STARBOY by The Weeknd
Genre: Alternative R&B
Favorite Tracks: “I Feel It Coming,” “Secrets,” “Stargirl Interlude”
The Weeknd’s latest release, STARBOY, plunges listeners deeper into the artist’s glamorous mysteriousness and Tumblr.-esque superficiality. In the past, the face behind the madness, Abel Tesfaye, has been branded as a sadboy pop star, an elite drug connoisseur, as the next Michael Jackson, and a “nihilist foil to Drake,” to name a few. In the digital age of over-sharing, Tesfaye’s ambiguity is what props up The Weeknd™; it’s what keeps listeners hooked on any glimpse they can get into his multi-faceted, seductive sinfulness.
The tracks “Party Monster” and “Reminder” exemplify the same night-crawler conceits we’ve seen since day one of The Weeknd — a lonely yet lucrative road he paved with “Can’t Feel My Face.” The new album refines the glossy and groovy feel of BEAUTY BEHIND THE MADNESS; Tesfaye samples moody ‘80s Pop from Tears for Fears and The Romantics on one of STARBOY’s best tracks, “Secrets,” to make the album feel like a velvety, R&B infused soundtrack to DRIVE.
To the same effect of cutting his locks earlier this year, STARBOY is an attempt at humanizing the glitzy, coke-fueled aura on which Tesfaye makes his coin. He finally unveils some of his mysteriousness with the lyrics of “True Colors,” which seek the truth about how many other guys his partner has slept with — under a problematic male gaze of approval. The emotional integrity of his slow jams, which include “Die For You” and “Nothing Without You,” falters when juxtaposed with promiscuous lyrics about coming back to his city and having sex with every girl he knows on “Reminder.” Although inconsistent, the wide array of moods on STARBOY make it Tesfaye’s most convincingly human album to date.
Admittedly, STARBOY’s features are its best traits. Two groovy Daft Punk tracks frame the album — “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming” — which are reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s infectious energy. Before Kendrick Lamar delivers a pulverizing verse on “Sidewalks,” Tesfaye presents Lana Del Rey as Stargirl, a foil to himself in the small but mighty “Stargirl Interlude.” In an interview with Pitchfork in 2015, Tesfaye commented on his relationship with Lana Del Rey, sharing, “I feel like we’ve always been talking to each other through our music. She is the girl in my music, and I’m the guy in her music.” The tiny, almost two-minute track affords STARBOY a real narrative with tension and inquiry that humanizes the album, as opposed to Tesfaye’s previous sonically pleasing yet vague lyrics.
But the elephant in the room about STARBOY is its length. Romanticized lyrics about sexual dominance and hard drugs bloat the 18 tracks with the same recycled stuffing. Directly after the intriguing narrative between Lana Del Rey and Tesfaye, editing out tracks ten through 14 would have made STARBOY more concise. Although the length of STARBOY may not have been the artist’s fault due to new streaming rules, it’s the album’s most glaring Achilles’ Heel. While STARBOY pushes Tesfaye past purposeful Tumblr. obscurity, it’s the listener’s job to weed out the most impressive tracks.