Be careful, this, boys and girls, is much more potent, dank, than traditional balladry. Every single one of The Weeknd releases, from his mixtapes to his albums, have been magnetic for a large audience. His songs numb, thrill, and dance, as exercises in identity, or ID as Vice’s fashion magazine titles itself.
I’m findin’ ways to articulate the feeling I’m goin’ through
I just can’t say I don’t love you
‘Cause I love you, yeah
It’s hard for me to communicate the thoughts that I hold
But tonight I’m gon’ let you know
Let me tell the truth
Baby, let me tell the truth, yeah
In the end, his songs are love songs and have always been. They sell a brand of love that hinges on both untypical and engaged masculinity and femininity, the sort to invest themselves completely in romance as an aristocrat (Game of Partyfoam) would, like Romeo or Juliet, and as few can in a capitalist and industrialized society. This brand of love is grand love, beautiful love, la grande belleza, to folks like myself who cannot afford to indulge in everyday numbing from romantic love. Folks like myself, who cannot attempt to live this sort of rhythm if not for it in song.
Even though we’re going through it
And it makes you feel alone
Just know that I would die for you
Baby I would die for you, yeah
Indulgence in love is what this is, in the end?! Love?! WTF! Love is not this! Love is commitment! Love is caring for a sick one! The truth about love is that we’ve had millions of definitions for it. The ancient Greeks, those slave-owning and sculpture loving elitist democrats, identified several sorts of love. Some had nothing to do with sex. Philia, to them, was the sort of love that came with friendship. Eros is the sort of love that comes purely with sexual attraction. Storge was the sort of love that came with taking care of others or being taken care of, which can be sexual. Agape is a sex-less storge.
Not to mention that the ancient Greeks are not the only beings who have defined love. The countless civilizations, some known and some unknown, that have populated our globe have had a countless amount of definitions for the concept love.
The Blues, the music at the heart of The Weeknd’s R&B, was full of storge and of eros. The blues of women was full of tragicomic, and tragic, self-love. Blueswomen like Bessie Smith would often sing about their self-worth.
There ain’t nothing I can do, or nothing I can say
That folks don’t criticize me
But I’m goin’ to, do just as I want to anyway
And don’t care if they all despise me
If I should take a notion
To jump into the ocean
‘T ain’t nobody’s bizness if I do, do, do do
If I go to church on Sunday
Then just shimmy down on Monday
Ain’t nobody’s bizness if I do, if I do
- Bessie Smith
Well, how about The Weeknd’s new album Starboy? Umm, an art deco bridge I think to a land of pas de chat done in broad daylight. Seriously though, what sort of love is it selling to me, if it’s love at all? In an age of the primacy of virtual living, The Weeknd’s brand of love is the love of story (narrative that begins with both his name and body) and by it being the love of story: the love of signifying through listening and dance. The love of trance, of signifying narrative by participating through listening or through dancing.
I ran out of tears when I was 18
So nobody made me but the main streets
‘Cause too many people think they made me
Well, if they really made me then replace me
Homeless to Forbes List, these niggas bring no stress
I feel like Moses, I feel like I’m chosen
For the polity, boys and girls, has deteriorated. The kids no longer believe in the pragmatic dogma that used to fuel this world. Well a lot of the kids don’t. For those who offer their hearts to the cause of producing value as a group of friends attempts to by throwing a party: a narrative is offered that engages.
But it costs money to build the secular groves, magical places, that one can dance in and feel in while surviving or even thriving in this brutal, deteriorated, polity: house, car, dancehall, bar. What does one wear to the grove? What does one eat at the grove, if not for a 10$ hamburger? For the promise of 1001 nights that include at least half at a grove with a beloved, or not, is worth the price for many. It also costs money to participate and promote our society’s groves, to the point where most of the music that makes it to these anti-brutal but in the end, unkind, exclusive, groves are songs with big money behind them like The Weeknd’s, though it was not the case in his music’s beginnings. You see, our economy is not built to produce groves wherein this sort of trance with love could be a humanity, unless for the occasional one.
The album was named Starboy this time but could have easily named something else and have had the very same impact. For the agora, he has produced an album of musical narrative, which with identities will be attempted but most importantly time will be spent.