Within the first minute of the video, viewers see the Weeknd gagged and bound, a plastic bag over his face. A person clad completely in black proceeds to suffocate him with the plastic bag, and the camera stays on his face until the life leaves his eyes. A very dead Weeknd falls off the chair, his eyes glazed over, empty and without a glimmer of hope left.
So begins the Weeknd’s latest music video for his edgy new track “Starboy,” which, in typical Weeknd style, reinforces his classic bad boy image. Over the course of his career, the performer has managed to incorporate rather gruesome imagery in his music videos where he dies in a handful of grotesque ways, most of the time at his own hand. In the past he has buried himself alive, been in a severe car accident and been set on fire on stage while performing “Can’t Feel My Face.” It only makes sense then that his most recent video shows him again perishing at his own hand—only this time, it is revealed only after he brutally suffocates himself. That is definitely one way to get an audience’s attention.
A song that reads like a poem you might read in a high school English course, the lyrics come together like a puzzle, each piece of which fits in a larger scheme that is the Weeknd’s sultry and mysterious brand. It is this quality of his song that makes his music all the more engaging overall; deriving the meaning of his songs is not something that can be cherry picked. More careful thought and deliberation help to unveil the songwriter’s underlying meaning. With asides about cocaine use, a ridiculously rich pad, the most expensive of cars and intercourse with multiple lovers, as per the Weeknd’s image the successful artist appears to live a needlessly reckless lifestyle.
Though the track seems heavily autotuned and less original than the Weeknd’s previous work, “Starboy” is innovative in its frequent allusions to Christianity, which are interspersed throughout the video. Not only does he wear a cross around his neck, but he also carries a large, illuminated cross that has an ethereal red-pink glow. He then uses this fixture to destroy the inner portions of his rocking pad, smashing glass cases, wreaking havoc on picture frames and obliterating a fancy chandelier. As if the destruction in and of itself wasn’t enough, the Weeknd tops it off with his ever-so-playful and eerie dance moves—turning around in circles, he appears to delight in the destruction he causes.
This imagery leaves me pondering the song’s title, “Starboy.” On the one hand, that term has been used in the past to describe a man who has relations with multiple women, but somehow this explanation seems too simplistic. It could also have something to do with the religious imagery in the video, as the Weeknd appears to undergo a conflict within himself—between two counteracting personalities, one of which has his “octopus” hair, the other of which is clad in black and dons short hair—in which one side of him comes out on top. With the title of the song he might have been playing on the idea that he is a starboy like Jesus, which makes sense given that the surrounding villagers used the North star to locate him.
Cutting edge, sensual beats pervade the background of the song, which with the added harmonious “ah” sounds, give this track a real club music feel. A song that’s bent on female pleasure, the Weeknd’s lush and deep vocals only emphasize the edginess of the single. Though it definitely increases the catchiness of the tune, “Starboy” is also a bit on the repetitive side as the chorus is repeated four times, with little else to back it up.
In all his headshaking glory, the Weeknd proves that he still has whatever magic that originally brought him to the top of the charts in 2015. He might pledge to engage in a very unorthodox lifestyle, but that seems to explain his extreme rise in popularity. One of the only entertainers who turns down interviews, the Weeknd’s success has precipitated from his enchanting and mysterious persona, a fact which leaves people wanting to know more. This kind of hunger can never be satisfied.