With the end of the year approaching, the Hot One Hundo is featuring the #1 hits of 2017 in a weekly feature.
After toiling away for years, The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) is now one of the biggest stars in the world. Soon after releasing a few critically acclaimed mixtapes during 2011, Tesfaye became one of the brightest rising stars of the indie and R&B scenes. Few would believe that the work he put in to his craft would pay off as quickly as they did. Only a few years later, armed with a strong voice in a genre that was quickly gaining popularity, he broke into the mainstream in 2015 via his second studio album, Beauty Behind the Madness. On the back of genre crossing hits like “Earned It,” and the #1 hits “The Hills” and the inescapable cocaine-referencing love song “Can’t Feel My Face,” Tesfaye was one of the most popular artists in the world. Madness would become the most streamed album of 2015, but the pressure was on for Tesfaye to quickly repeat his success.
You want success, you say? Well, I couldn’t think of a better collaborator to work with than Daft Punk. As one of the most critically acclaimed performing artists and producers of any generation, the French duo worked with Tesfaye on the two songs that bookend his follow up to Beauty Behind the Madness, 2016’s Starboy. Both songs are easy highlights of the effort – “I Feel It Coming,” is a groovy, funky, surefire hit in any decade, that ended up reaching #4 and is easily one of my favorite songs to chart this year. Most of the commercial success, however, went to the lead single and first song on the album, its title track, “Starboy,” which became the first #1 song of 2017 on January 7th, earning the Weeknd his third number one hit, and giving the French duo their first.
Lyrically, “Starboy” revolves around Tesfaye coming to terms with his newfound super-stardom and all the ravishes that come along with it – the fast and fancy cars, the ebony furnishings, the songs that “girls get loose when they hear [it],” all of it the result of success. But behind all the possessions and loose women, Tesfaye is conflicted, which is evident in the main refrain of the song (“look what you’ve done/I’m a motherfuckin’ starboy”) and in the glossy music video for the song where he goes around his fancy house destroying all his material possessions. Obviously, the burden of success and how that interferes with his personal beliefs is on his mind as well, evidenced by the cross-bearing album cover.
I wouldn’t count myself as a fan of the Weeknd, but I’ve enjoyed specific songs that he’s worked on. “Can’t Feel My Face” made me hate the guy for being nothing more than a bad Michael Jackson impersonator, but he’s redeemed himself at least a little bit since then. “Starboy” is passable for me. It’s not something I’ll go out of my way to listen to, but it’s decent enough when compared to what else is out there right now. Honestly though, it doesn’t blow me away, and I think he’s done better work. As “I Feel It Coming” shows us, Tesfaye has the R&B and funk chops at his direct disposal, and when he gets the right production behind him, the results can be astoundingly good. Chances are, he’ll stray from that path and head further down the pop route like Bruno Mars did. But when he uses it, on his own stuff or on some of his features, like Ariana Grande’s sultry “Love Me Harder” or on Kanye’s “FML,” the results are great because they use his voice extremely well. He’s a great supplement in the world of pop music (that statement directly contradicts his track record of commercial success), but I wouldn’t say he’s consistent enough to be the biggest star in the world, at least not yet.