The Weeknd Adds New Twist to Old Formula in ‘Starboy’ yet Falls Short

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The cover art for The Weeknd's newly released LP, "Starboy," broke the Spotify record for most streams in a single day.
The cover art for The Weeknd’s newly released LP, “Starboy,” broke the Spotify record for most streams in a single day.

On Nov. 25, Grammy-award winning R&B artist The Weeknd released his latest full-length album, “Starboy.” Just one year after releasing his break-out album, “Beauty Behind the Madness,” the alternative artist, born Abel Makonnen Tesfaye, went in a different artistic direction with his new work.

The Weeknd expands upon the tonalities, sounds and subject matter that he began to experiment with on “Beauty Behind the Madness,” but does so in an unorganized way. Before “Beauty Behind the Madness,” The Weeknd saw great success in the release of his other studio LP, “Trilogy.”

“Starboy” features some of The Weeknd’s sweetest and corniest tracks, but alongside those come songs The Weeknd could produce in his sleep that once again highlight his lewd bravado.

The juxtaposition between these cliched tracks and the songs his listeners are more used to hearing serves as both a strength and a downfall. The diversity seen in the 18 songs throughout the 68-minute album is unlike anything previously released by The Weeknd, yet the inconsistency of the record makes for a bumpy ride.

With production assistance from Max Martin, Cashmere Cat, Daft Punk and Benny Blanco, and features from Future, Lana Del Rey and Sam Smith, “Starboy” offers the broadest musical palette yet for The Weeknd. When the sonics of the album work, the music is genuinely irresistible.

As much as the album aims to please with 1980s dancefloor-ready tracks, including “Rockin’” and “Secrets,” The Weeknd seems to be detached and, at points, self-destructive. These moments show that the artist dismissed the negative feedback he received after the blowout success of his previous album.

The first song on the album, “Star- boy,” was not just a statement of intent for the album, but was also the record-breaking first single from the LP. With popping, 1980s-inspired drum patterns, the song has a pop feel with a hard edge.

The second song on the album,“Party Monster,” features an undesirable amount of Auto-Tune, but it is incredibly catchy. The Weeknd’s voice is distorted in a way that works and creates a tune that will have you nodding along.

“Reminder,” the fourth song on “Starboy,” is reminiscent of The Weeknd’s talents that first grabbed our attention, with an eerie bassline and vocals that are simple yet effective. The lyrics touch upon his rise to fame and the Kids Choice Award he won for “Can’t Feel My Face,” a song about doing large amounts of cocaine.

One particularly notable track, titled “Stargirl Interlude,” is located in the middle of the record. The song features vocals from fellow singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey. Having already collaborated with The Weeknd before, on “Beauty Behind the Madness,” Lana Del Rey is a good fit for this track because she has an obscure melodrama that compliments the mood and style of The Weeknd’s music.

Equally strong is the ninth track on the album, “Sidewalks,” which features a top-notch verse from hip-hop king Kendrick Lamar and catchy vocals from Sam Smith. The beat sounds like it was made by Madlib, a legendary hip-hop producer from California and involves a laid-back guitar riff and a simple drum beat that effortlessly compliments Lamar’s verse and The Weeknd’s vocals. Although the hook is rather weak and the subtle Auto-Tune adds an element that wouldn’t be missed if it were left out, Lamar delivers another incredible verse in which he switches up his cadence and flow.

After “Sidewalks,” the album begins to disappoint. At best, The Weeknd creates memorable and formidable hooks on “Six Feet Under” and “All I Know,” but he repeats a formula listeners have heard from him in past material.

The best parts of “Starboy” are some of the strongest and most groundbreaking R&B tunes we have heard all year. The nostalgia-based approach seemingly worked for The Weeknd but did not exceed expectations. “Starboy” is far from perfect, and I have come to accept that The Weeknd will no longer make music like “House of Balloons,” but desperately clawing at different genres and inspirations feels jumbled and haphazard rather than trendsetting.

The Weeknd is undoubtedly a gifted musician and singer, but his thirst for sound-of-a-generation status may be leading him down the wrong path.

You can listen to the album below:

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Alex Levitt is the arts and entertainment editor for The PHOENIX. He was born and raised in the city of Chicago and is currently pursuing a journalism degree with a minor in photography at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. In the fall, he will be a junior, and one fun fact: He is ambidextrous.

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