Song: ‘Save Your Tears’
Artist: The Weeknd & Ariana Grande
US chart peak: 1* (*boosted by the Ariana Grande ‘remix’. More on that below)
Release date: November 24, 2020 (that’s when it ‘impacted’ ‘radio’ in America)
Writers: Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Quenneville, Max Martin, Oscar Holter, Ariana Grande (on the remix)
Producers: Max Martin, Oscar Holter, The Weeknd
Quintessential Max moment: The ad-libs – “ooh girl” and “I say!” – feel precisely placed for A-grade melodic maths wonderment.
Video synopsis: Lounge singer has one last singsong before heading to the Botched studio.
THIS ENTRY WAS WRITTEN WHEN ‘SAVE YOUR TEARS’ FIRST CLIMBED INTO THE US TOP TEN IN FEBRUARY. THERE’S AN EDIT AT THE BOTTOM TO INCLUDE THE ARIANA REMIX WHICH HELPED THE SONG CLIMB TO NUMBER 1 IN APRIL. IT’S MAX’S 24th US CHART TOPPER!
So, here it is: Max’s first US top 10 of 2021 and it’s a song that was originally sort of released in August 2020, from an album that was most definitely released almost exactly a year ago (March 21, precision fans). That very fine album – ‘After Hours’ – has basically been bulldozed by the rampant success of proper gold-plated Banger ‘Blinding Lights‘, which, as I type out this missive, has been in the US top 10 for 48 weeks. FORTY-EIGHT WEEKS! FOR-TEE ATE WEEEEAKSSSS! And that’s not just flitting around the lower ends of that top 10, no, that’s with it constantly hovering around the top 5 (it’s currently at number 3), boosted by a slightly awkward Rosalia remix and, more recently, his gloriously off-kilter Super Bowl half-time show.
That 15 minute long performance – pitched somewhere between a hallucinogenic Las Vegas revue and a pandemic-ready sequel to horror film Us – also served as a shot in the arm for the album’s fourth single, ‘Save Your Tears’. For a while it looked like this delicious slice of Wham!-meets-Depeche Mode melancholia would suffer the same fate as the sax-tastic third single ‘In Your Eyes’, which was essentially trying to dance in the shadow of ‘Blinding Lights’ and only peaked at number 16 in America.
Like ‘Blinding Lights’ and ‘In Your Eyes’, ‘Save Your Tears’ leans into both The Weeknd’s penchant for shiny desolation, and his more recent love of retro-futuristic 1980s pop. Compared to those two singles, it also drops the tempo ever so slightly, augmenting the rubbery bassline and gliding synths with soft-focus acoustic guitars to create an isolated break-up ballad that feels both jaunty and jaundiced. “Take me back, ’cause I want to stay, save your tears for another day” may sound like The Weeknd baring his blackened soul but he’s also not taking any blame, with the chorus line more of a ‘get over it, are we done?’ kind of manoeuvre from someone who can’t seem to apologise without placing the blame elsewhere (“Yeah I broke your heart like someone did to mine”). But hasn’t it always been thus? What would a Weeknd song be, lyrically, without blowing itself up with the sheer force of its own gaslighting?
Musically, Max and Wolf Cousins’ Oscar Holter cloak the song in a musical outfit as sparkly as that red sequined dinner jacket that dominated the Super Bowl. Unlike most Max songs the chorus initially seems to appear without much fanfare. (In fact, maybe, it is quite Max in the way the pre-chorus is just as catchy, but anyway). Rather than being telegraphed by a sudden change in pace, or a huge melodic shift, or a completely different rhythmic pattern, the chorus simply glides along like a shiny loafer on a buffed dancefloor. That is until the 1:20 mark, when the song starts to stutter – “Save. Your. Tears. For another day” – and that icy, five-note synth riff becomes more pronounced. After the second verse, an extra line is suddenly switched in just as you think the chorus is going to land again, before the whole thing starts to crystallise and the icy shards dangle in suspended animation. “I make you cry when I run away”, The Weeknd sighs, closer to the listener suddenly. With perfect precision the chorus glides back in, only this time all those melodic pockets are further accentuated by some expert ad-libs. So we get an “ooh girl” at 3:04, followed quickly by an “I say”, with both attention-seeking moves tickling the listeners’ ears just as you think you’ve found the song’s groove. (The “say” bit reminds me of Christina Aguilera’s extended us of “say” in the Max-assisted ‘Your Body’, but maybe that’s just me).
This is now the fourth US top 10 single Max and The Weeknd have created, over three albums. Two of those – ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ and ‘Blinding Lights’ – feel like two of the defining moments in modern pop. Their collaborations have helped take The Weeknd from anonymous, friend-of-Drake blog-favourite to Super Bowl halftime show, big-as-Drake level pop star. He is, by far, the most interesting male pop star of the last half a decade, and ‘Save Your Tears’ is a shimmering highlight of a discography that’s loaded with proper, WTF personality (see this month’s ‘The Highlights’ for more detail).
Also: fuck the Grammys, lol.
EDIT: On April 22 2021 golden larynxed chanteuse Ariana Grande ‘hopped’ on the ‘track’, adding some glorious backing vocals and a whole new verse. It is, quite frankly, the aural equivalent of silk skimming a still lake. It helped the song climb to number 1 in America and finally enter the UK top 10 after bobbing about just outside for weeks on end. Does it make the song better? No. Does it make it worse? No. Is it nice to have Ariana back in Max Martin’s orbit after the ‘Position’ era? Yes.