Earlier today the Weeknd released his new album Starboy to multiple streaming services. Starboy, the Weeknd’s third studio album, lists 18 tracks with features from Daft Punk, Future, Kendrick Lamar and Lana Del Rey.
Similar to Frank Ocean and Kanye West, the Weeknd released a visual accompaniment to his album. A twelve-minute short film titled “MANIA” was released earlier this week. Like several of the Weeknd’s past videos, “MANIA” is a gory tale, one that features sleek cars, mountainous scenery, a club filled with dancing girls and an attempted murder. “MANIA” teases songs off of Starboy like “All I Know” featuring Future, “Sidewalks” featuring Kendrick Lamar, “Party Monster” and finally “I Feel It Coming” featuring Daft Punk.
Some of the Weeknd’s first work came in the form of three mixtapes; House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, all released in 2011. The mixtapes were immediate hits because of the awe-inspiring vocal range from the Weeknd and an elite level of production.
The Weeknd’s mixtapes were the prelude to his first studio album, Kiss Land, which was released in 2013 to massive success. Starboy comes over a year after the Weeknd’s last studio album Beauty Behind The Madness. An immensely popular album, Beauty Behind The Madness, capitalized on hit singles “The Hills” and “Can’t Feel My Face.”
The songs on Starboy very clearly illustrate an acoustic metamorphosis for the Weeknd. Initially gaining fandom by singing ballads with gorgeous vocals and slow, lumbering beats that feature orchestral instruments, the Weeknd opts for a more up-tempo, electronic dance sound several times on Starboy.Starboy is able to succeed because of the Weeknd’s ability to oscillate between the serenading he has done on previous albums and the dance songs that he has only recently employed.
Not lost on Starboy are influences from some the Weeknd’s favorite artists, Michael Jackson, Prince and David Bowie. In addition to the title of the album being an allusion to the late Bowie, much of the production on Starboy features an unmistakable spacey, 1980’s, synth-pop sound that was utilized by the Weeknd’s idols.
Born Abel Tesfaye, the Weeknd’s popularity comes as a paradox within itself. With new pop-sounding songs, the Weeknd now has both an intensely loyal, cult-like fan base that has followed him since his first mixtape and millions of new fans only familiar with new dance songs like “Can’t Feel My Face” and “Starboy,” the first single off of Starboy.
What makes the Weeknd’s immense popularity interesting is that in many ways he is the ultimate anti-hero. Aside from an assumed relationship with model Bella Hadid, the Weeknd is as mysterious and low-key as an R & B superstar can be, rarely granting interviews or public appearances.
Further exploring Abel’s existence as a cultural anti-hero are the themes of his music. While the sound of some of the Weeknd’s songs have changed, the content within them certainly has not. While most artists exploring the possibility of mainstream super-stardom may stick to light, superficial themes, Abel knows no other way but to be as graphic and honest as possible with his content.
In his most heartfelt songs, Abel discusses hard drugs as a weapon to numb emotions, paranoia, materialistic possessions from fame that only result in emptiness, meaningless sex, loneliness and general nihilism. This attitude from the Weeknd can even be found in his music videos that often depict dark scenes with menacing characters and violence.
While it is possible that some listeners simply ignore the content of the Weeknd’s songs because of production value and one of a kind vocal talent, much of the Weeknd’s popularity comes from the honesty and bleak but relatable themes in his lyrics.
As reported by Rolling Stone, the Weeknd will begin a 25-date North American tour on April 25 in Vancouver.
[Featured Image by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP Images]