Starboy, the highly anticipated third studio album from Canadian singer, songwriter, and most important, artist. The Weeknd has had an impressive last few years, reaching the tops of the charts with his last record, Beauty Behind the Madness, which featured one of the most explosive tracks of 2015, “The Hills.” Now, coming off from a steam locomotive of critical praise, intense support, and an ultimate level of hype; The Weeknd still performs with the same level of intensity as his previous work, but also improves the methods and refines what makes his music truly monumental.
Starboy opens with the self-titled track, “Starboy” which was originally released as the first single and includes a feature from Daft Punk. The combination of both synthetic jungle style beats and authentic pianos makes for a lovely club style instrumental that relentless keeps on and continues to echo along with the backing vocals. The Weeknd’s vocals are of pop orientation, but they also have an angelic touch. The chorus of the track has The Weeknd singing, “Look what you’ve done, I’m a motherfucking Starboy,” and this is a pleasant combination when paired with the synthetic background vocals of Daft Punk supporting him.
Following is “Party Monster,” an orchestral style track that uses a string ensemble and 808 drums to express the pushing, but unrushed beat. The Weeknd delivers an upbeat style but the instrumental is ultimately of a darker nature, feeling almost like a guilty pleasure when the first bass notes begin to kick in. His lyrical output is a constant party style, beginning with “Know it’s been a while, now I’m mixing up the drank,” and “Woke up by a girl, I don’t even know her name.” The track then falls into this eerie paired style of singing with Lana Del Rey where they both repeat “Paranoid, Paranoid, Paranoid, but I see something in you.” This then leads into the lively track, “False Alarm.”
The Weeknd opens “False Alarm” with a slick verse explaining, “Bathroom stalls for the powder nose, high heel shoes with the open toes. She’s got a good time wrapped in gold, for you, for you.” This then proceeds as a stepping stone for the leap into the frenzied and electronic club sound where the chorus “False alarm, ay, ay, ay” is sung. It is a welcome change in attitude from the first section of the track, then “False Alarm” makes yet another sudden jump into an echoing piano and a the segue into “Reminder.”
One of the livelier tracks on Starboy, “Reminder” launches with The Weeknd explaining how he feels about winning a Teen Choice Award and his intense level of fame, “I just won a new award for a kids show, talking about a face numbing off a bag of blow. I’m like goddamn bitch, I am not a Teen Choice.” He also includes an impressive play on words, “Got a sweet Asian chick, she go low mane.” The production aspect includes downright smooth hi-hat mixes between quick rolls and sixteenth notes that make the background instrumental feel constantly evolving and fresh.
This then leads into “Rockin’” a wavy dance track that focuses on using synth percussion and some powerful piano chords in the track’s intermission. “Rockin’” almost feels like a new-age style disco track that nearly takes inspiration from funk music. When paired with the clapping hi-hats and moving, but stylistic instrumentation, it creates a feel-good approach and intends to create motion.
The following track, “Secrets” feels similar to “Rockin’” but is a slightly slower approach and does not feature such a busy style of instrumentation. That is not to say that the track is not layered, and this is the theme for around 90 percent of Starboy. There is no real level of minimalistic approaches to any of the tracks, and there is always multiple layers of single instruments or even multiple sections in a track where new instruments are introduced. The bass line on “Secrets” is a wonderful selection of a fazing synth, and there is a breakdown present where “Secrets” feels like a step-back into the manufactured style of the 1980’s. There is also a much bigger focus on the Weeknd’s vocals rather than that of the instrumentation, he is the primary driving force of “Secrets,” moving the track into the rather abrupt ending, and sudden start of “True Colors.”
“True Colors” is the first blues style track that relies heavily on the upright bass and the charming keyed instrument to provide the instrumentation. The tone of “True Colors” is almost similar to a vintage love song where wind-chimes and a mellower sound is used to almost set a loving and affectionate style. The Weeknd delivers a beautiful performance, exclaiming “Come show me your true colors, paint me a picture with your true colors.” The Weeknd then brings “True Colors” to a silent end, leading into the next track that has yet another feature of Lana Del Rey.
Del Rey opens the “Stargirl Interlude” and delivers a stellar performance, her voice brings about a level of beauty and is downright gorgeous when paired along with the subtle instrumentation. The Weeknd provides the backing vocals of the track, and even as “Stargirl Interlude” is the shortest of the songs present on Starboy, it still manages to be a wonderful addition.
