Toronto native, neo-soul, pop and r&b sensation and worker for Universal Music Group and Republic Records, alternative singer The Weeknd (Abél Tesfaye) has a heart that goes on this season of festivities in large part because he has submitted himself to his major labels who in turn are presenting him how they alone want on many of the most viewed entertainment platforms in the world. Much like his last two studio albums, Kiss Land and Beauty Behind The Madness, his new third issue, Starboy, features some new guests – Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar and Future, with a returning Lana Del Rey – but mostly continues Tesfaye’s lime-lit streak of bruised love ballads over contemporary, proven-successful feeling-jerkers. Weeknd’s emotional vocals on typical mainstream topics founder not once in terms of their expressed goal and to the pleasure of his bosses, but let us see if there is more to Starboy than meets the eye and ear.
The slow burners and bopping poppers of Starboy offer a little variety, as these enrapturing musics have been assembled by producer-“experts” of the industry. The result is twofold. Unsuspecting listeners will be drawn into the magic instantly, but once made aware, fans will discover Tesfaye is not the only person behind Starboy’s enchanting, enveloping qualities. Daft Punk assist in the intro/title-song, but it becomes very clear soon in, to the wise, that it’s back to promiscuous meaningless sex, hard drugs, especially cocaine, big boy toys and some flawed personality for The Weeknd. All the moving pop and danceable rhythms are there to soften the blow of Tesfaye’s hot-messiness. Coke shows up at the party again in “Reminder,” and at this point it’s like how many of us can afford to live the wild and reckless lifestyle the Weeknd sings about here?
If there is something nice to say about all this, it’s that Tesfaye has executed properly with his talented voice, in fulfilling his record contract duties of course. The album is one track minded on love though. In addition to romance and his rockstar doings, the Weeknd should sing about some social issues, two or three at least, but oh my, the narrowly set agenda of Republic and Universal just can’t have that happen, goodness no! And don’t think this is something greatly different just because it is tagged by Tesfaye’s XO pseudo-imprimatur. If there is a range of themes, they are only within the context of relationships, girls and pastime wiles. “True Colors” subjects the ladies to loyalty testing and betrayal suspicions, “Six Feet Under” permits females to become independent partying material girls, “Ordinary Life” has Tesfaye nurturing his major label-given, fame-soaked, money-drenched celebrity dream state, “All I Know” with Future lets the boys treat women like things and right after that, “Die For You” attempts to get the girls’ trust back. “I Feel It Coming” serves as Starboy’s sappy happy ending.
You may think Starboy is some different unique LP because media heads in the last few years have painted this picture of The Weeknd as being a rogue, boundary-blurring artist. His voice is up to the job and the production is polished, but in reality, The Weeknd as a brand is just another configuration of the machine’s pop artist prototype, another product line with very minor alterations. Quality sounds but with superficial unadmirable lyrical content. It may be the only one, but there is one line in the mix that is interestingly true and thought-provoking. In “Love To Lay,” the chorus goes, “she loves to lay, it’s all a game, I learned the hard way.” Intriguing stuff for whoever was told that women don’t like sex. For the most part though unfortunately, Starboy just does not leave the established framework that the mega pop industry has monumented for the purpose of swaying and directing popular thought. Starboy is just what the regrettably powerful people who control big rich record companies want us to absorb. They want us to think this is the ultimate experience in music today when it is not. So, is there more to Starboy that is good than what meets the eye and ear? No.