Album Review: The Weeknd's 'Starboy'

Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, just released his third studio album, Starboy, last Friday. The album release was preceded by a number of promotional singles and performances, including Saturday Night Live and the American Music Awards. Just last night, Tesfaye performed “Starboy” as a returning performer at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, where he gazed upon his on-and-off (now, off?) girlfriend, Bella Hadid. He also released a short film, Mania, a beautiful production featuring some tracks such as “Sidewalks” and “Party Monster.” 

Read on for our take on the new record. If you are a fan after checking it out for yourself, catch him on his “Legend of the Fall” world tour - he’ll be in Los Angeles at The Forum on April 29 and 30 of this coming year!

Pauline: The just-released Weeknd album, Starboy, expands the artist’s voice, this time evolving into a more space-age, electropop sound combined with his famous R&B vocals and hip-hop rhymes. I am especially a fan of the collaborative efforts on this album of his, as they are with a lot of my personal favorites: Daft Punk, Lana Del Rey, and Kendrick Lamar. The album opens up with “Starboy,” an addictive song produced with Daft Punk that was essentially the hottest jam of late summer, early fall. His track with Kendrick, “Sidewalks,” intertwines a jazz groove typical of the rapper with amazing guitar, and is definitely a high point on Starboy. Paying homage to hip-hop nostalgia, Kendrick repurposes Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” as he raps “I wanna rock.”

Sophie: “Expanding the artist’s voice” is what I thought this album was going to do but failed to do. “Starboy” is essentially “Get Lucky” with Pharell replaced by The Weeknd. In this case, that’s more than welcome, as the darker atmosphere of The Weeknd’s music better captures current trends and the attitudes of club-going 20-somethings and young people who now, at least in theory, prize chasing money and status over any emotional intimacy, a pervasive theme throughout the album and mainstream pop in general.

As much as I think this album a perfectly manufactured pre-, in, and post-club mainstream electropop/hip-hop album, this album made me realize that The Weeknd doesn’t have a strong voice. He is more a singer, a face, a hairstyle, and an admirer of the process of creating manufactured music above all else—he’s also specifically acknowledged this point.

Pauline: My ultimate favorite track on the album, however, if you can even call it that, is the “Stargirl Interlude” featuring Lana Del Rey, which in my opinion is way too short. Lana’s sultry, crooning voice pairs with the amazing beat, which has muted chords slightly reminiscent of her Ultraviolence album, especially “West Coast.” Her poetic lyrics paint a picture of “nails in the kitchen,” and you can see the songstress act out her parts in an actual kitchen in this video she posted to her Instagram profile the day of the album release. As she hits her high notes, The Weeknd sings, “I just want to see you shine because I know you are a stargirl,” making for an amazing, but unfortunately underdeveloped, track.

Sophie: The Lana feature was interesting, Kendrick’s great but relatively lazy. Lana’s interlude, over all other tracks, reinforces the point that The Weeknd, at least in regards to Starboy, doesn’t have a sound of his own, that any artist that features on his album is welcomed to bring his or her own sound to Starboy. Besides the various explicit features, the songs on this album reference Michael Jackson (“A Lonely Night”), even Justin Bieber’s “What Do U Mean?” with the electro-howls on “True Colors”. One might compare this to The Life of Pablo, where Kanye lent a voice to many of his friends, i.e. Desiigner, Future. But Pablo’s sound was coherent and unified. Starboy’s isn’t. It’s just created by a medley of producers. The “sound” of this music is “mainstream,” hardly anything beyond that.

Pauline: The rest of the album has a bunch of great tracks that combine The Weeknd’s classic sound with a more airy, electro feel, making this album great to dance or cruise to. “Party Monster” is a clear track for a night out, and even features Lana Del Rey offers her vocals as she repeats the word “paranoid” throughout the end of the song. “False Alarm” has an 80s dance feel to it, with a bit of Flashdance and a sprinkle of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. “Rockin’” sounds like a song that would pair really well for the catwalk, nothing unfamiliar for Abel (Hint, Hint The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show). “A Lonely Night” also sounds very reminiscent of Michael Jackson, with grooves that are meant to dance along to. Before the close of the album, there are a series of slower, more serious songs, including the sensual “Nothing Without You,” “All I Know,” which is the longest track on the album at over five minutes, and “Die For You.” Starboy closes off with “I Feel It Coming,” which has a lighter tone and background instrumentals that somehow remind me of Toto’s Africa.

The Final Verdict: Starboy adds a danceable album to The Weeknd’s discography while making more references to the sounds of other artists rather than The Weeknd’s own. It exemplifies mainstream music in its production and its themes. And even if many of us don’t constantly engage in the way of being and thinking detailed in this album, there is a certain freedom we are granted in having a soundtrack in case we ever feel like indulging in it.

By Sophie Mirzaian & Pauline Pechakjian