The synthesizer seems to be back in full force ladies and gentlemen. That desire for quality samples, lossless file compression and physical models seems to be something that most if not all top shelf pop music trend setters are using right now.
But for why?
The Weeknd – Starboy
released November 25, 2016
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known professionally as The Weeknd, is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer. The Weeknd got his start by anonymously uploading several songs to YouTube under the pseudonym “The Weeknd,” of all things. At that time he had released three nine-track mixtapes throughout 2011: House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence. Which surprisingly enough to many critics at the time, were received quite well. In 2012 he decided to release a compilation album known as Trilogy, effectively the remastered mixtapes he had released before but with three additional tracks and totally thirty songs alotogether. It was released under Republic Records and his own label XO.
In 2013 he released his first studio-length album Kiss Land, which featured the singles Kiss Land and Live For. But it was his second album, Beauty Behind the Madness that really charted his success. This is where Earned It, The Hills, and Can’t Feel My Face factor in. Fun fact, these songs made him the first artist to simultaneously hold the top three spots of the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart. The Weeknd has also won two Grammy’s and been nominated for an Academy Award.
Oh, and did I mention that he’s Canadian? Yeah Canadian content!
But what about Starboy? Well, look what you’ve done… I’m a motherfuckin’ starboy.
This record starts off quite strong, Starboy, Party Monster, and False Alarm in particular hold your attention with their commitment to the beats The Weeknd and his team of production engineers are famous for. After all, we know he isn’t doing this all on his lonesome. Which reminds me, I think that Stargirl might be the most fascinating interlude/intermission I’ve heard in years. Lana Del Rey is excellent as the female foil to The Weeknd, and she manages enough tension to keep the pace of the record, at least for a little while.
Now let’s consider the album as a whole for a moment. I have this rather wild theory that The Weeknd might not have had as much time with this project as he would have liked. He’s known for his ability to construct strong narrative levelled projects, I’m looking at you Trilogy.
And while Starboy (the album, not the song) is mostly about The Weeknd’s relationship with a woman, that message doesn’t easily come through. The collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on Sidewalks for instance, is kinda cool, but feels out of place, if I’m being really honest. Also am I crazy for hearing Michael Jackson AND David Bowie when I listen to his voice long enough?
Probably not, because The Weeknd is more than capable of floating between pop, rap, R&B, disco and electronica. Hell, he can even do 1980s pop justice. Maybe that’s where the deceased pop stars come in…
And while The Weeknd has en endearingly dark and uniquely hedonistic voice in the realm of music, it can be a bit much to stomach his lyrics against those typical pop structures. That, and as I mentioned already, the narrative doesn’t feel as tight on this album. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye is more than capable of being a motherfuckin’ starboy and he knows it, but this album isn’t him at his best.
I have this theory that analog synthesizers went out and digital synthesizers came in because they were cheaper, but nowadays that isn’t really a motivating factor for musicians.
However, the variety of sounds that digital synth offers feels unrivalled in many cases. And when an artist is capable of spreading their music talent across several genres, employing synthesizers to craft that sounds seems like a natural fit. The Weeknd gets this, and when he spends his time on both production and telling a strong story, it makes all the difference. Starboy might not be the greatest, but The Weeknd sure is a star boy.