The Weeknd falls down rabbit hole with ‘Starboy’

Republic Records/Courtesy
The Weeknd Starboy | XO/Republic Records
Grade: D

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By trying to fix something that wasn’t broken, The Weeknd, real name Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, breaks it all with Starboy — our hearts, our ears and his soul. Somewhere amid the 18 tracks, we lose The Weeknd, and The Weeknd loses us. But rather than heading off into the elusive darkness he’s known for, The Weeknd falls off the edge and drags us down with him.

Though innovation is key in the music industry, The Weeknd’s Starboy is an experiment gone awry. Something in the lab malfunctioned, and instead of gold, we got a rusty mess that even Kendrick Lamar couldn’t save through his feature on “Sidewalks.” 10 tracks too long, Starboy bids farewell to The Weeknd’s best selling point (his sensuality) as he  throws himself into a murky arena of pop despite R&B’s current growing success. An artist once grouped with the likes of Frank Ocean and Miguel now attempts to take a seat next to rappers like Future — who’s featured on a throwaway track, “All I Know.” But while Future’s autotuned tracks sound cohesive, The Weeknd constantly fights against the beat, creating clamor instead of rhythm. “Party Monster” should be an advertisement for GarageBand, not a studio-produced track.

But what’s most confusing is why a man with a voice like honey needs any digital help to begin with. Though artists like Chief Keef and T-Pain — the latter of whom can also sing surprisingly well — use autotune as a signature, The Weeknd has no reason to do so. In fact, many of the autotune-heavy songs on Starboy, such as “Sidewalks,” would sound infinitely better stripped down. Given that his live performances almost mirror — if not supersede — his albums, it’s clear that his vocal talent is beyond impressive, and he has already proven that he’s capable of climbing the charts while maintaining his originality. The fame he mentions in “Starboy” came from his mysterious, intimate tracks from House of Balloons and Beauty Behind the Madness. It doesn’t make sense to play in an overly saturated pool with half the talent when he’s already winning plaques as is.

Fans wanted to see growth, not confusion, but maybe he’s too jaded to give anything more.

Slower songs like “Reminder,” which is reminiscent of his past albums, should have drawn old fans in, but rather feel like stale deadweight — overusing the same trite themes of philophobia and  rise to fame for the umpteenth time. Perhaps instead of creating new sounds, The Weeknd should have created new content. When you sell yourself as a man of mystery, there needs to be more than the coked-out girls in “False Alarm” slapped onto a beat that sounds like it belongs in the chaotic “White Rabbit” episode of “Misfits” — a much better usage of videography than The Weeknd’s pathetic attempt in his short film “Mania”, featuring songs from the album.

Though a few tracks such as  “Ordinary Life” and “Attention” seem passable in their authenticity, a majority of the album feels like a Jackson Pollock painting gone wrong — a bunch of different ideas that come together for a second, and then seem like polar opposites again. There are too many sounds and too little meaning, even in “Rockin’” — his failed but best attempt at making the conglomeration work. The first half of the album dives into heavy beats, fast rhythms and Michael Jackson-inspired tunes while the latter half sounds more like what The Weeknd fans miss — slower and sensual. It’s almost as if half of the album is directed toward radio stations as a desperate plea for more airtime, and the other half is what The Weeknd actually intended to do. Sadly, the only cohesive aspect of the album is the obsolete lyrics, lyrics which used to be covered by his impressive, raw vocal abilities but are now out in the open for all to critique.

“Starboy” itself may have climbed the charts, but Starboy in its entirety will likely be buried among better examples of growth such as Blonde or “Awaken, My Love!”.

Contact Ilaf Esuf at [email protected].