The Weeknd – Starboy (Universal)
“Look what you’ve done, I’m a motherf--kin’ starboy.” So goes the chorus to the Daft Punk-produced title track of The Weeknd’s new album. What have we done, exactly, by showering Abel Tesfaye with awards and adulation while singing along? He’ll tell us himself: we’ve enabled a drug-addled misogynist mired in modern Kardashian consumerism, while moaning that he needs “a girl who will really understand.” Starboy—supposedly a concept album about the emptiness of fame—just comes up plain empty. Oh, and the title? Presumably it was deemed more palatable than Bitch, Get Out of My Bed—which would have been much more accurate.
Tesfaye has played this bad boy since the beginning, with varying degrees of either ambiguity or the notion that he’s purposely embodying some kind of sexual supervillain. His breakthrough smash, 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness, was sequenced so that the loathsome narrator who begins the album is seeking some kind of redemption by the end. That record’s biggest single, “Can’t Feel My Face,” had all ages gleefully singing along with an ode to cocaine; the song was so good that no one cared about the death-cult cartels Tesfaye appears to be propping up single-handedly. “Tell Your Friends” was nothing short of vile, lyrically—but, hey, that groove! And surely being invited to Beyoncé’s Lemonade stand should get him some feminist cred, no?
The benefit of the doubt has now disappeared—something Tesfaye owns up to almost immediately, on “Reminder”: “I just won a new award for a kids show / Talking ’bout a face numbing off a bag of blow … You know me / Every time we try to forget who I am / I’ll be right there to remind you again.”
So he does, on a plodding 18-song odyssey that plays out as a litany of man’s inhumanity to womankind, what his mentor Drake would call “worst behaviour.” The proud pussy-grabber goes on (and on and on) about bitches who dare to want something more from him; when he pauses to call out one lover’s promiscuity on “False Alarm,” the irony is more than a bit rich. I’d love to cheer on anyone who went “from homeless to Forbes list,” but here he’s just an A-list asshole. The cheeriest moment on the entire record is when he dies in a car crash while being fellated in the driver’s seat, singing, “This ain’t no ordinary life.” Good riddance, buddy.
Even the pop thrills of the last album have largely evaporated, despite the presence of Daft Punk, Max Martin and others. The catchiest song (“Secrets”) lifts directly from ’80s hits by the Romantics and Tears for Fears. This isn’t the second coming of Michael Jackson; it’s warmed-over R. Kelly, complete with all the requisite creepy moral quandaries. If he’d retreated to the mysterious vibes of his earliest mixtapes that would be one thing, but Starboy is innocuous pop and R&B that falls far, far behind the ever-higher standards of the genre he himself helped reinvent. Even worse, while his captivating voice can usually do a lot of necessary heavy lifting, the excessive AutoTune heard here bleeds his natural talent. All of which makes it even harder to excuse the juvenile revenge porn he’s still peddling—sounding even more pathetic the older he gets.
See ya later, Starboy. Have fun playing private parties for Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi in the new White House—because it’s 2017, motherf--ker.
Stream: “Rockin’,” “Secrets,” “Sidewalks” feat. Kendrick Lamar