XO / Republic Records
by Bryce Browning
The Weeknd is clearly one of the biggest artists in music today. After the momentous success of Beauty Behind the Madness, garnering him two No. 1 songs in the country and the album going triple platinum last year, Abel Tesfaye had the pop world in the grasp of his hand. It is truly remarkable that The Weeknd could even be this popular, considering his musical content has been far from easily digestible for the masses. His music mainly covers themes of excessive hard drug usage, emotionless sex with many people, and admission to being a terrible person with bad intentions.
On top of that, The Weeknd entered the music scene in 2011 with a darker, lo-fi blend of R&B and pop sounds, giving his music a sinister backdrop with his trilogy of mixtapes. The Weeknd created his own lane in pop culture as the self-accepting dark side of music, and reached the heights of fame.
On Starboy, the Dark Knight of pop makes his return with a Ben Affleck performance; extremely overhyped, plenty of flashy moments without any substance, and entirely too long to actually enjoy.
Let’s start with the most glaring problem with this album: the production. To most people, The Weeknd is the falsetto voice that reminds them of the pop powerhouses of the ‘80s like Michael Jackson and Prince. To me, that’s only half of what makes The Weeknd great; the other half is the slowed down and dissonant beats the create the platform for Abel’s voice and content to penetrate the listener. For his first three mixtapes (officially known now as The Trilogy), Tesfaye heavily used a producer named Illangelo, a fellow Canadian who came onto the scene alongside The Weeknd in 2011.
After huge success from the mixtapes, Abel bafflingly didn’t use Illangelo for the extremely underwhelming major label debut Kiss Land, but prudently brought him back into the studio for Beauty Behind the Madness. On Starboy, The Weeknd again didn’t have single song on the 18-track album with his longtime producer. Starboy relies on up-tempo production, using a multitude of EDM’s top producers like Daft Punk, Diplo, and Cashmere Cat. Individually, there’s nothing wrong with these producers’ music, but in context for The Weeknd’s sound and musical palate required to proliferate his lyrics and tone, there was no chemistry at all. What we got instead was over an hour of overproduced and inconsistent pop with lyrics that conflict against the sonic tone being presented.
Lyrically, the album unfortunately isn’t much better than the production itself. There are few highlights on the album (“Starboy,” “Reminder” and “True Colors”) where Abel brings in his signature bad boy persona in a creative or funny fashion. But throughout the 68-minute album, the majority of his lyrics come across as lazy and uninspiring. It really makes me question why he needed to release another full length project a year after Beauty Behind the Madness. Sometimes, the best thing to do as an artist is let your music sit and grow on the listener unless you actually have something new or powerful to say. Starboy is unnecessary and feels like a cheap attempt to take advantage of his fan base for money instead of making music with a purpose.
Overall, Starboy is a long and forgettable; even if you like it now, this is an album that is sure to be forgotten by this time next year. Starboy is a hollow project with enough production value to gain momentary success, but does nothing to solidify The Weeknd’s legacy or to expand his musical influence and impact.
Song You Need To Hear: "Starboy"