The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) is one of those rare talents that seemingly comes out of nowhere before entrancing you with his original and consistently striking music. He suddenly appeared on the music scene in 2010 with a series of mixtapes – eventually packaged as the compilation Trilogy in 2012 – before releasing his first studio album, 2013’s Kiss Land. It was his 2015 album, Beauty Behind The Madness, though, that took him to the next level with singles like the catchy “Can’t Feel My Face” and thought-provoking “The Hills.” His career was on a sharp rise, so it came as quite the shock when he pulled out of a tour with Rihanna last spring. The rest of the world my not have gotten it, but he sure knew what he was doing. He was ready to move on to his next great album, Starboy.
His new album is his third in only four years, and it includes a generous 18 tracks. And impressively, none of that is filler.
Starboy introduces new styles for The Weeknd, and its clear 1980s inspiration is a great look on him. He’s taken cues from icons like Michael Jackson, Prince, and David Bowie. With Starboy, The Weeknd has mastered the slick pop sound. He had a little help from the likes of Daft Punk and ever-vintage Lana Del Rey.
Starboy starts and ends with earworm collaborations with Daft Punk. The title track and first single, “Starboy,” has already been strong on the charts, and promo single “False Alarm” is perhaps the most rock The Weeknd has gone on a song yet. “Rockin’” and “Secrets” are back-to-back highlights on the album, both – but especially the latter – deserving to become a future single. Both find The Weeknd showing off his vocal prowess as he stretches his voice into new registers and emotions. On first listen, you may even mistakenly think there’s a guest artist singing his parts. Whereas “Rockin’” has a peppy energy and disco styled vocals, “Secrets” takes the best of the ‘80s and puts into the best mid-tempo ballad we’ve heard all year.
The Weeknd’s good friend, Lana Del Rey, also appears on the album. She sang in “Prisoner” on Beauty Behind The Madness, and she reprises her collaboration in the short but memorable “Stargirl Interlude”. She also has a part in “Party Monster,” which she co-wrote. Other collaborators include Kendrick Lamar and Future.
The album closes strongly with two more standouts. “Die For You” is a mid-tempo love song that’s not as dire as the title suggests. “I Feel It Coming” is Starboy’s second collaboration with Daft Punk, and the more memorable of the two. It’s perhaps The Weeknd’s most feel-good song yet, as catchy as it is joyous. It’s also set to be the next single, deservedly so.
Starboy had much to live up to in its predecessor.
Beauty Behind The Madness was among the best albums of 2015, and The Weeknd should be proud to have one of the best albums of 2016, too. Even with a generous, 18-song tracklist, Starboy is a tight, concise, and thoroughly enjoyable album for fans of all genres. Whether you’re into R&B, hip-hop, rap, pop, or rock, his consistent quality and intrigue make him a good listen for any music fan. Starboy will surely be an album that we can enjoy for decades to come.
Track by Track
“Starboy” (feat. Daft Punk) – The album opens with its title track and first single, one of two songs that features Daft Punk. “Starboy” finds The Weeknd boasting about his recent successes, playing up that he’s the best at what he does and bragging about his many exotic cars. But it’s not all good times and swagger. The Weeknd implores, “Look what you’ve done” – to himself or to the fans that propelled him to fame is unclear. But he laments the dark side of the fame he so desired. Heavenly “ah ah ah” interjections in the chorus background soften the dark tone of the lyrics.
“Party Monster” – Recently released as a promo single (along with “I Feel It Coming”), “Party Monster” was co-written with Lana Del Rey. She also has sings later in the track, before reappearing on “Stargirl Interlude.” “Party Monster” furthers the dark mood, describing a troubled person caught up in a shallow lifestyle. The ’80s styled music creates a perfect hazy, paranoid backdrop. Unfortunately, this is a weaker song on the album, in part because of its repetitive, repeated chorus.
