Is The Weeknd's latest hit, "Starboy," a moody, alt-R&B brag-fest (featuring Daft Punk's electronic accompaniment), a shout-out to the good life, superstar style? Is it cautionary tale about being trapped by fame's excess? Or both?
Some of the song's lyrics seems to point to the former. Watching the song's brooding, violent video, however, suggests the latter.
McLarens, Lamborghinis and Bentleys, oh My
Rappers and (perhaps to a lesser extent) R&B singers have been name-dropping car brands in their songs for a long time. It's shorthand for saying, "Look: I've arrived. Here's proof. I showed up in this über high-dollar car."
And there are über high-dollar cars galore here.
"I'm tryna put you in the worst mood, ah," The Weeknd begins. "P1 cleaner than your church shoes, ah/Milli point two just to hurt you, ah/All-red Lamb' just to tease you, ah."
For the automotively uninitiated, a P1 is McClaren's $1.2 million sports car. And that "all-red Lamb'" is an Italian Lamborghini. Two of the most desirable marques on the planet. And, just to let you know that he's not living beyond his means, The Weeknd then rubs our noses in it a bit more: "None of these toys on lease, too."
Later we'll get references to a Bentley ("I'm in the blue Mulsanne bumping New Edition"), another Lamborghini ("Pull off in that Roadster SV"), and a Rolls Royce Wraith ("Star Trek roof in that Wraith of Khan").
Killing the Pain
Speaking of noses being rubbed somewhere, we get some of that, too. Literally, as we'll see.
The Weeknd drives better cars than you or me, and he wants us to know he spends time with more attractive women, too. "Main b--ch out of your league, too, ah," he brags. "Side b--ch out of your league, too, ah."
As for what the singer and his ladies do when they're not recklessly speeding ("Hundred on the dash get me close to God/We don't pray for love, we just pray for cars"), well, it's cocaine. The Weeknd's got a fancy table ("Twenty racks a table cut from ebony") where he and his ladies snort that powdery white drug ("Cut that ivory into skinny pieces/Then she clean it with her face, man I love my baby").
And if that shared passion fails to get the job done, there's liquid relief as well: "I switch up my cup, I kill the pain."
What's a Starboy Anyway?
That reference to killing the pain subtly suggests that perhaps McLaren ownership, lusty ladies and lines of coke aren't all they're cracked up to be. The chorus adds another very profane layer to that interpretation: "Look what you've done/I'm a m-----f---in' starboy."
Now, if you go sifting the internet for intel on the meaning of the word starboy, you'll find several sources that indicate the term likely originated in Jamaica. It describes a promiscuous man who's stringing along more than one woman (a definition the song would seem to support given The Weeknd's boasts about having a "main" partner and a "side" one).
But the word doesn't seem to be an aspirational or endearing one. Rather, it's a pejorative term. Which may be why The Weeknd describes it almost in terms of victimization: "Look what you've done," he complains, as if all the worldly success he's bragging about somehow wasn't his fault … and isn't particularly satisfying, either.
Killing … Himself?
The video begins in almost horror-movie territory, with The Weeknd bound to a chair as an assassin places a plastic bag over his head in a dark room and suffocates him. After that deed is done, however, the murderous assailant removes the mask to reveal … a different version of The Weeknd, this one shorn of his dramatically sculpted locks.
Weirdly, Assassin Weeknd is wearing a prominent, diamond-studded cross (that the camera zooms in on). He then snatches a much larger, neon-pink cross—yes, a cross—and starts destroying what appears to be old, Dead Weeknd's home. That includes memorabilia, gold records, etc.
After doing a thoroughly destructive job on Dead Weeknd's abode, Assassin Weeknd and a black cat hop down to the garage, where they abscond in the aforementioned McLaren P1, with the cat magically morphing into a black panther as the new version of The Weeknd prowls the Hollywood Hills.
So is this a metaphor of career transformation? Of career suicide? Something else altogether? Why a big neon cross, since there's nothing particularly Christian about any aspect of this song? And what's with the black panther (which shows up in a painting of Daft Punk in the house as well)?
So many questions. So few definitive answers. What's clear is that The Weeknd likes fast cars, fast women and drugs that make his heart beat faster. Whether such an indulgent lifestyle is ultimately satisfying to him is a question that neither the song nor the video resolve.