A talented star growing dim
The Weeknd’s most recent release sounds scripted and uninspired
Dec. 4, 2016
The Weeknd’s hair is a star of its own. It rises up into a large, flowering entanglement, sitting on top of his round face like leaves sprouting from a pineapple. When asked by the Rolling Stone about the inspiration for his famous dreads, Abel Tesfaye, better known as the Grammy-winning artist The Weeknd, replied, “I want to be remembered as iconic and different.”
While it’s too early to declare his status as a music icon, his deviation from the pop culture norm is apparent. He prefers a stoic stare over an infectious smile, and he avoids interviews like the plague. His music is rooted in sounds and subject matters that are much darker than those of most pop music. He is the black sheep of his peers. However, The Weeknd recently chopped off his dreads for a much tamer look. And with his newest album Starboy, it appears he cut his artistic creativity and ambition along with it.
The Weeknd’s compilation album Trilogy, composed of his three 2011 mixtapes, is one of my all-time favorites. The heavy sounds and deep textures on the album were moody, lustful, and incredibly addictive. The transitions and pumping bass made the album feel deeply sexual and hedonistic. And this was without even taking into account the lyrics themselves, which were in the same vein. His stories of drugged-out escapades and the drowsy mornings that followed warned of experiences both enticing and dangerous. It was a cohesive work of deceiving complexity that paints images of the ecstatic times that we both dream of having and yet, fear will be too painful to live through.
Five years later comes Starboy, which is boring, lethargic, and uninspired. Songs such as “Rockin’” and “Secrets” sound as if a collection of Hollywood producers decided that The Weeknd should become a depressed version of Bruno Mars. “False Alarm” is a techno nightmare with a chorus that makes your heart race from anxiety. Even the title track “Starboy,” the biggest pop hit on this album, is only mildly catchy, and it feels half-assed when compared to his chart-topping songs of the past. There is certainly diversity on this album, but most of the songs are of such low quality that even artistic risk cannot be used as a valid justification.
Starboy’s brightest moments appear on songs featuring other artists. “Stargirl Interlude” features a stunning duet with Lana Del Rey with beautiful backing sounds. “Sidewalks” introduces well-placed guitar work alongside an awesome verse from Kendrick Lamar. “Six Feet Under” is a sexy song dripping with autotune from The Weeknd and Future — very reminiscent of the duo’s smash hit “Low Life” released earlier this year. These moments are few and far between, and while they are fairly successful on their own, they are unable to transform Starboy into a well-rounded album like those produced in The Weeknd’s early career.
The biggest concern that I have with this album is The Weeknd’s lack of artistic direction and how it will affect his future work. Will he push forward into new territory of unexplored sounds? Or will he retreat into the formula that made him and his music so unique? Right now, he appears to be caught at the crossroads, and until he decides how to proceed, I’m afraid his music will continue to sound as ingenuine and fragmented as it does on Starboy.