The Weeknd — Starboy ANALYSIS & REVIEW
This was quite a weak melodic showing for The Weeknd. To put it frankly, if you want to be a great musician, you have to be better than this. Melodic strength was few and far-between on Starboy, which was instead muddled with extremely flat lines and passionless writing. The pacing of some lines were much more tolerable than others, and sometimes the only positive aspect about the melody. The melody on “Love To Lay”, for example, has much more interesting movement and groove to it than the song right before it, “Six Feet Under”, which had no compelling features whatsoever. There was never any strong identity given to the music, and that rest mainly on the inability of the melody to find a worthwhile shape.
There were only two small sections on this entire album that gave me any sort of emotion and inspiration from the melody: the chorus of “False Alarm” and Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Sidewalks”. “Sidewalks” is perhaps the perfect song for a critic like me to use in order to explain what melodic intrigue actually means, because it has a great example and a terrible example right next to each other. The Weeknd gave a very rigid, oversimplified, and flat melody. His line uses the same 3–4 notes with nearly the same rhythm and pace every single time, all with boring repetition that is borderline stupid. Then Kendrick comes in and wipes the floor with unique rhythmic delivery, syncopation and great inflections, all by using a combination of essential musical tools and individual passion. Kids, this is the difference between someone with enough talent and someone without enough talent. Starboy shows The Weeknd’s inability to strike up any sort of valuable emotion through his music. By all means, you can be soft and chill (which this album did show good signs of), but you can’t be flat and boring. I was yawning by the end.
The underlying harmonic structures, while never eye-opening or vigorous, did sometimes save the music from being monotonous and unbearable. Most of the time it was a rather strong chord progression paired with a very plain rhythm that was hidden underneath the dull melodies. Instead of helping the song progress or giving a boost to the melody, the harmony was on its own and arbitrarily went in and out of the texture. It came in timely and strong for a few songs, such as the choruses in “Rockin’”, “True Colors”, “A Lonely Night”, and “I Feel It Coming”. The song “Secrets” had the most creative melody on the album, with a great use of the simple IV and V while providing a unique set of twists and turns. The rest of the songs on the album still had cool harmonic progressions for the most part, but didn’t play a convincing role in shaping the music overall. There was consistently a lack of motion and rhythmic appeal in the musical structure. This dug a hole that the rest of Starboy couldn’t recover from.
When I said that being soft and chill was okay, that comes with a caveat that the timbre pulls through and can carry the music on its back. It certainly wasn’t the best it could have been, but the timbres on Starboy did a pretty good job with being the focal point of the music and gave a valiant effort to make a respectable album, to say the least.
In general, the effects used to create a chilled atmosphere, such as the echoes and the synth, worked quite well. The beats, and the percussion in general, was the best aspect of this album. This album had some cool and unique pulses to it that got me in a comfortable state, especially in “Stargirl Interlude”, “Love To Lay”, and “I Feel It Coming”. Overall, there was a lot of room left over to further this mood with more compelling additions to the texture. The songs rarely made an effort to build their sound to something more substantial than what was presented in the beginning. The sound was very small, which obviously goes with the goal of sounding comfortable instead of provocative, but there are more effective ways to achieve that same goal. That involves finding subtlety in small additions, rather than gambling with the plainness from no additions. Experimentation is what it takes, and there was a lot more room for it on Starboy. Carefulness never gets a musician anywhere.
The Weeknd has the name recognition for this album to have a hot start and a good amount of listens, but after a month or so only the single “Starboy” will likely remain relevant. This album doesn’t put forth anything of substance for musicians to be inspired by. His collaborations with Daft Punk and other artists proved to be nothing more than a marketing ploy. Some might be drawn to The Weeknd’s personal thoughts and feelings that he expresses on this album, which are fresh and unique compared to most of today’s autobiographical works of music. That itself doesn’t carry too much weight, though. For such a big name, this album carries hardly any momentum and has already hit its peak in popularity.