Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: The Weeknd Solidifies His Pop Stardom on 'Beauty Behind the Madness'

I remember reading the Weeknd's very first interview in 2013.This was a few months before he was to release his major label debut Kiss Land, yet he was already a near household name, due to features with Drake and a trio of stellar mixtapes. In the interview, the Weeknd described his first mixtape House of Balloons as "the most important for me... before House of Balloons it was all freedom".

And that might be the issue with the Weeknd's latest album Beauty Behind The Madness. In a recent issue of Time, the Weeknd languishes over his mediocre Kiss Land album, and strove to create a much more popular album. And he did that. BBTM has been the number one album in the country for the last two weeks, and sold over 412,000 copies in his first week. This album serves as a turning point for the Weeknd, as he has drifted from being an R&B singer to a pop singer.

The Weeknd's voice is gorgeous, and his raw, sexual lyricism is unique for such a mainstream artist, but what truly has been his strength is the sound he has cultivated. Especially with his first three mixtapes, the Weeknd crafted a cloudy, sultry sound full of smooth synths and echoing drums. This was the glue that held together the Weeknd's artistry, and made him what he is today.

But on BBTM, he abandons most of this sound. Nearly all of the 14 tracks could easily be in rotation on radio stations. Most of the songs follow the same formula of a slow build-up, a catchy chorus, and a grand finale. Many of the tracks feature live instrumentation throughout, which isn't necessarily bad, yet it slows down the pace of many tracks, and kills the smooth, sexual vibe of early Weeknd songs.

The main theme of the album is how the glitzy, sexy lifestyle that the Weeknd croons about is dragging him down. Throughout the album, he sings about drugs and parties and women, but how destructive and saddening his lifestyle is, always ending with something along the lines of "but it's the life I've chosen". Which honestly, is pretty dumb. None of his sob stories truly seem that depressing when they are all about how many women he sleeps with. You can sense the numbness he has to it all, but that is nothing new in his music, and he never really backs up why he's complaining.

At this point, calling the Weeknd's music "alternative R&B" is a stretch. While he still plays with new sounds, he fits very well in the "pop" category. I do think he is a better R&B singer, but this switch shows that the Weeknd is now the best pop artist around.

Lyricism- 2.5
Technical Ability- 4.5
Production- 3.5
Listenability- 5
Features- 4
Overall Theme- 3
Noteable Tracks- "The Hills", "Shameless", "Losers", "Dark Times"
Overall Rating- 4

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