Now, we’ve all see how memetic Drake’s tendency to be emotional has become. It’s a rich mine of comedy for the internet population; such honest feelings at odds with the macho bravado we’ve come to expect from rap over the years. But the crucial point is that it doesn’t take much, if anything, away from Drizzy’s music; when on form, whether emotional or not, he’s still enjoyable to listen to.
The same can not be said of compatriot and collaborator Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd. Tesfaye’s been a big property in music since his Trilogy mixtapes in 2011 became the standard bearer of alternative R&B, along with Frank Ocean; their less brash, more open take on the genre’s typical themes and tropes providing a breath of fresh air from more chart-focused offerings from bigger artists. Kiss Land represents The Weeknd’s debut album proper, signed to a major label, making music in a studio instead of a bedroom, a chance at being a proper pop star.
With that in mind, Tesfaye probably should have spent a little more time on the music itself, instead of leading the opulent but utterly dull life he sings of throughtout Kiss Land; this life of drugs, sex, money, women and touring doesn’t seem to be doing much for his mood. Cheer up, dude, or at least create some music that’s upbeat for christ’s sake; countless artists have gone throught this rich-but-disaffected phase before, yet produced stone-cold classics which have some life or verve in their musical veins (Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy being the most recent example). But not our narrator through Kiss Land, oh no. In the run-up to its release, Tesfaye talked up the album as a “horror movie” inspired by the likes of Ridley Scott, David Cronenberg John Carpenter …to be quite honest, it’s more like sitting through a particularly painful Lars Von Trier opus; tedious, monotonous, lowkey misogynistic, and requiring a lot of downtime between re-experiencing it for a second time.
Five, six, hell, even seven minutes of plodding beats, coupled with Tesfaye’s Michael Jackson-lite crooning doesn’t make for a fun experience, especially when the subject matter is so uninspired. Ignoring Robin Thicke (as every sane person should), I’m having trouble remembering any artist who displayed such a disdain for women under the premise of putting them "on a throne"; take this verse from Belong To The World: "I know I should leave you/And learn to mistreat you/Cause you belong to the world/And ooh girl, I want to embrace you/Domesticate you/But you belong to the world", or perhaps this excerpt from "Love In The Sky: "But I’m sure I’ll make you cum/Two or three times in a row/But I’m sure you would have left/Got that pussy in control/Put that pussy in control" …fuck’s sake man. Women aren’t objects or to be domesticated! They’re not things! There’s no need to treat them that way, in your lyrics or real life, just because you can’t get it up or give them what they want. Okay, R&B and rap are genres littered with woman-hating, misogynistic artists and more use of the word bitch than you’d hear at a dog pound, but The Weeknd takes it to some ridiculous level where you have to question how on earth he’s ended up with such a twisted view of half the population of the planet.
Anyway stepping away from gender politics for a brief second, Kiss Land is not a good album. The production is flat and beige, the hooks are mostly nowhere to be found, nine of the ten tracks could and should have been halved in length, in fact only two of the tracks are worth more than one listen. “Belong To The World” samples Portishead’s excellent and incendiary “Machine Gun”, so as to make its terrible lyrical content somewhat palatable, whilst Drake arrives at the party on “Live For”, and he must have spiked the punch or something because it’s lively and has pace, an actual, memorable chorus and a decent verse from Drizzy; naturally its the undisputed high point of a dire collection of songs.
In summation, no one let Abel Tesfaye near a studio unless he’s got Aubrey graham with some lyrics and beats he’s written nearby. For the sake of my ears, and yours.