In the music biz statistics confirm success, but not always quality. A lot of crappy tunes become hits. I can’t fully explain why yet. Hey, shit happens. So it’s refreshing when a good project does something noteworthy in the numbers department.
In the last few days The Weeknd’s Starboy album has racked up plays and purchases and the first wave of tallies resulted in the Toronto singer-songwriter breaking the global record for first-week streams on Spotify, with more than 223 million streams. It also broke their one-day record, with 40 million streams in 24 hours. To boot, Starboy opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. So he obviously killed it on the scoreboard.
There’s so much I enjoyed about several of Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye’s 18-song newbie. His sound, which I used to describe as Sade-like—if she had done hard drugs, dwelled in the underworld and adored classic horror flicks—has broadened to shimmering ’80s pop while also staying true to his core. Here are some random, though fitting, thoughts I’ve had while listening to Starboy.
“Starboy” – Somebody woke up feeling theirself! It’s so fun hearing Weeknd’s gentle Ethiopian voice stunt so hard and talk his shit. His main and side chicks are out of your league. New Edition is who he’s playing while he’s whipping his Bentley Mulsanne. G’ shit. Been enjoying his promo performances. That American Music Awards showing is the best of the bunch. I wish Daft Punk produced for me people, like on the Disclosure work-for-hire or complilation tip.
“Reminder” – This isn’t my favorite track overall on the album (might be my fifth), but it hits the hardest lyrically. From jump he’s on the assault, swinging on radio DJs that are more apt to play “blue-eyed soul” before his songs. I’m always intrigued by successful people who are still woke enough to know that the game is not all the way fair. This isn’t some rookie act crying foul. The Weeknd spent all of 2015 becoming a legit, pop chart-topping artist. Still, on the follow-up to the album that likely gave him the confidence to call himself a Starboy, he’s giving corny, racist music business gatekeepers the side-eye, like, “I see you.” Love that.
The first verse on “Reminder” is about how he achieved massive success while staying true to himself. “I let my black hair grow and my weed smoke,” he says. If you had asked me years ago if the House of Balloons guy with the Basquiat hair would become a pop star, I would have said something like, “Hope so” and put my hands in prayer position, because only God could make Dark Side MJ a Hot 100 killer. And that he did. Weeknd just cut his locks a few months ago.
And he’s fully aware of how crazy it is that he was able to make a song featuring a cocaine -reference in the hook hit record, one that Nickelodeon nominated for Best Song at their 2016 Teen Choice awards. It’s hilarious. “Starboy” also boasts a drug lyric in the hook, where his girl sees coke on the table, then “clean[s] it with her face/ Man, I love my baby.” Clearly, he’s still the same guy from his House of Balloons mixtape days, not at all concerned about cleaning up his content for fame. He’s winning on his terms. I can appreciate that.
Also, what’s the more cringe-inducing (though somehow fun) line—Abel’s “Got a sweet Asian chick/ She go low, mayne” (Get it? Lo Mein, like the Asian dish) or Drake’s “Shout out to Asian girls/ Let the lights dim some” (Get it? Dim Sum, like the Asian dish) from “Over My Dead Body”?
“Secrets” – Can’t separate the rhythm of this song from 112’s “Dance With Me.” Take a break and watch the guys dance in oversized Adidas tracksuits. The clip’s tucked inside their video for “Peaches and Cream.”
“True Colors” – The song in a nutshell: “Pull all the skeletons out of your closet, sit them right here on the couch with us. I promise not to trip.”
“Starboy Interlude” – The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey’s characters get hot next to the microwave and stove. Made me think of Kellz’s classic.
“Sidewalks” – This would have been a solid song without Kendrick’s raps. I love the western feel the guitar rift adds. But this feature might be one of the best guest appearances of 2016—definitely the top verse of Kendrick’s year as a wingman. On top of the bars being top notch, he’s actually following along with the Starboy theme. I can tell he put actually thought into this verse, which is not a surprise when it comes to Mr. Lamar. Was cool learning how this cut came together.
“Love to Lay” – I’m a sucker for warm synth keys. The Weeknd makes great ‘80s pop.
“A Lonely Night” – More ‘80s pop. This guy’s really good at hiding totally unpleasant conversations in danceable tracks. Imagine hearing this for this first time and bouncing along to the beat only to find out on a deeper listen that he’s telling a girl that she was just a one night stand “and if I led you on, then I apologize.” Oh, wow. Bummer. The mood of his instrumentals and the message they relay have an interesting relationship. In that regard, this is some “Billie Jean” Trojan Horse wizardry.
“All I Know” – Trap drums on thump. Futcha Hendrix being Futcha Hendrix is always welcome.
“Die For You” – Might be the first time on the album that he’s fully vulnerable and it’s epic. One of my favorite three songs on Starboy. What about someone would make you die for them? What would factor into that decision.
“I Feel It Coming” – Daft Punk open and close the Starboy story. The disco vibes are strong here. As are the Michal Jackson-esque vocals. His lyrics towards a girl who’s a bit fearful of what love brings are softer and just aggressive enough to let her know he’s the one. It’s a sexy, smooth dance closer. “Coming” is the finale of his short film MANIA, which is worth its 12 minutes. The first few of them remind me of Kanye West’s Runaway film. Somehow, Starboy starts with Weeknd being a supremely confident bad-ass kingpin and it ends with its star charmingly delivering his version of “Rock With You.” What a trip.