The Weeknd’s third album Starboy marks his transformation from the mysterious singer who anonymously posted his mixtapes online to a mainstream star. The Weeknd’s uncomfortable relationship with fame is explored in this album where he mourns the loss of his former self, similar to his previous album The Beauty Behind The Madness. But in Starboy, the Weeknd removes himself from his past, moving to a new persona, the ‘Starboy’ – a slang term for celebrity. The Weeknd’s signature dark tone is maintained in this album, though with a distinctly more electronic and pop sound.
I first listened to the Weeknd, real name Abél Tesfaye, after his mixtapes House of Balloons and Thursday were out, later followed by Echoes of Silence. The mixtapes transported the listener into a psychedelic world with a strong dark and moody tone, and Tesfaye created a new genre of music that was emulated by other artists. The Weeknd seems to have distanced himself from his distinctly darker sound, and instead Starboy can be seen as the Weeknd’s evolution to a more futuristic and electronic sound with perhaps more autotune in some songs like ‘Party Monster’ and ‘Sidewalks’ than I would have liked.
The album begins with the title track ‘Starboy’, a collaboration with Daft Punk, that sets off the more electronic sound of the album. The music video opens with the ‘new’ Weeknd suffocating the ‘old’ eccentric-haired Weeknd in a plastic bag in a bid to kill his old self. The ‘new’ Weeknd uses a neon red cross to break his awards and platinum discs on his wall from The Beauty Behind The Madness, and seems to revel in the destruction, dancing on the broken glass of the awards. The Weeknd lists off luxury sports cars in ‘Starboy’ but material wealth and fame are not fulfilling enough and he points the blame at the commercial audience ‘Look what you’ve done, I’m a motherfuckin’ starboy’ for this empty and hollow fame. There is a new sense of freedom and added funk to this album, with a more care-free and open Abél. Despite his criticism of the hollowness of fame, the magazine-like album cover seems to suggest he is embracing his new epitaph ‘Starboy’. Gone are the days in The Beauty Behind The Madness where he was chased by the devil who symbolised the torment of fame. The track itself has a rhythmic and vibrant thumping drum beat, and like the Black Panther in his music video, it symbolises a rebirth for the Weeknd and removing the enigmatic aura that has shrouded his persona.
The Weeknd’s Starboy album is in many ways a continuation of the Weeknd’s sound found in his mixtapes. In ‘Reminder’ the lyrics ‘I just won a new award for a kids show, Talking ‘bout a face numbing off a bag a blow, I’m like goddamn bitch I am not a Teen Choice, Goddam bitch I am not a bleach boy’ detail the Weeknd’s worldwide success from ‘Can’t Feel My Face’. This newfound fame has not changed his drug habits or himself and has led the Weeknd to an awkward position where his songs are listened to by the masses, including children but with lyrics laced with references to drugs and women, usually reserved to more edgy underground music. ‘Six Feet Under’ and ‘Love To Lay’ likewise incorporate aspects of his past mixtapes and albums and continues the fast-paced beat in the background matched with the Weeknd’s soothing and melodic voice. These songs are my favourites on Starboy and slow down the album to include more of the Weeknd’s soft and mellow singing, intertwining an upbeat baseline.
‘Rockin’ and ‘Secrets’ maintain this new more electronic and synth sound, with ‘Secrets’ a more pop-sounding track and bouncy beat that is reminiscent of Michael Jackson, a noticeable influence on the Weeknd. ‘Sidewalks’ begins with a sharp electric guitar and soft acoustic vocals in the background with the pace quickened to match Kendrick Lamar’s rap on his rise from poverty to fame. Other notable collaborations include Future on ‘All I Know’, Daft Punk on ‘I Feel It Coming’ and Lana Del Rey on ‘Stargirl Interlude’. Starboy is a continuation of the Weeknd’s experimentation with different sounds, incorporating an electronic sound with his signature dark and drug-fuelled lyrics.
This album can never capture the dark and sombre world that the Weeknd managed to create with his mixtapes. But Starboy is not the Weeknd’s attempt to continue his ‘old’ sound,.Instead, a ‘new’ Weeknd with a more dance-filled and vibrant sound has emerged, whilst maintaining the themes of drugs, women and emptiness, from previous albums.