“It’s good to have darkness,” The Weeknd said to Zane Lowe of Apple Music’s “Beats 1” show. “Because when the light comes, it feels so much better.”
After Grammy performances that launched a thousand swooning fangirls, the Ethiopian-Canadian sensation known as The Weeknd (Real name Abel Tesfaye) was ready for anything, including his most enticing record yet. “Starboy” is titled after a Jamaican slang term, meaning someone important and recognizable, and with this record, he cements himself as exactly that.
The Weeknd burst upon the scene in 2015 with his album “Beauty Behind the Madness.” There’s no doubt you’ve heard the catchy refrain of “I Can’t Feel My Face” or the sorrowful infidelities of “The Hills.” But before his successful debut, he was a shoplifting street kid who started smoking marijuana at 11, and continued on to hard drugs. Struggles with substance abuse continues to influence his music to this day. “Always tryin’ to send me off to rehab, all these drugs started feeling like it’s decaf,” he sings on “The Hills.”
But on “Starboy,” Tesfaye embraces his troubled past to sing around a complex character, à la Melanie Martinez on her debut, “Crybaby.” The album is so much more than just catchy pop music (which, of course, it is). It’s also a melodic mind-trip into a drug-fueled fantasy land, helmed by Lana Del Rey, Kendrick Lamar, and Daft Punk collaborations sprinkled in as stimulants.
The lead singles, “I Feel It Coming,” “Starboy” and “Party Monster,” are all wildly different examples of The Weeknd’s understanding of mood and melody. “I Feel It Coming” has Tesfaye at his most tender, crooning to his girl about taking their relationship step by step. It may be as edgy as ever, but this side of The Weeknd is rare, and seeing this sort of sensitivity is an absolute treat.
Then there’s the titular track, “Starboy,” a boastful vocal treat in which cars, women, and, of course, drugs are centerpieces. “Look what you’ve done,” he wails over a cascading fall of drums, asking the listener to recognize that they helped create his grandiose persona through fame. Tesfaye sings of having
“Hundred on the dash” and “Being close to God” in the icy way he has mastered and cements the weight of the song with the very last line before the refrain of the hook: “We don’t pray for love. We just pray for cars.”
Finally, there’s “Party Monster,” a dark party anthem about paranoia, addiction, and women. “And I seen her, get richer in the pole” he sings about the stripper he meets, who steals his heart with her “lips like Serena.” Filled with punchlines and wit, alongside reflections on the party monster lifestyle, this single may be the strongest of the bunch.
If “Beauty Behind the Madness” was the first step in cementing Abel Tesfaye’s impressive range, “Starboy” is the perfect next chapter in an exciting legacy, proving to us that The Weeknd has evolved into a force to be reckoned with in modern music.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.