The Weeknd’s rise through the ranks of pop has been something to marvel at. After breaking onto the scene with his trilogy of R&B-esque mixtapes in 2011, The Weeknd, née Abel Tesfaye, managed to create something promising with his debut full-length, Kiss Land, before changing up his game entirely with its follow-up, Beauty Behind The Madness.
Beauty essentially did everything that Kiss Land didn’t, but also improved upon the things it did well. More importantly, it sent his sound toward new heights with his refined take on pop. Unapologetically candid, brooding, and of course, catchy as all hell, Beauty showed a side of The Weeknd that was only ever touched on previously.
If that album was his journey in dealing with the highs and lows of his new found fame, his new record is all about shifting the fame that has made him a superstar into becoming a full-blown monster. What results is an album that takes you on a ride from beginning to end – and when you think it’s about to slow down, it only picks back up again. That’s Starboy in a nutshell, and it’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for from the singer since his arrival.
The most intriguing part about Starboy is the fact that we didn’t know we were really waiting for this. That’s sort of par for the course when it comes to The Weeknd, though: who really expected a Billboard Hot 100 number one hit in “The Hills,” or for him to channel Michael Jackson so expertly in “Can’t Feel My Face”? Even his track, “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” took the public by surprise, but it wasn’t because people thought he didn’t have it in him – rather, his foray into mainstream pop hit hard and heavy, and the new sound helped him appeal to new audiences while still catering to old fans. Basically, it’s impossible to expect what’s hiding up The Weeknd’s sleeve, but once he unveils his impressive sleight of hand, you think, “Okay … this makes sense.”
It’s a decent quality he’s got, too, because Starboy does some pretty weird things. Take the explosive title track, for example: the album’s lead single sees a collaboration with legendary electronic dance duo, Daft Punk, but even the strangest of guest features couldn’t run the show here – it’s still Tesfaye through and through. Between “Starboy” and the second Daft Punk collab, the more laid back, “I Feel It Coming,” Starboy shines by what the guests can add to the mix without it being a distraction.
Let’s be honest, a guy like Future can have the tendency to be a bit distracting, but on his featured song, “All I Know,” he supplements The Weeknd’s airy vocals with own textbook vibe, too. Meanwhile, on one of the standouts, “Sidewalks,” verses are spit with purpose as creative Auto-Tune is drenched on vox, and Kendrick Lamar’s spot fits right at home with what’s arguably his best guest appearance of 2016. Before this, however, Lana Del Rey gets to add her pipes to the record’s interlude, and it turns Starboy into an indie-pop dream for a split second before Tesfaye brings things back down to earth.
What helped make Beauty become so accessible in the first place is the addition of world-renowned songwriters Max Martin and Savan Kotecha, who helped create the aforementioned “Can’t Feel My Face” and others. Naturally, they’re back again – obviously locked and loaded – and this time it seems as though the collabs are a little more natural.
“A Lonely Night” brings out a dancier Weeknd feel – surprisingly even more so than the Daft Punk songs – and “Ordinary Life” sports a pleasantly droning chorus with a strong beat to back it. Other than the lead single, you’ll find some future radio smashes in the 80’s pop-tinged “Secrets” and the Frank Ocean-y “True Colors” – maybe even in “I Feel It Coming” as well, which is born to be a high-school dance finale (in the best way). While there aren’t too many tracks on Starboy that are instant hits, the ones that have the potential to be will get big based on its full package – not just the hook.
Starboy is a massive album. With eighteen songs in total, it’s amazing that The Weeknd cooks up a record with this much content that includes virtually zero filler. Yeah, some songs are better than others, and you might not always be in the mood to power through the entire hour-long record, but each track can stand incredibly well on its own, and there’s not much more to ask for when it comes to pop these days.
All in all, The Weeknd has comfortably found his place in mainstream pop with Starboy – and that’s something everyone would have expected – but what makes it special is his ability to add all of these bells and whistles and come away with a record that paints a picture just as real as his mixtapes did years ago.
While The Weeknd is no stranger to making pop hits, his new album, Starboy, takes his mainstream sound up another level and out of this world.