Rising from the streets of Toronto to international stardom last year, Abel Tesfaye, better known by his stage name The Weeknd, attempts to redefine his pop image in his recent album “Starboy,” released Nov. 25.
With the album, Tesfaye sets out to emphasize that the pop culture icon he has become is not the identity he desires and traces his attempts to deviate from this image. While he may succeed lyrically, he fails to do so on a musical level.
The title “Starboy,” a Toronto-Jamaican slang word that suggests a playboy lifestyle, is a reference to The Weeknd’s public image. He tries to shed the image he received from his last album, 2015’s “Beauty Behind the Madness,” notably starting by shaving his hair which figured prominently on the album cover. This was the first of many calculated moves evoked through the album and its presentation. Previously recognizable by hair that added a foot to his height, The Weeknd abandons the intricate styling for a short fade, as shown on the album cover.
In the music video for the titular song, he smashes the awards he received for “Beauty Behind the Madness.” The most explicit example of his rejection of the fame he has attained comes in the form of the song “Reminder,” in which he recounts, “I just won a new award for a kids show/ Talking ‘bout a face numbing off a bag of blow/ I’m like god d--- b----/I am not a Teen Choice.” Despite his aversion to how he has been publically characterized and his lyrically explicit reaction to it, The Weeknd fails to deliver offer an alternative image of himself.
Since 2011, The Weeknd has thematically focused on dark interpretations of party life in his songs. He continues this idea in his latest album, rapping profusely of a girl he loves but cannot accept due to her undisclosed past. The relationship starts in “Party Monster,” an ominous track that details the dubious circumstances under which he met the girl.
The nameless girl recurs throughout the album, as The Weeknd discusses aspects of her that he appreciates but also the need for her to be more emotionally available. During “Stargirl Interlude,” featured artist Lana Del Rey lyrically personifies the character, adding a dimension of reciprocity to the relationship between the mysterious woman and The Weeknd.
“I Feel It Coming,” the last song on the album, signifies that the relationship is currently in a stable phase through the pleasant EDM-influenced atmosphere on the song. The flow throughout is seamless, made all the more impressive with the array of genres featured on the album.
Pop music comprises more than half the album, featuring songs that greatly appeal to the general public. Standouts here include “Starboy,” “I Feel It Coming” and “Secrets.” The Weeknd also deviates from his typical sound by infusing EDM elements throughout the album. They are especially prominent on two tracks featuring Daft Pink, as well as in the production by electronic DJs Cashmere Cat and Diplo throughout the album.
Although this mixture creates uniquely textured songs and demonstrates The Weeknd’s genre-hopping creativity, the influence makes the album more mainstream. Furthermore, most of the songs in this category are boring, cookie-cutter songs that lack any artistic individuality; songs to blame especially include “True Colors” and “Ordinary Life,” which cause the cohesive album to have sections of utter boredom. However, the album is not without its strengths.
Almost all of these songs have captivating features that engage the listener, whether they are the ominous beginning of the relationship in “Party Monster,” the tirade against public perception in “Reminder” or the chorus backed by rapper Future in “Six Feet Under.”
This album could prove divisive for The Weeknd’s fan base, due to the various musical influences featured. Recent fans accustomed to the pop sound characteristic of “Beauty Behind the Madness” may be off put by the revival of the sound that typified “The Trilogy.” The standout songs of the album — “Sidewalks,” “Party Monster” and “I Feel It Coming” — all represent different dimensions of The Weeknd and show how much potential Tesfaye has yet to explore. While The Weeknd may not enjoy his image as a “Starboy,” his latest album has only further proved his star potential.