True to the narrative of many of his songs, Abel Tesfaye simply doesn’t slow down. Just over a year after he unleashed his mainstream-crashing Beauty Behind the Madness, and hardly two months after its final radio single “Acquainted” was making its rotations, The Weeknd is already rolling out his (strangely Bowie-evocative) follow-up, Starboy. We’ve already been graced with the lead single title-track, and its credentials alone are enough to make pop music nerds freak out. Weeknd + Daft Punk?!? When I saw that initial news flash, I freaked out. One of the past year’s biggest success stories collaborating with the greatest electronic music act of our time seemed too good to be true. Sadly, it was.
“Starboy” is the second in a string of recent high-profile singles featuring insanely talented collaborators arriving at disappointingly middling results (I’m looking at you, Gaga, Parker, and Ronson). The track builds slowly from a gently percussive beat to a melange of melodramatic piano chords, highly processed hand claps, and those trademark Bangalter/Guy-Manuel vocoder flourishes. Tesfaye’s elastic tenor dips and croons over the beat, detailing his usual litany of woes: money, drugs, sex. The trademarks of both artists are certainly there, but in a fairly routine paint-by-numbers manner. The track simply isn’t that exciting. It doesn’t build to a satisfying climax, nor does it simmer diligently enough to be a captivating slow-burn. I’m also a little perplexed by its apparent election to the opening slot on Starboy. It doesn’t grab attention the way a lead-off track should.
Honestly, what I find most underwhelming here is Daft Punk’s appearance. Since the triumphant return of 2013’s Random Access Memories, the robot overlord godfathers of modern EDM have made it very clear that they are uninterested in perpetuating the culture of "the drop.” When every other song on the radio apes your own whirligig, technicolor disco sound (that you were rocking fifteen years ago) and modern stage arrangements rip off your landmark 2007 tour, why try to imitate your imitators? I get it, but I still believe that with Bangalter/Guy-Manuel’s undeniable melodic gifts and intuition as composers, they could have developed something here a little more compelling. I feel the same way I felt after hearing their laughably mediocre 2014 collaboration with Pharrell, “Gust of Wind”. They’re holding back on us. The Weeknd is gonna stay The Weeknd, but I was hoping that with his increased clout, his collaborators might elevate him to a higher plane. That being said, I don’t doubt for a second that the radio will eat this up. After all, he’s a star, boy.