Contemporary pop stars can’t get enough of the dark side of debauchery. Drake, the world’s most streamed artist of 2016, has devoted much of his career to moochily reflecting that there is perhaps more to life than easy pick-ups in ‘the club’ (though he can’t quite bring himself to investigate whether this is in fact the case).
Going one better is fellow Canadian artist Abel Tesfaye who, as The Weeknd, has plunged down an endless rabbit hole of recrimination and self-loathing.
The genius, of course, is to juxtapose lacerating lyrics with ruthlessly engineered pop, as he does on his third album.
Having started as an underground artist chronicling 4am panic attacks, last year’s Beauty Behind the Madness saw Tesfaye hook up with Swedish hitmaker Max Martin for the globe- conquering single ‘Can’t Feel My Face’.
Twelve months later, he’s back with another suite of darkly glittering bangers. Martin once again applies his irresistible gloss on the widescreen ‘Rockin’ while Daft Punk pitch in with production on the gleaming title track (Starboy is apparently an alter ego inspired by Bowie).
There are some intriguing vocal ameos too, as greatest rapper alive Kendrick Lamar lays down a rhyme on ‘Sidewalks’ and Lana Del Rey, pictured, contributes weird-siren coos to ‘Stargirl Interlude’.
Tesfaye has received a lot of criticism for his seemingly casual treatment of women in his lyrics. As with Drake, his shtick is that he sleeps with whomever he fancies, then feels terrible about it afterwards.
However, where he differs from the rapper is that the songs don’t stick their melancholy in your face, so that they can be enjoyed as a strictly aesthetic experience with no requirement to drink deep of his misery. That’s a relief. Push past The Weeknd’s stylised self-hate, and Starboy is a gorgeous pop epic.
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