In the video for ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’, the bonafide summer #banger from the Weeknd, Abel Tesfaye is set on fire after his performance in a discotheque. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor: the Weeknd has broken through after Trilogy, and this Max Martin produced track is proof. But in many ways this represents the creative stagnation, lyrically if not musically, that stops the Beauty Behind The Madness from being a great album. The Weeknd’s production has moved notably towards pop, but alongside lyrics that border self-parody. The lush, Kanye-produced ‘Tell Your Friends’ is the kind of song you initially dismiss, then find yourself listening to on repeat four days later. But then there’s lyrics like ‘Everybody fucking, everybody fucking/pussy on the house, everybody fucking’. I’m not sure if I’ve just grown tired of the Weeknd’s schtick, but much of Beauty Behind The Madness feels rote, right down to the album’s title, an endless repackaging of the album’s themes, which amount to ‘I’m sad and do drugs because I’m sad and I’m very removed from the world and I fuck bitches’. Having ‘made it’, Tesfaye is no longer confined to his native Toronto (a sentiment he seems fond of expressing), but this robs the Weeknd of the claustrophobia, the perturbation, that pervaded (and made) his previous work. And while you could somewhat optimistically say that the misogyny in his earlier work was offset somewhat by the mutual debasement of both parties, here it is increasingly uncomfortable. I mean, ‘I’m just tryna get you out the friend zone/’cause you look even better than the photos’ conjures an interesting mental image of Abel’s famous hair covered by a huge fucking fedora. The fact that this couplet appears on ‘The Hills’, one of the album’s high points, speaks volumes.
Words by Thomas Rydll