By Jamie Deliz
Published: December 7th, 2016
While channeling retro dance music and a hypnotizing, yet funky R&B-EDM mashup, The Weeknd rockets to another dimension of pop with his new album, “Starboy.”
Keeping the beat alive, the singer-songwriter transports listeners to newer, yet familiar, sounds and time periods in his 18-track effort, taking them on journeys of success, love, disaster, nostalgia, and forgiveness. Add some funk, a futuristic Daft Punk production, and those sweet, sweet vocals of his, and you’ve also got yourself a glitzy effort. However, The Weeknd appears to be stuck somewhere between the old ‘Abel Tesfaye’ and conforming to mainstream music, causing him to almost lose his way in the galaxy. But, luckily, he regains his sense of direction, allowing the album come full circle.
“Starboy,” his first single and album-opener, is pop. Yet, in true Weeknd form, it carries beautiful metaphors, language, and symbolism, even if it pertains to his cars and other new-found riches. He sings, “Switch up my style, I take any lane,” allowing listeners to know that he’s constantly changing his artistic and musical style, but is also successful at doing so.
And “Reminder,” a confident hip-hop-driven track, reminds listeners of just that. “Goddamn bitch I am not a Teen Choice/ Goddamn bitch I am not a bleach boy,” he sings, referring to those who label him as a sell-out. Although he’s constantly ‘switching it up,’ he wants you to know that, “You know, me/you know me/ every time you try to forget who I am/ I’ll be there to remind you again.”
The bangers, “Party Monster” and “Six Feet Under,” bring some heat this winter. “Party Monster” is dark, alluding to drugs, women, and inner-self-destruction, for which he is noted, but is carried by significant beat drops. “Six Feet Under,” featuring Future, is “Low Life’s” younger, rebellious brother. “She ain’t got time for lovin’/ Louis Vuitton her husband,” he sings, is a bit of an eye-roller, but the idea of an alluring, yet doomed woman in search of purpose, remains as one of his strongest narratives to this day, similar to the song “In The Night,” from his previous album, “Beauty Behind the Madness,” and his beautiful, old-but-gold “Twenty Eight.” However, compared to “Six Feet Under,” “Twenty Eight” is softer, and showcases Abel’s songwriting ability. We’ll just leave these two songs for the parties (and the after-parties).
“She loves everybody/Can’t you tell by the sounds? /She loves everybody/She gets off all the time,” kicks off the bridge in the slasher-film-inspired track, “False Alarm.” The Weeknd tells the story of a dangerous, self-absorbed woman who’s driven by money—“dolla, dolla bills is her only type.” This mysterious woman will ‘love’ a man for the night, and then leave him, a true devastation to the singer. His constant cheering of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” following his “false alarm” chant, along with an exciting rush and a bass drop, portrays his frustration. Yet, aurally, the chorus puts the song in the category of “boyband,” but the hauntingly beautiful humming in the end, assumingly led by Lana Del Rey, brings it up a register.
The Indie-pop talent is also featured in “Stargirl Interlude.” The two perfectly-paired artists worked together in “Beauty Behind the Madness,” on the captivating song, “Prisoner.” A break in the effort, “Stargirl” serves as a resting point to the next stop on this journey.
Nodding to new wave music, songs like “Rockin’,” “Secrets,” “Die For You,” “Love To Lay,” “I Feel It Coming” featuring Daft Punk, and “A Lonely Night” ring those nostalgic ’80s bells, while evoking a more romantic feel as well.
“A Lonely Night,” and “I Feel It Coming,” the final track on the album— songs that sound very-much-so like Michael songs (with the constant ‘baby girl’ calls and gyrating noises)—are enhanced by synthesizers. “A lonely night/ baby girl I loved you on a lonely night,” he confesses. “Die For You” applies to anything, in this case: his career, his fans, or the woman he loves, and that’s the beauty of the song. It’s also probable that The Weeknd is paying his respects to another one of his inspirations, Prince, by titling his song after the music icon’s, “Die 4 U.”“Starboy” isn’t a ‘copycat’ album; rather, it is one that praises his music icons.
However, that’s not the only thing that turns back time.
“Girl come show me your true colors/ paint me a picture with your true colors/ there are the questions of a true lover,” he suggestively sings in his soothing R&B track, “True Colors.” Here, along with “Nothing Without You” (a personal favorite), “Attention,” and “All I Know,” featuring Future, he’s sticking to his roots, even if he cut off those signature locks of his. Significantly, though, he’s channeling ‘Abel,’ the artist die-hard fans love. “All I Know” is extremely similar to “The Zone” featuring Drake, in their introductions. The Weeknd’s stunning, yet delicate background vocals invite listeners, while almost putting them in a dream.
The Weeknd knows who he works well with: Lana and Future, for instance. Featuring progressive rapper Kendrick Lamar, now, gives the album more of an edge. “Sidewalks” is an ode to The Weeknd’s upbringing—a ‘thanks’ to the streets that raised him. In turn, it’s a more humbling track to that of “Starboy” and “Reminder.” “Every time you see me pulling up in Aventadors/ Just know we been grinding on them sidewalks,” he sings. Auto-tune plays a part in the chorus, but it doesn’t necessarily mask his vocals.
“Ordinary Life” exposes his true feelings and regrets about his drug-use and his party-going lifestyle. Death is inevitably the focus of the song, but it’s more than just death; it’s about trying to overcome the sins in his life. He personifies ‘heaven’ as a woman, ultimately comparing it to sex. The oxymoronic, “Heaven in her mouth/got a hell of a tongue,” is the intro, following, “I can feel her teeth when I drive on a bump.” One would assume that he’s talking about suicide in “Paid for the life that I chose/ If I could, I’d trade it all/ Trade it for a halo,” but it’s about life after death, and the final judgment. He wishes he could trade it all for the righteous life. “Ordinary Life” is the most beautifully and genius-written track on “Starboy.” Furthermore, it’s as if he’s telling his fans that his new musical direction is a step toward ‘forgiveness.’ The following tracks, “Nothing Without You,” “All I Know,” and “Die For You,” can be considered dedications to the fans who’ve followed him for all these years. And, when you listen to it in that order, it makes sense.
With a great production, a great choice in features, and a great sense of stylistic song-writing, The Weeknd remains true to himself, diving into his noteworthy sounds and themes, while also placing his talents in other genres. He’s honest in his success in the industry, and shows much appreciation to his music inspirations and, of course, fans.
So, before you say anything negative about him or jump to conclusions, give the album a good listen.
To put it simply, “Starboy” is out of this world.