While the abrasive opening guitar riffs of “Real Life,” the first track on Beauty Behind The Madness, bear a striking resemblance to the distorted acoustic strains of The Weeknd’s 2011 breakout hit “Wicked Games,” the similarities between The Weeknd’s old aesthetic and his new one do not run much deeper than that. Poised to become the biggest popstar in the world, he has cautiously abandoned the angel-voiced debauchery that made him famous to instead sing with a more approachable, radio-friendly demeanor.
To say this startling transformation happened overnight would be lazy; The Weeknd’s shift from a cult favorite to a household name has been in the developing stages since he signed to Republic Records in 2012. His previous efforts to break into the mainstream evidently fell flat; the million listeners who bought Trilogy were the exact same fans who had been supporting him since his mixtape era and public reception of his misguided 2013 effort Kiss Land was lukewarm at best.
With Beauty Behind The Madness, The Weeknd is finally able to launch himself into the pop stratosphere. The album is characterized by a series of fascinating contradictions; the production is bouncy but maintains an avant-garde edge, the lyricism constantly vacillates between unfiltered eroticism and sappy insincerity, and the mood of the project ranges from upbeat to dark and brooding. The LP’s most vital constant is The Weeknd’s confidence, which does not waver at all throughout the album’s fourteen tracks. While Beauty Behind The Madness might sadden his core fanbase with its overt commercial appeal, it does not signify the death of his artistic integrity. The album showcases a matured version of The Weeknd who has merely decided to make music with a full palette of colors rather than a monochromatic one.
Standout Tracks: “Losers (feat. Labrinth),” “Acquainted,” and “Tell Your Friends”
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