Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

The Weeknd – Blinding Lights

Considering this and “Heartless,” the Jukebox concludes that a heart is worth 2.6 decimal points…


Andy Hutchins: A guy whose career has been spent toggling between scuzzy, drug-driven explorations of the dark and Michael Jackson impressions of variable accuracy finally finds the midline between those bumpers while doing 120 in a Testarossa and surrenders to ’80s-era cheese — that flimsy synth line that echoes the hook melody and bridges the chorus and verse is both ridiculous and perfect. It’s okay to be corny!

Juana Giaimo: I recently met someone who told me he was a big fan of The Weeknd, and it made me wonder whether all music writers sometimes just start hating someone without many reasons. But personally, I’m enjoying this — maybe because it doesn’t sound like The Weeknd? The fast beat and the ’80s keyboards are more dynamic than anything he’s released in the last couple of years. He’s playing the “I can’t love, there is too much lust in me” character again, but considering the first line of “Heartless” is “never need a bitch, I’m what a bitch need,” “Blinding Lights” suddenly sounds super deep. 

Tobi Tella: The Weeknd’s pop pastiches have been better than his woozy R&B attempts lately, highlighted by how much better this is than “Heartless.” This has more energy than most of his other forays into this ’80s sound, and that sense of propulsion works wonders.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Everything The Weeknd does works better at high tempos than at slow. The creep of his voice, the way his lines linger and descend, fits better when it’s not just another part of a languid whole. On “Blinding Lights,” The Weeknd is an irritant, buzzing around the electro-pop of the beat like a moth navigating to a blocked-off flame. It’s a pop song that makes the desperation of trying for a pop hit into something slightly rabid, and more compelling than an album full of downer-driven torch songs. It passes the “is this a banger in real life?” test, too — at every party I’ve been to this year, “Blinding Lights” was the only unifying dancefloor hit.

Scott Mildenhall: As if seeing a lost Italo classic through new eyes, The Weeknd and his sugar-sweet synths sell this set piece with verve. He forgoes the worst of his cliché for a more urgent than tense approach: showing rather than telling the drama. It’s a full, almost maximalist sound delivered through minimalist means: The verse slides into the chorus, and every part has its counterpart, almost, but never quite interlocking as they brush past.

Thomas Inskeep: Time-travel back to 1984 and this would have been a Laura Branigan single. In 1985 this would’ve been on the Breakfast Club soundtrack, because it’s totally got the right tempo for the “Molly dance.” (Seriously, listen to this while playing that video on mute and tell me I’m wrong.) The Weeknd adds nothing, but that’s to the track’s benefit because a) his personality (cf. cocaine and sexual assault) is gross, and b) anon-ish mid-’80s uptempo synthpop is kinda my jam anyway.

Isabel Cole: Pretty enough, I guess, although the synths have started feeling a little video game fight scene for me. But I have listened to “Blinding Lights” at least half a dozen times in a row actively trying to attend to its particulars enough to form an opinion, and my brain simply refuses. Which is kind of its own information, you know?

Brad Shoup: A few years ago, he might have forced a snow-blindness joke. But now there’s just a withdrawal reference and that’s it. He’s making the safe moves, and so is Max Martin: even I know Drive-core isn’t in fashion.

Kylo Nocom: “Oh, this is Max Martin?” I asked myself while looking up the track credits, impressed by the more entertaining murk of his synthwave biting that had mixed results before. “Oh, this is Max Martin,” I realized once I kept listening and found out he had no other ideas.

Alfred Soto: For fuck’s sake, enough. How many Swanson Frozen Fish ‘n’ Chip versions of 1985 Holiday Inn acts will we endure before our gall bladders rupture from nostalgia overdose? Tender-voiced narcissism needs one-finger keyboard riffs for support like Prince needs Grammy tributes.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: The beat is propulsive and the melody is tinged in gorgeous melancholy, but Abel’s the star here. He gives his best vocal performance in ages, emoting with the calm mania of someone coming down from a high.

