Her version is an emotive yet airy rendition. The artist's pillowy voice glides effortlessly no matter the heights", Consequence of Sound editor Lake Schatz stated. London Grammar covered "Blinding Lights" at the BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge, backed by piano and guitar players.
In popular culture
The intro to "Blinding Lights" has been used in a TikTok choreographed dance challenge known as the "Blinding Lights Challenge". It was used to promote Super Bowl LV, and featured as the theme song for WrestleMania 36. "Blinding Lights" appears on the NBA 2K21 video game soundtrack. The song is also featured on the dance rhythm game, Just Dance 2021. The song was also featured on Fortnite's Joy Ride update via Fortnite Radio. Backstreet Boy AJ McLean and Cheryl Burke danced the jive to the song on the premiere of Dancing with the Stars.
The song's first official remix features vocals from Chromatics and is included in the original deluxe edition of After Hours and the remix EP After Hours (Remixes). A second official remix by Major Lazer was released on April 15, 2020. An unofficial remix by W&W was released on July 2, 2020. A third official remix with Rosalía was released on December 4, 2020.
Credits adapted from the Weeknd's official website and Tidal.
- The Weeknd – songwriting, vocals, production, programming, keyboards, bass, guitar, drums
- Belly – songwriting
- Jason Quenneville – songwriting
- Max Martin – songwriting, production, programming, keyboards, bass, guitar, drums
- Oscar Holter – songwriting, production, programming, keyboards, bass, guitar, drums
- Shin Kamiyama – engineering
- Cory Bice – engineering assistant
- Jeremy Lertola – engineering assistant
- Sean Klein – engineering assistant
- Serban Ghenea – mixing
- John Hanes – engineering for mixing
- Dave Kutch – mastering
- Kevin Peterson – mastering
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