This then leads into the next track, “Sidewalks,” which features rap conqueror, Kendrick Lamar. The instrumentation in this track is the real star, featuring a blaring guitar and a bravado style of percussion behind the vocalists. The Weeknd delivers a great line about going from “Homeless to Forbes List, these niggas bring no stress.” The chorus is also a sweet addition and it is ultimately intriguing to see how Lamar can deliver his verse when compared to The Weeknd’s. They are both similar in subject matter, but the delivery is effectively different; they create a strict parallel between each other. “Sidewalks” ends with The Weeknd being the sole instrument on the track, before finally succumbing to silence.
“Six Feet Under” follows and uses more of trap style of instrumental with rapid fire hi-hat and a slapping 808 bass that creates a distinguishing comparison between the aggressive styled beat and The Weeknd’s less than intimidating vocal performance. It is similar to “Sidewalks” where there are two contrasting parties within the track, but the rivalry only brings out an addition layer of chemistry within the performances. Future is present for the chorus where The Weeknd accompanies Future on singing, “Six feet under she gonn’ get that fucking paper, you know how she get down, pop it for a check now.”
Following is “Love to Lay,” using synthetic strings and a simple snare, bass combination. The chorus of the track uses a ripping bass line and a funk style rhythm that blends both electronic and authentic style into one single package. The synth chords that lead up into the chorus are captivating and able to bring about an additional layer of energy to the track.
“A Lonely Night” is similar to a dance style that “Love to Lay,” “Rockin’,” and “Reminder” feels. There is also an extremely vivid guitar or string solo that is an interesting section in giving “A Lonely Night” its own separate identity. There is also a bass line intermission where it takes control of the track and forces the other instruments to instead take a backseat. It creates a power-struggle within the instruments and is surprisingly one of the better section of the track.
Trailing behind is “Attention,” a night time style track that uses different frequency instruments and a chorus explaining, “You’re only looking for attention, the only problem is you’ll never get enough.” This leads into a section where the auto-tune and the instruments act together to create a simplistic harmony that is at first seemingly over-produced, but falls back to an ultimately pleasing tone. The track then segues into “Ordinary Life” which is one of the weaker tracks of Starboy.
It is an over-fabricated pop track that relies on the chorus to become the real meat of the track. The Weeknd just does not deliver as well as he does on the other tracks, and the lines “David Carradine, I’mma die when I cum, she just giving head, she don’t know what I’ve done. Like James Dean, I’mma die when I’m young, die when I’m young, die when I’m young,” just Is not one of the strongest performances delivered by The Weeknd. This is also due to the lacking instrumentation that does not include any real sense of flare or superior style of the previous tracks.
The following, “Nothing Without You” is an instant palate-cleanser that features heavy bass and claps to lay down the foundation. The track then transforms when reaching the chorus into a lively style that seemingly comes in a wave. The track begins in a much more sluggish approach, then launches into the abrasive style, before coming back down into the gentle and compassionate style that was present in “Nothing Without You’s” opener. The percussion throughout is a consistent impressionable blast and is conspired with acoustic guitars in a synthetic and authentic duality. This duality is present through-out most of Starboy and is one of the better features of the record.
“All I Know” follows and is a slick 808 focused track that includes one of the more exceptional boom-bap styles found on Starboy. Future is featured here and delivers his verse which is part rapping, and a section of singing which is not outlandish for Future, but his singing is not really on par with how The Weeknd performs and it just does not seem like a great fit. Future could have been better used if he just primarily went for a straight rap verse as the beat is more aggressive and better suited for a straight-forward approach.
The second to last track on Starboy, “Die For You” is a fairly safe track that uses an approachable style and chorus in a similar fashion of some of the earlier songs on Starboy. The chorus is however, the centerfold of the track and is unfortunately the most redeemable section of “Die For You.” The instrumental is a mix of 808’s and a two step style of bass beat that continues over the background until the final rephrase where The Weeknd is featured in a near acapellic style. This track is not necessarily bad, it just does not feel experimental and has too similar of a mood to “Rockin’,” or even “Attention.”
The grand-finale of Starboy, the 18-track saga comes to a close with the track “I Feel It Coming,” which also features Daft Punk again. The instrumental has Daft Punk written all over it and it is obvious to see how they had their hand all over the production aspect of this track and other tracks present on Starboy. “I Feel It Coming” is a feel good pop jazz style track that relies on The Weeknd to deliver yet another outstanding performance, and without a doubt, he delivers. His vocals seem to float over the instruments, almost adopting an ethereal style.
Starboy is not a perfect album, but it finds what The Weeknd is proficient at and nails those points home. There are certain tracks that could have been kept or even removed as Starboy is an incredibly long album and seems to feel almost too long in sections. It is not for everyone, but the constant mix ups of pop, rap, funk, and even jazz is interesting enough to keep Starboy feeling fresh until the next installment of The Weeknd comes along.