“False Alarm” – An exciting track fans got to hear before Starboy‘s release, “False Alarm” also got a music video back in September. “False Alarm” is an energetic, addictive song, and one of the best on the album. The verses are mysterious, but then The Weeknd lets out a primal scream and lets the song rock out, punctuated by “hey hey hey” chants. It’s the most punk song we’ve heard from The Weeknd, so rock fans will surely enjoy “False Alarm.” The song ends with hypnotic vocals, a sample from Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke. The Weeknd – of Ethiopian heritage himself – has cited her as one of his favorite Ethiopian musicians.
“Reminder” – Those ending vocals on “False Alarm” fade perfectly into the tranquil music of “Reminder”. This song is a testament of The Weeknd’s success over the years – how his songs have influenced the music scene, the sometimes unexpected awards he’s won. And through all the ups and downs, he’s still here to remind you that he’s the same man we’ve known all along. It’s a relaxed, lowkey track. Though, like “Party Monster,” it is one of the weaker songs here.
“Rockin'” – One of the standouts on Starboy is certainly “Rockin.'” It’s a house track with an upbeat, island vibe. The Weeknd’s vocal progression is clear, as he takes on a different singing style and timbre in the second verse. He told Billboard about his conscious effort to explore different vocal registers, in particular on “Secrets” and “Rockin.'” This song was originally meant to be more “Vogue” inspired, and its effect is evident here. Meanwhile, The Weeknd gives “Rockin'” better groove in the chorus as he cuts the final words of each line short. It’s impossible not to rock out to “Rockin,'” and the song would do well as a future single.
“Secrets” – The best song on Starboy is “Secrets.” The song is dreamy, gorgeous, ’80s styled pop perfection. Incidentally, The Weeknd borrowed the chorus’s titular line from The Romantics’ 1983 single, “Talking In Your Sleep”. He mixed that with the music of Tears For Fears’ “Pale Shelter,” from 1982. The Weeknd transforms those two songs into a new mood on “Secrets”. On the verses, The Weeknd plays the part of a balladeer, while on the choruses he reveals the heartbreaking truth. He softly fades in each time he sings, “I hear the secrets that you keep, when you’re talking in your sleep”. What sounds like a tender love song is actually a discovery of dishonesty. “Secrets” offers the hooks, vocals, and emotion that make for great radio, and the song deserves to be a future single.
“True Colors” – “True Colors” winds it back down a notch, offering mellow, smooth R&B. The Weeknd takes the role of an understanding new boyfriend trying to get to know his new partner better. What’s in your past? Either way it doesn’t matter – he just wants to know her better and see her true colors. Communication and trust are what matter most. Keeping secrets (see above) will only result in hurt feelings. “True Colors” offers a good example of being open and honest in a relationship.
“Stargirl Interlude” (feat. Lana Del Rey) – “Stargirl Interlude” helps break up the lengthy record, and although it’s a short track, it’s memorable. Lana Del Rey is front and center, singing over quirky guitar and percussion. Halfway through, her voice soars into stratospheric territory. Finally, The Weeknd joins in, supporting her with a repeated, “I just want to see you shine, because I know you are a star, girl”. It’s a great companion track to “Starboy.”
“Sidewalks” (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – Somewhat like “Reminder,” “Sidewalks” presents listeners with a clear story of The Weeknd’s background and how he got to where he is today. This is the only song where the autotune (obvious and excessive here) becomes its own instrument, an important part that makes the song. On the second verse, Kendrick Lamar takes over with his own take on the rags to riches tale. Best line: “Too many people think they made me, well if you made me then replace me.” Touché.
“Six Feet Under” – The album takes a somewhat aggressive turn on the dark tenth track. In “Six Feet Under,” The Weeknd describes a girl with a quick-paced, risky lifestyle. She walks on the wild side, but you know what they say: Live fast, die young. But while she’s young and free, she’s willing to do what it takes to get her pay and climb her way to the top. Future appears on the track as well as “All I Know” later on.