Julian Axelrod: That whoo! before the wind tunnel synth rush chorus is the most emotional I’ve heard Abel Tesfaye sound since he begged to fuck Julia Fox in the bathroom in Uncut Gems. It’s also the most I’ve liked Abel Tesfaye since he begged to fuck Julia Fox in the bathroom in Uncut Gems.

Micha Cavaseno: “Lost in the Fire” was like chromed-out La Brean spittle getting hacked into your mouth with vengeance and spite, a weirdly underappreciated chance for Tesfaye to find his weapons again by remembering his urges for cruelty. Here he’s returned to something else that’s familiar from his early work: detachment and disconnect. The Vangelisian synths swooshing around his falsetto also occupied so much of Kiss Land, but there he was trying to convey a stir of emotions. “Blinding Lights” isn’t just numb; there’s a deliberate disaffect. You end up learning what it’s like if the whole point of “Take On Me” was to feel resigned to the helplessness of things moving beyond you at a rate where focus and absorption is not only impossible, but detrimental. Is that perhaps a reductive retro-futurism? Sure, if you think you can control your future. This song doesn’t sound like it expects to.

Katherine St Asaph: Ten(!) years(!!!) into the Weeknd’s career, “Blinding Lights” finds him doing full-on outrun, after several singles of just mostly outrun. I wonder whether Max Martin ever finds it weird that the going sound of pop — dictated as much by him as all the Redditors leaving comments on Chromatics videos — now sounds exactly like the stuff that was popular around the time he was doing hair metal. Imagined Shitty A&R Guy brief for this: “Can you get me a song that sounds like Giorgio Moroder, or ‘Take On Me,’ or honestly just that Vine with the girl grinning to ‘Take On Me'”? (Writing that, one gets the creeping realization that those references are all very specifically 2015, which perhaps says something about Martin’s adaptation to the times. But so many people have been so wrong, like David-Frum-predicting-Trump’s-trouncing wrong, by predicting Martin’s decline, so who knows?) It’s a backward trajectory for Abel Tesfaye, in more ways than one. We think of artists beginning their careers with this kind of fakedeep, false-heroic faux-lovelorn bullshit, a valentine cut from polyester and trimmed in coke, and then maybe it’s revealed through tabloids or journalism or scandals or basic judging of character that they don’t so much have skeletons in their closet as ascended to a fame on a staircase of skeletons, many freshly torn. But with House of Balloons and its subsequent trilogy the Weeknd built his on-record brand as an admitted, unapologetic scumbag, whose songs were filled with often-drugged women, used to varying extent. When the public loved the scumbaggery enough to boost him from hipster-famous to famous-famous, he paired each more charming pop track with a repudiation: “Heartless”‘s “lowlife for life,” “The Hills”‘ “when I’m fucked up, that’s the real me.” (His mentor Drake has also tried to do this, with less focus and less convincingly.) But it increasingly seems like The Weeknd’s long-term goal is for his music to culminate in sensitive facade: a Miami Vice Byron who soothes with familiarity of form, with singles so expensively vulnerable they gleam like a neuralyzer and erases memories equally well. I suspect, for much of my cohort, that’s the generational dream.

Reader average: [6.9] (11 votes)

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8 Responses to “The Weeknd – Blinding Lights”

  1. A bop is a bop. No further analysis needed.

  2. might I gently ask why you’re reading sites devoted to music criticism

  3. What I said doesn’t apply to all songs, obviously.

  4. There’s nothing more fun than analyzing why a bop is a bop

  5. Arguing that something that other people say is bop is not, in fact, a bop, is also pretty great too

  6. I’ve been thinking of the phrase “a bop is a bop” to the tune of “A Boy is a Gun” for the last three days and it’s ruined me

  7. Re 1984/85: I hear early a-ha here (disregarding the wobbly bass); the drum intro is totally “Take on Me”, and the voice isn’t that far off either!

  8. Never would have anticipated that this would become the biggest hit of Max Martin’s career