Alt-R&B underdog turned international superstar Abel Tesfaye returns riding the wave of success from his last LP – Beauty Behind the Madness – and a series of smash-hit singles in 2015. The Weeknd’s rise in popularity since his first mixtapes in 2011 has been mirrored by a gradual change in style, as Abel adapts to a more mainstream audience. Personally, I have been conflicted over this change, especially since 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness felt unsatisfying in the context of Abel’s wider discography. However, while Abel is still dabbling in mainstream styles on Starboy, he seems to be experimenting.
Many varieties of pop music are explored here; 70s soul on ‘Sidewalks’, UK Garage on ‘Rockin’, 80s style synthpop on ‘Secrets’ and ‘Love To Lay’, and nu-disco on ‘A Lonely Night’. The list goes on. There are also tracks like ‘Reminder’ and ‘Party Monster’, which use contemporary, mainstream R&B styles like trap.
Lyrically, this album demonstrates the themes we have come to expect from The Weeknd; promiscuity, drugs and drink all feature, though there are some stand-out lyrical moments too. Reminder makes reference to his “old shit” and how others imitate his earlier style, followed by some bragging about his new found level of fame. While these lyrics are a little trashy, it’s refreshing to hear Abel discuss the real world rather than bland pop lyrics that are overused in his most recent material.
Overall, this record is an improvement on his previous effort, but it is also over an hour long and eighteen tracks. This length in context of the record’s style does make it difficult to enjoy this as a full LP, since consumers will be prone to picking and choosing their favourites.