Monday, December 2nd, 2019

The Weeknd – Heartless



Will Adams: In the night I hear him talk, the blandest story ever told.

Alfred Soto: In Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler punches Abel Tesfaye after catching him in the bathroom trying to make it with Sandler’s lover. Coke is involved. A decade of sweetly cooed swinishness later, The Weeknd isn’t getting any more likable, and the harmonies and sense of space don’t betray him. But he’ll betray them because he’s heartless. 

Katherine St Asaph: No matter how much excitement drains away from the real world, the Weeknd will always exist in the same land of cocaine, vodka sodas, reverb, sterilely debauched sex detailed with glassy anhedonia and crystalline contempt. Each successive single refines this sonic Patrick Batemanscape prettier and prettier, swapping seedy lofts out for palatial penthouses but otherwise changing nothing. Undoubtedly this all is aspirational to a lot of people — even the self-loathing is in an indulgent “woe is me, the tragic dirtbag” mode — and the biggest fantasy, even more than the models or drugs, is a life so status quo.

Oliver Maier: The shiny visuals and pounding drum loops can’t disguise the stagnation here; the Weeknd isn’t saying anything new and he isn’t even saying the same old stuff in an interesting way. He’s coasted for years on being the protagonist of a story so drably self-serious that it belongs on prestige TV, a sensitive soul lured into the dark side of fame and helpless to avoid the associated pitfalls. Drugs, sex, etc. Of course, this narrative relies on the good-faith assumption that when he sings about being a tedious, arrogant sleazebag, there is some kind of self-aware streak in there trying to guide him back towards the light. Therein lies the not-particularly-exciting tension, one which will of course never get resolved, because how else is the guy going to sell records? His melodies?

Kylo Nocom: With each reiteration of “Starboy,” the hooks get more annoying, the rhythms get less dangerous, and the lyrics get closer to Blackbear. How sad is it that the part that sounded like a bounce break was less convincing than the time it was tried in an Ed Sheeran song?

Edward Okulicz: He’s in love! It hurts! He’s not in love! It also hurts! He’s a shit! You’re a shit! Everything hurts! There comes a point where when someone leans so heavily on schtick that there’s no reason to believe they’re emoting — or doing anything — in good faith. 

Jackie Powell: Honesty and pain go hand and hand with The Weeknd, and that continues on “Heartless,” a track that refers to on-and-off girlfriend Bella Hadid in the bridge, which is the most vocally stunning section on this cut by far. Repentance is a theme that Abel Tesfaye circles back to, and it’s a relatable one. Humans have their vices and lapses. I appreciate a banger that taps into toxic self-hate and doubt. The Weeknd continues to show vulnerability amid portraying his chauvinistic womanizing persona, which is something I still have difficulty reconciling with. I don’t know if I’ve gotten over his homophobic lyrics on “Lost in the Fire” and I agree that the phrase on this track: “Sellin’ dreams to these girls with their guard down” is a little cringeworthy. The dark bass and beat executed by Metro Boomin are layered and dynamic. Instead of saying it slaps, it actually pops. Each manufactured snare cracks into the flow rhythmically. While the crisp and shadowy production matches the lyrical content on this track, there is a lack of symmetry in Tesfaye’s change in aesthetic, partnered with the sound employed on this cut. Usually his lead singles mirror his change in appearance, as part of the fun of The Weeknd is his ability to play different characters. This is apparent on lead singles “I Can’t Feel My Face” and “Starboy,” which are both potent in their own right and represent how Tesfaye is an album and era artist. Although “Blinding Lights,” which was released two days later, appears to be the cut that matches his new ’80s gangster persona, I’m not sure if his latest character is inspired by his cameo in “Uncut Gems,” where he plays a 2012 version of himself — yes, his dreads are back. I’m curious as to how Tesfaye’s acting debut informed his musical trajectory. What did he learn going back in time?

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Pretty much every Weeknd song released since 2016 feels like a three-minute pre-chorus: all bombast and build up with no punchline at the end. Who has the time?

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A friend recently remarked to me that even though they like the Weeknd in theory, they have never really gotten into his music because every song more or less sounds the same. “Heartless” certainly does nothing to disprove their statement. 

Katie Gill: Yeah this sure is a Weeknd song. He’s doing the same shit that he’s done before. Ooh, a pulsing beat and slightly indistinguishable falsetto. A monotonous rhythm? Don’t mind if I do! We’re gonna make a vaguely sexy track that screams “music that studios can cheaply license to play muffled in the background of club scenes,” it’s the freakn Weeknd, baby.

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