“Love To Lay” – Track #11 returns to the slick, ’80s pop sound that The Weeknd has clearly mastered. But this time, he flips his well-known lyrical theme on its head. In contrast to “Rockin'” or “A Lonely Night,” The Weeknd is the one who fell for an unattainable woman. Instead of chasing potential lovers away on account of his wild, promiscuous lifestyle, the girl here tells him that “to love her is so crazy.” Even though he’s “been thinking about her lately,” they can be nothing more than strangers.
“A Lonely Night” – The Weeknd has drawn comparisons to Michael Jackson, but no song sounds more like the king of pop than “A Lonely Night”. Musically, vocally, and lyrically, this song takes clear influence from MJ’s hit, “Billie Jean”. “A Lonely Night” builds up a mysterious mood, particularly on its stormy chorus. The Weeknd describes a romantic encounter that was meant to be a one-time thing. He apologizes for any confusion about what their brief romance meant. When the girl wants suggests having a baby to bring them together, The Weeknd has to draw the line. “There’s nothing between us”. It’s a definite standout on Starboy.
“Attention” – Back in committed relationship mode, “Attention” finds The Weeknd working to repair a faltering partnership. He and his girlfriend have grown apart, rarely seeing each other and reduced to only rare physical encounters. “Attention” is a gentler song on Starboy.
“Ordinary Life” – Much of the album suggests the dark side of fame and his particular lifestyle, and none do so more clearly than on “Ordinary Life”. The Weeknd describes the different treatment he now gets, and he can see the irony of having a “devil on my lap and a cross on my neck”. But he’d be willing to trade his wealthy, drug-fueled life for a halo. But as he says, “She said that she’ll pray for me, I said, ‘It’s too late for me.'”
“Nothing Without You” – The 15th song on the album introduces a new perspective to the lyrical themes. Whereas other songs celebrate casual sex or express worry that his girlfriend may be cheating, this time The Weeknd is lamenting his own unfaithful behavior. He admits, “I was too busy trying to find you in someone else, the one I couldn’t stand to be with was myself”. But now that he’s made his mistakes, he sees how much he loves and needs his girlfriend. But is it too little too late?
“All I Know” (feat. Future) – Perhaps the most minimalistic and atmospheric song on the album is “All I Know”. The Weeknd describes the stigma he comes with given his fame, but he wants to assure his partner that she doesn’t have to doubt his word. The song drifts down, and just when you think it’s going to end only 3 minutes in, it picks back up again. Future boasts an extended feature here, carrying the song for another two minutes before it fades away. It’s a well-done feature that strengthens “All I Know.”
“Die For You” – After four rather gloomy tracks, “Die For You” picks it back up again. It starts with happier, more romantic music, again in the ’80s fashion. As with “Secrets” and “Nothing Without You,” we hear The Weeknd’s sweeter side here. Despite trying to find reasons to pull their relationship apart, and despite having poor communication, he now readily admits “I love you”. It’s not a simple love song though. He also acknowledges that she feels lonely and they’re going through a tough patch, he wants to work it out. She’s worth it (is that a reference to his romantic hit waltz, “Earned It”?).
“I Feel It Coming” (feat. Daft Punk) – Starboy finally comes to a close with its second Daft Punk feature, “I Feel It Coming”. It’s also set to be the next single! Perhaps the cheeriest song on the album, “I Feel It Coming” again shows us the sweeter, sensual side of The Weeknd. He softly sings over funky, flickering guitar and percussion, promising to be true to his paramour. “I Feel It Coming” is another standout on the album. It’s also a great way to end Starboy on a high note.
Highlights on Starboy include “False Alarm,” “Rockin,'” “Secrets,” “Stargirl Interlude,” “Love To Lay,” “A Lonely Night,” “Die For You,” and “I Feel It Coming.”
You can buy Starboy on iTunes now.