The short film ‘M A N I A’ that accompanies the Weeknd’s new album Starboy is an array of all the images and aesthetics that we’ve come to expect with a new Weeknd album: fast cars, pulsating club nights, violence, dripping blood, and silent, gorgeous women.
His third studio album isn’t much different. Featuring moments of gimlet-eyed magnificence and some fantastic guest vocals, Starboy expands on the Weeknd’s damaged, 5am reputation whilst staying true to the artist’s own twisted style.
On ‘Party Monster’, the Weeknd finds himself trapped in a punishing, narcotic cycle of numbed fulfilment, all the while assuring himself “I’m good, I’m great”. On ‘True Colors’, a passive aggressive torment of his love interest’s fidelity, he attempts to reinvent himself as a new lover but fails to learn to trust. He gives it all up on ‘Die For You’, darting female attention left and right, and then picks it up again to “trade it for a halo” on ‘Ordinary Life’. There’s a brilliant moment on the mocking and sexy ‘Reminder’ when he holds a middle finger to his fame, crying “goddamn bitch/I am not a Teen Choice”.
Kendrick Lamar shows up for a powerful verse on the full-frontal ‘Sidewalks’, but really it’s the electrifying Lana Del Rey who haunts the Weeknd’s heart. Her voice cracks with submission on ‘Stargirl Interlude’, promising she loves it and tempting him with her company – the Stargirl to his Starboy – before she slips away and he spirals back into depravity again, and the cycle continues.
Although for the most part this is an assured, classy affair, it’s not long before the numerous drugs and mind-blowing sex starts to feel a bit repetitive, something that isn’t helped by the album’s overlong running time. By the time he plans to confront his thirteenth love interest’s intentions on ‘Attention’, you’re too numbed to care. Equally, when he tries to garner sympathy for his soul “buried in low Ferraris”, you start to wonder why he’s complaining at all.
As an artist, the Weeknd seems to have a sort of piñata effect on his critics: he delivers a complicated, indulgent album like Starboy and everyone seems to swing in every opinionated direction. There are some gems in his music – its relationship with his own mythology is absolutely fascinating, although maybe not as elegantly constructed as, say, Del Rey’s, whom it’s clear he shares a great affinity with. However, as a sly, hallucinogenic character study, Starboy is arresting and fresh.