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READY, WILLING & ABEL: THE STARBOY CORNUCOPIA

The story of The Weeknd’s unusual evolution, from his beginnings as a mysterious, reclusive, underground electro-R&B savant through his light-speed ascension to his present status as one of our biggest mainstream pop stars, is one for the record books. If his last album, 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness, was the crowning moment of that crossover, then Starboy marks the moment when this massive transformation into a pop superstar is complete. 

And Abel Tesfaye didn’t exactly take the subtle route when demonstrating The Weeknd’s metamorphosis for us; the opening scene of his video for the first single has this dude literally suffocating and murdering himself—out with the old, brooding MURS-haired version, and emerging in his place in the next scene is the freshly shorn, handsomely styled “motherfucking Starboy.”

The carefully crafted Starboy album is 18 tracks long in a world of 10 cuts max, and truly does aspire to be all things to all people—a mash-up of styles and sounds that set up the hope for a wide breadth of appeal by featuring a “best in class” producer lineup. His studio crew ranges from frequent collaborators/pop masters Max Martin, Daft Punk and Cirkut to trap-music mastermind Metro Boomin and EDM powerhouses Diplo and Benny Blanco, along with Cashmere Cat. But the constant woven throughout the work is returning producer Doc McKinney, who was instrumental in shaping The Weeknd’s original vibes from those breakout mixtapes House of Balloons and Thursday, only to disappear from the final mixtape and the last two albums. 

It’s an important contribution for a reason—McKinney elevates Abel and always has, and this artist is uniquely tasked in this new streaming climate with a problem that he shares only with his peer Drake—competing with himself for slots. In addition to multiple hits of his own from the last record, Tesfaye was also in high demand on the features circuit and took full advantage of those placements, putting his voice on a nonstop treadmill of high-profile cameos from Kanye West, Beyoncé, Future, Travis Scott and Belly, among others, his distinctive tenor becoming the foundation of all those hit choruses. 

So how do you introduce yet more new music into a cycle already saturated with yourself? Raise the bar. And the Weeknd has attempted to launch himself over the vault with Starboy, built for the long-tail dynamics of repeat listening and buried with goodies throughout, from the brilliant pop offering (and next single) “I Feel It Coming” to that subtle flashback from The Romantics contained in “Secrets,” or the melodic nod to his own ubiquitous “Low Life” topline in “Six Feet Under.” Not to mention that fire Kendrick Lamar collab “Sidewalks” and masterful ballad “True Colors.” The album contains all your primary pop flavors, whether it’s a hot dance record, that hip-hop bounce or those “Weeknd specials”—lots of dark, haunting and beautiful slow jams.

Starboy is ambitious for sure, since it aspires to critical mass and not necessarily critical acclaim. The Weeknd pushes no musical boundaries here, which is ironic considering he burst on the scene as a game-changer—the author of a new kind of R&B that has since manifested into a movement. But hey, he’s a motherfucking Starboy now.

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