The rise of The Weeknd, from Toronto’s best kept secret to R&B’s next crossover star, is so 2010’s. Relying on a mysterious persona, coupled with equally ominous music, fans of the now-26-year-old were left craving for more music – or basically anything that revealed just who the hell this guy, born Abel Tesfaye, was. After working on fellow Canadian Drake’s 2011 record Take Care, Tesfaye dropped Kiss Land in 2013, which was more or less a continuation of his previous work. The singer’s big break came two years later when he released Beauty Behind the Madness, which had Tesfaye show off his star power (and sudden love for Michael Jackson). A year later and we have Starboy, essentially a continuation of BBTM but with a groovier, funkier kick.
Before last year, Tesfaye always had the fanbase, but arguably lacked a more mainstream appeal. This problem was solved when he released the infectious “Can’t Feel My Face,” which not only became the song of the summer, but helped kickstart Tesfaye’s foray into more a danceable sound – a sound which he continues on Starboy. “Rockin’ has the singer once again linking up with Top 40 super producer Max Martin, who helped BBTM catapult to the top of the charts. Taking “CFMF’s” dance-funk formula, the track, along with “Secrets,” “A Lonely Night” and “Love To Lay,” are dynamic and fun, a far-cry from his usual moody R&B.
However, no matter how groovy the instrumentals are, Tesfaye’s role as Hollywood’s latest lothario hasn’t gone away. He’ll still swoop your girl if you’re not careful (Party Monster) and is all about the one-night-stand (A Lonely Night), but even he knows that sometimes a serious relationship is worth pursuing (I Feel It Coming, All I Know). “True Colors” is without a doubt Tesfaye at his most vulnerable, and houses the best vocal performance of the whole project. “So if I love you/It’d be just for you/So when I’m touching you/Can I trust you?” he asks before unleashing a crooning yearn for his love interest to show him her true self on the chorus. “Die For You” is about Tesfaye’s latest ex; model Bella Hadid. Over a mid-tempo, bouncy beat, Tesfaye admits that even though they’re not meant to be, he’d still do anything for her. “The distance and the time between us/It’ll never change my mind,” he admits. “Baby I would die for you.”
If you didn’t like Beauty Behind The Madness, and there were certainly those who didn’t, you may be hesitant to give this a listen. However, Tesfaye does a great job expanding on what started his meteoric rise, while still leaving room for tracks that remind his older fans what made him so popular with them in the first place. Speaking of reminders, Tesfaye gives a hard-hitting one with”Reminder”; “Every time we try to forget who I am,” he says on the hook. “I’ll be right there to remind you again.”