REVIEW: Five years later, Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ remains out of this world

Promotional artwork for the Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ courtesy of XO Records

The Weeknd really is a star when it comes to creating unique R&B music, meaning it’s important to note that one of the Weeknd’s most career defining albums, is turning five on November 25th. While he does have multiple outstanding albums, Starboy is arguably one of his — if not truly his — best albums to date, capturing his unique style in the R&B genre, delivering that futuristic feeling he includes in a lot of his songs. This album received a Grammy Award for Best Progressive R&B Album and a Juno Award for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year — both well-deserved in their own right — but even without the accolades, the album speaks for itself with its otherworldly flair and out of this world tones. 

The first song, “Starboy,”starts off with a strong synth note that builds up to the rest of the instrumentals, keeping a constant steady, driving beat through the song’s background. The Weeknd’s decision to bring on Daft Punk in this track — which is nothing short of perfect — helps develop his modern version of the classic R&B genre. During the bridge and chorus, he flaunts his vocals with characteristic variety and intonation. While showing off his vocals, he includes a lyric that perfectly sums up his music (“Switch up my style / I take any lane”) which can be seen throughout the album as he provides different elements of genres like pop and new wave music. He approaches the concept of futuristic R&B well with the way he delivers other lyrics like “Made your whole year in a week too, yeah” with only three notes but still maintains the strong delivery needed to create that simple, yet creative vibe. That cutting-edge feeling — in addition to the smooth delivery of the song — creates such a strong opening to the album, all while letting the listener adapt to this new era in his musical career.

The only problem with such a strong lead to the album is that he sets himself up for a difficult time following up, and the next track “Party Monster” unfortunately falls expectedly short. It doesn’t demonstrate his innovative take on the R&B genre nor does it bring anything new or innovative to the table in terms of composition. Regardless, it is by no means a bad song — especially for fans of rap and R&B — but it fails to match Starboy’s innovative energy. 

“Secrets,” meanwhile, builds much more on the Pop side of his musical capabilities. While he certainly can deliver on good, emotionally-evocative Pop songs, it feels like this track disrupts that futuristic feeling he established so well previously. This song — remains unmistakably a product of The Weeknd’s creation with its flow of the chorus and lyrics (especially those lifted from an original song by the Romantics from 1983: “I  hear the secrets that you keep, / when you’re talking in your sleep”) — this song lacks that innovative R&B touch, feeling out of place in context of the album. On top of that, it really just feels like a pop song with a touch of R&B vocals. And in the same way that “Party Monster” is a great song for people that enjoy rap music, “Secrets” caters more to Pop-enthusiasts, ultimately an out-of-place addition to an otherwise futuristic album.

With that being said, the final two tracks serve as a fitting conclusion for the album as a whole. “Die For You” creates a slow, beautifully on-beat introduction that leads up to a chorus that crescendos with the track’s first few words — all key in capturing the song’s inimitable flow. Though this is one of the most popular songs on the album, it still feels to lack that drive that the Weeknd uses in a lot of his instrumentals, falling short in its uniqueness or innovation. The track offers a welcome change of pace if nothing else. Fortunately, “I Feel It Coming” does exactly what it needs to in order to wrap up the album. It uses a fantastic balance of revolutionary synth notes while maintaining a sense of nostalgia with his instrumentation. 

The Weeknd does exactly what he is striving to do on Starboy. Blending pioneering steady beats with synth and a reasonably artistic dose of autotune that never feels overdone. Though there are a couple songs that feel out of place or a bit repetitive, the other songs work so well in favor of the album’s atmosphere, that those few songs don’t take away from the album as a whole. 

On this album he excellently creates a unique style that makes his new albums shine to this day, firmly establishing why his music is truly out of this world.

Kayli Link is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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