Music fans may have a hard time deciding which albums to play and which to skip, given the surplus of new music released. Each week, A&E columnist Sean Lee will compare two recently released albums and recommend which one students should listen to. This week, Lee looks back on The Weeknd’s rise from last year’s release of “Beauty Behind the Madness” and the realization of his star power with “Starboy,” which released Friday.
Canadian superstar The Weeknd commands such a level of hype that even a haircut can cause ripples of anticipation on the internet for a new album.
Few mainstream artists can maintain the level of musical coherence the Toronto crooner has shown on his last two albums, “Beauty Behind the Madness” and “Starboy”.
The Weeknd, Abel Makkonen Tesfaye’s musical pseudonym, dominated 2015 with his album “Beauty Behind the Madness”.
The singer’s interest in live instrumentation came to the fore on the 2015 hit “Can’t Feel My Face”, amid beats of electronic dance music. While none of the other songs on the album top the charts like “Can’t Feel My Face,” the mature mix of rhythm and blues and electronics in the rest of the tracks elevated the image of The Weeknd from dark house reveler to international icon.
[Last week: Hear This Not That: Thee Oh Sees’ album reinvents rock, Title Tracks’ is unoriginal]
But “Beauty Behind the Madness” was not without flaws, especially with regard to lyrical and thematic repetitiveness. In “Tell Your Friends”, the lyrics “Go tell your friends” and the monotonous hum of Tesfaye’s voice – the redundant lyrics didn’t match the exciting variety and contrast of the album’s sound production.
“Real Life,” the opening track to “Beauty Behind the Madness,” combines arena-ready synths with Tesfaye’s confessional lyrics, “Because every woman who loved me / I seemed to push them away.” His rejection of a true emotional connection in favor of momentary intoxication and wealth is a lyrical theme that runs throughout the rest of the album.
On “Losers,” The Weeknd sings, “I’m not the type to rely on you / ‘Cause stupid’s next to’ I love you ‘,” which is paired with a heavy EDM drop in the chorus. The combination makes the song an empowerment hymn that will make its way into the club scene.
“Acquaintance” finds The Weeknd rejecting a lover he deems “not good,” lamenting that his problem is that she loves him in a way that no one else has. But his high-pitched R&B signature to grainy trap beats makes the instrumental feel like it was originally intended more for a rapper like Future than Tesfaye and his crooning voice.
With the release of The Weeknd’s third studio album “Starboy”, the artist once again reinvents himself musically with heavy synths and futuristic sounds, while remedying the flaws of his previous album by choosing an elegant production that better suits to her gentle, relaxed singing style. “Starboy” is the sign of an artist who recognized his weaknesses and grew from them.
[Read more: More album comparisons from ‘Hear This Not That’]
Looking back, “Beauty Behind the Madness” left The Weeknd’s lyrics to a sense of immature love that confuses a one night stand for a serious connection. Paired with an assortment of highly produced beats, the old album sounded like a collection of failed singles instead of a singular body of work.
But the production on “Starboy” complements The Weeknd’s vocals while also presenting a new sense of lyrical maturity. The Weeknd in 2015 chose to stay away, but The Weeknd in 2016 reveals that all the parties and drugs covered his insecurities towards attachment.
“I just need a girl who’s gonna really get it,” The Weeknd sings on “Party Monster,” revealing a deeper perspective on emotional connection than her previous album, which focused on looks and lust. On “True Colors,” Tesfaye reveals relationship issues as he asks his lover to reveal his true self to him, singing, “These are a new lover’s questions.”
From a production standpoint, the sleek beats influenced by futuristic electronics of Daft Punk on the title track “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming” elevate The Weeknd’s singing style, as well as hip-hop beats. made slower and passionate about guitars, as on the Kendrick Lamar presented track “Sidewalks”.
Listen to “Beauty Behind the Madness” to get a glimpse of the troubled artist behind extravagant instrumentation. Listen to “Starboy” for a full reveal of a mature musician whose fame lives up to his title track.