When the Weeknd creates a hit song, it is an incredible moment of artistic excellence. The problem is to get to those tracks, listeners have to wade through a slew of lackluster filler-songs that lack impact. Starboy delivered an inconsistent, 18-song tracklist that could have easily been narrowed down to less than seven.
The most glaring issue with Starboy is the shockingly timid delivery from both the artist and production. At points the vocals sound as if the Weeknd had stage fright in the recording booth and restrained himself from authentically experiencing the emotions being portrayed.
This is most obvious on “False Alarm,” which should not have made the final cut for mass release. A chorus constructed solely of screaming will instantly fail if a vocalist is not willing to commit. Despite the Weeknd’s higher vocal range, every note throughout the painful chorus fell flat. The track is engulfed with an anxious feeling that is intensified after the same flat-note screams are placed on a never-ending loop for each of the repeated choruses.
Repetition combined with forgettable production plagued numerous songs on the album. Tracks like “Ordinary Life” start strong with smartly written verses, but shift into repeated cliché phrases that refuse to let up.
“Sidewalks” featuring Kendrick Lamar began as an autobiographical epic that detailed painful life experiences such as the Weeknd’s estranged relationship with his father. He spit raw emotions with biting lyrics like “I know you wish nobody loved me.” Yet again, the chorus is reached and something goes awry. The Weeknd yells out, “Sidewalks saved my life/ They show me all the signs.” It is clear the words hold deep personal meaning, but it lacks the refined finesse expected from the performer. It starts to become corny.
This is followed by an attempt at soulful belts that were another vocal departure for the performer, but again felt somewhat restricted in emotion. Lamar seamlessly flowed into the track giving a rich, personal description of the rapper’s departure from humble beginnings to the disarray of fame.
Of the numerous tragedies that afflicted 2016, add the timestamp of “Stargirl Interlude” featuring Lana Del Rey to the list, which reads 1:32. Artists widely considered as two of the most innovative and talented musicians of this generation, (Icons of hipster millennials one could say), came together and all that resulted is an interlude that did not even reach a full two minutes. It is a lazy decision that snubbed a track that easily could have been the biggest success on Starboy.
Lana’s aloof, ditzy delivery of the line “but I love it,” effortlessly slipped into the haunting falsetto of a temptress longing for a lover. The Weeknd’s robotic, spawn-of-Daft Punk, vocals immediately followed to create a musical contrast that was nothing short of captivating to listen to.
The Weeknd explored a deeper side of his vocals on “Secrets.” Distorted guitars played throughout a dreamy atmospheric background that beckoned to David Bowie type sound. The bridge contained one of the standout musical moments on Starboy as chimes accented a pulsing beat as he utters, “I see that you’re not mine.”
A couple of songs abandoned the 60s rock influences heard throughout the album to explore different vibes. The dreamy “True Colors” combined soft piano keys with a sharp kickbeat and abstracted vocal ad libs to create the tranquil piece.
Influences of synthwave were prevalent on tracks like “A Lonely Night,” which brought the high-tempo funk that needed to be injected to keep up the pace of the record.
It took 16 songs to finally hear an impactful beat drop combined with emotional lyrics, but nonetheless “Die For You” exceeded all expectations. The first chorus hits the listener with, “Even though we're going through it/ And it makes you feel alone/ Just know that I would died for you.” It provides a more vulnerable look at the Weekend desperately holding on to a deteriorating relationship.
After the title track “Starboy” featuring Daft Punk dominated charts as the album’s lead single, fans were surprised with a second collaboration produced by the French duo. Combining their signature genre of robotic disco with a smooth vocal performance from the Weeknd, Daft Punk added “I Feel It Coming” to a growing list of musical treasures including the likes of “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance.”
The feelgood tune includes the duo’s spacey, funk influence that is felt throughout Starboy and wraps up an album that provides a few misses that are quickly outshined by a string of undeniable hits from the Weeknd.