The Weeknd Aims Big on ‘Starboy’
Canadian R&B standout The Weeknd returns with a massive, urban-pop effort (Starboy) that offers something for a variety of listeners.
Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, took a risk on his third studio album, Starboy. He dropped the highly anticipated new LP on Black Friday. While most labels avoid Thanksgiving week for new releases, issuing Starboy at a questionable time showcases how his star has risen. His sophomore album Beauty Behind the Madness was a huge commercial success, earning him two Grammys. Undoubtedly, The Weeknd expects more big things from Starboy, a big urban-pop effort meant to appeal to numerous audiences.
Promo single “Starboy,” featuring Daft Punk, kicks off the album sensationally. The Weeknd flaunts his high-pitched voice in all its distinctive, beautiful glory. Even so, he packs a punch with his toughness, referencing cocaine and being profane, most notably on the chorus. Ultimately, “Starboy” is a catchy, well-produced record oozing in swag.
“Party Monster” keeps the celebration afloat, without finding The Weekend digging deep. shallow, within the first verse, he references the [stripper] pole, drinks, and sex. Also, familiar to The Weeknd, he goes on to reference popping pills. Even as he eschews depth and embraces shallower things, “Party Monster” is fun and somewhat tamer than previous singles in this vine.
“False Alarm” has incited something of a “love it or hate it” reaction from folks. A bomb on the Billboard Hot 100, this hybrid cut of sorts doesn’t do it for everyone. The record has an edgy, biting, rock quality. He’s most aggressive on the refrain where he screams, shouting the most cliché lyric ever – repeated “heys.” Those who criticize the record overlook the theme in their derision – a gold-digging girl. That said, shallowness is nothing new to him, so it doesn’t sound brand new here.
He continues to spit mad game on the chill, enjoyable “Reminder.” The most eyebrow raising lyrics hail from the first verse, where The Weeknd seems surprised by the reaction to megahit “Can’t Feel My Face”:
“I just won a new award for a kids show / talking ‘bout a face numbing off a bag a blow / I’m like god damn b*tch I am not a Teen choice / God damn b*tch I am not a bleach boy.”
In addition to the hard-hitting lyrics, the soulful bass line is highlighting feature.
“Rockin’” is something of an updated Michael Jackson record, with a dash of shallowness (“This liquor got me crazy, mixed with that Adderall”). The electronic cues aren’t far-fetched from house music. Hence, “Rockin’” should appeal to dance, pop, and urban audiences. Game- or life-changing it’s not, but catchy AF. Follow-up “Secrets” is the more ambitious dance joint of the two, sampling The Romantics and Tears For Fears.
“True Colors” arrives timely, slackening the pace after two rollicking dance tracks. For contemporary R&B fans, this moment marks a return to form The Weeknd. Those who enjoy “The Hills” or “Wicked Games” should be onboard. Interestingly, “True Colors” is one of the least profane songs of his career. Even without f-bombs, it’s effective.
Lana Del Rey is reunited with The Weeknd on the somewhat bizarre “Stargirl Interlude.” “Stargirl” is quickly forgotten thanks to “Sidewalks” featuring the ubiquitous Kendrick Lamar. “Sidewalks” doesn’t earn the distinction of being the best song from Starboy – that’s likely the title track or closer – but it is one of the more intriguing listens. The Weeknd is brutally honest here, showcasing the utmost authenticity:
“Homeless to Forbes List, these n*ggas bring no stress / I feel like Moses, I feel like I’m chosen.”
As for K-Dot, he’s on autopilot, rapping with incredible agility.
On “Six Feet Under,” the girl whom The Weeknd sings about wants money at any cost:
“Six feet under she gon get that f*cking paper.”
Future guests on this record, but takes a minimalist role. Slickly produced, “Six Feet Under” is in line with hip-hop and modern R&B. Vocally, The Weeknd sounds as tender as ever, yet still packs a punch.
“Love to Lay” returns to the conversation to sex, a topic that plays to The Weeknd’s sensibilities. In this case, he doesn’t portray himself as the horny party, rather his girl.
“Cause she loves to lay / I learned the hard way / she loves to lay, I’m all to blame / I learned the hard way.”
“A Lonely Night”
This mid-tempo joint portrays her as the culprit of shallowness, much like a love for money on “Six Feet Under.” On “A Lonely Night” – a song about a one-night stand – he reclaims his swagger after previously being the victim of unrequited love (“Baby girl I loved you on a lonely night / it was the only time / and if I led you on then I apologize”). The production remains top-notch, with The Weeknd on fire.
“Attention” slackens the pace, dampening the high-strung energy on the verses. By the chorus, the commanding, high-pitched tenor sound ripe as ever. On “Ordinary Life,” he references his sins as well as potential repercussions. The first verse in particular is familiar territory, given an explicit reference to fellatio…in the car. Beyond verse one, he’s less crude. He’s not so much repentant as honest about his lifestyle.
“Nothing Without You” embraces the urban contemporary sound to the nth degree. It’s lush in sound and lethargic in pace. Despite the slow tempo, The Weeknd remains enthusiastic as he professes his love:
“I was too busy tryna find you with someone else / the one I couldn’t stand, to be with was myself.”
“I Feel It Coming”
The mysterious, enigmatic “All I Know” brings Future back. This go-round, he gets his own verse, laden with profanity and barely decipherable rhymes. Penultimate joint “Die For You” is beautifully sung, while gem “I Feel It Coming” (featuring Daft Punk) closes Starboy exquisitely. “I Feel It Coming” dons a pop-soul sensibility, while The Weeknd deservedly earns MJ comparisons. His subtlety and eschewal of profanity bode well here.
How does Starboy stack up? All in all, it is a worthwhile, enjoyable album. That said, Starboy is too long in duration. Had The Weeknd trimmed the album, it would’ve been more effective. While he doesn’t cover new ground on album three, there is something for everybody. A classic? No, but successful overall.
Gems: “Starboy,” “Party Monster,” “False Alarm,” “True Colors,” “Sidewalks” & “I Feel It Coming”
The Weeknd • Starboy • Republic • Release: 11.25.16
Photo Credit: Republic