The Weeknd: Kiss Land
Similar Artists: R. Kelly, Michael Jackson, Prince, Danny Brown
Genre: Cinematic R&B, Trip-Hop
In some ways, it has always been a part of our culture, but it seems like every year, society becomes increasingly obsessed with the self-destructive behavior of its celebrities. From Britney Spears, to Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus (the ones who get into the business too young), we have highlighted these artists’ downfalls and enjoyed them as entertainment. These stories, as we know them, have become inescapable, as they are reported over the airwaves and printed in magazines on a near 24 hour basis; feeding into a sort of collective social consciousness. As of late, even widely respected publications like CNN have posted a leading article about Miley’s much maligned “Twerking” episode at the VMA’s. I’m not bringing up these points to talk about the failure of the human race or anything boring like that though, as I feel this infatuation of ours is hardly unwarranted. Why wouldn’t we be intrigued by this unknowable, parallel world that is the Hollywood lifestyle? After all, it has managed to capture and wreak havoc among so many of the world’s most gifted and talented people. As it happens though, we’re only examining this phenomenon through a highly distorted lens, and as common folk, we can never truly understand this alien world without first succumbing to it. As The Weeknd puts it, /this ain’t nothing to relate to, even if you try/.
Abel Tesfaye, main-man behind the Toronto based R&B outlet The Weeknd — who along with producers Doc McKinney and IIIangelo made a commercial and critical splash with three self-released 2011 mix-tapes — happens to know a lot about this parallel world. Over the past year and a half, the once enigmatic figure has rapidly been pulled away from his quiet hometown into the fast-paced, drug addled, sex crazed life of stardom. On this proper debut LP, he chronicles his voyage into this horrifying place — the place he likes to call Kiss Land — and it stands as a heartbreaking concept album of love vs. fame. This Kiss Land is a dark, loveless place, riddled with loneliness, a lack of honest emotion, and most of all, a lack of human connection. While The Weeknd have dealt with similar themes in the past, here it is implemented on a much grander, deeper, and thought provoking scale.
Since I do consider this a concept album, I’ll start with the first track, the 6 minute “Professional”, which expertly documents The Weeknd is their fresh, cinematic skin. Tesfaye immediately sets the tone with the lyric /You’re a somebody now, but what’s a somebody in a nobody town/, and speaks of his strife in keeping a hold on reality, along with the feelings that come with it. The production chops kick in at full blast during the midway point with an eerie, whispering female vocal sample and an epic bass drop that will likely scare away anyone not ready for the remaining themes to come. Expectedly, the story starts to unravel on “The Town”, as we learn about Abel’s love interest — a girl he left to go on tour — who as many will see it, remains a central theme on the remaining songs to come. Once again, this track is treated with a surprising direction change halfway through when we are greeted to a shimmering, metallic synth pattern that makes everything sound twice as serious, without catering too easily to dance fare.
There’s loads to enjoy here production wise — this is indeed a step up from the already expensive sounding Echoes of Silence. In an interview (of which there are very few) Tesfaye stated how the sound here is as much indebted to film scores as it is to Trip-Hop, which is easy to tell, as the fragmentary ambiance from horror films seems to be constantly leaking through the pores. The producers really get to show off on “Wanderlust”, which impressively stacks layers of pitch shifted vocal samples and disco infused synth patterns to delirious effect.
The Portishead sampling “Belong to the World”, ends up being the emotional centerpiece of the album, as it’s where Tesfaye gives up on trying to find “the one”; at least for the time being. Emotional disconnect is a theme on several tracks, and as the album unfolds Tesfaye comes to the conclusion that he isn’t meant to find love; his life draining personality is simply too much for the few people he wants to be with. When he sings /We’ll find a love in the sky/, he’s basically saying “we’ll find a love when we die”. He also ends up admitting that he isn’t a good person — which is a good thing, because with his repulsive, chauvinistic lyrics and women-as-objects philosophy, he truly isn’t.
Like Danny Brown, much of the subject matter here revolves around, well…being a douchebag, but if you’re listening correctly you certainly wouldn’t be tempted to follow in Tesfaye’s footsteps. Take the title track for example, which revolves around using a photographing groupie wandering backstage for sexual gain, /the only thing you’re taking, is your clothes off/. It’s a beguiling track that’s riddled with blood curdling screams, self provoked insomnia and the want to die young — but the harrowing tone makes it immediately clear that this is representative of Abel at his most distraught. One must realize that Tesfaye is playing the villain in these tracks. He’s testing his boundaries as a vocalist, and is eager to see how much he can get away with while singing in his majestic, silky smooth voice.
Kiss Land ultimately works because we feel like Tesfaye is trapped in this alternate, success bearing universe, in which all choices he makes are inevitable. On the chorus of the Drake featuring “Live For” when he sings /this the shit that I live for, with the people I die for/ he may be boasting, but it’s because boasting is all he has left. When you think about it, that’s actually quite traumatic, especially when one gives up their freedom to do so. All the built up emotions come to a close with the spectacular, piano driven “Tears in the Rain”, in which Tesfaye mourns his faded love affair and the lack of any remaining spark in his life.
Reviews so far for Kiss Land have been very mixed (currently holding a 67% on metacritic compared to the combined 83% of their previous releases), but I feel people are missing the point. There’s all this talk about this being an album about “the good life”, and to some extent, it is, but the word “good” becomes twisted to such an unrecognizable degree that we begin to fear the life we crave. Sure, there’s an abundance of questionable lyrics, but The Weeknd want them to be questionable. I dare you all to look a little deeper with Kiss Land, The Weeknd aren’t kidding around when they say this is their debut.
2.) The Town*
4.) Love in the Sky
5.) Belong to the World*
6.) Live For
8.) Kiss Land*
10.) Tears in the Rain*
Album Highlight – *